My Nancy Drew

Posted by Lou. The time is 1.50pm here in London, UK.

For some reason I got to thinking about Nancy Drew the other day, which led to me feeling the strange need to read one of her mystery novels, and conveniently amazon has a selection for about £2. Unfortunately this meant getting a new edition (though I got the oldest new edition I could find - "Treasure in the Royal Tower"), when I'd much rather find a proper old one in a second-hand bookstore (where does one find an old-school second-hand bookstore in London? I don't really see the Charing Cross ones as having an extensive section of teenage girl mystery novels...). But fortunately it arrived on the very day London weather turned pants, as there is nothing better than reading a trashy mystery novel on a wintery evening.

The novel took me all of 2 hours to read (and half of that was whilst half-watching tv - so they're probably 90-minute jobs for an attentive adult), and ticked all the boxes by having an addictive plot, mystery and intrigue, and a couple of twists and turns. (Disappointingly it also had a mention of a computer, which took me out of my reverie of imagining them all in nifty '50s outfits.) Part of me wonders though, have they been watered down or were they always as quick-reading and swiftly brought to a conclusion? I read them in both my early- and mid-teens, so wasn't an entirely unsophisticated reader at the time... I remember them having meaty plots that really drew me in... I guess the only way to find out is to track down an old-school edition (I'm sure my mother still has them in a bookcase somewhere, ready for my niece to reach her adolescence).

Now, the main thing I wanted to talk about is that I've always dreamt of writing a Nancy Drew film and turning her into a brilliant role model for the next generation of young women. She was definitely a huge influence on my burgeoning adulthood - she is one of the few teenage female characters I can think of from my generation that was entirely focussed on Doing Things - solving mysteries, being adventurous - rather than on Relationships (haha, misogynists would cynically reply that perhaps I would have done well to focus a little bit more on relationships instead of being, what the Nancy Drew era crowd would call, "a Spinster"). As such, I can't bring myself to see any of the tv series recently made - the fact that the most notable thing that has been said about it is that Julia Roberts' niece plays Nancy is quite enough for me to say no thanks. [Whoa, turns out this was a movie - it made no impact though, huh?]

So Nancy herself - reading the novel as a 28-year-old made me realise one disturbing thing about her: she's perfect. She's smart, pretty, polite, friendly, helpful, popular, sweet, humorous, a "perfect daughter", "great girlfriend", one heck of a sleuth, etc... In fact, she's an archetype of the Ultimate Woman - which is of course, actually really negative. In creating some ridiculous Super Woman it embodies the pressures on women to be all things to all people. Which got me to thinking whether male "heroes" are the same - are they perfect beings who are all things to all people? Well, problematically, I didn't read boy-oriented teen books (is there such a thing?) so can't really think of any directly relevant examples, but the iconic super men - Superman himself Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne, Indiana Jones, James Bond - are all far from perfect: Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne grapple with their duel identities, Indiana Jones is a bit of a shit (who is scared of snakes), James Bond is a total shit towards women (though oh-so-charming nonetheless)... Throw some examples at me! I want picture-perfect male heroes, and fallible female heroes.

I got to wiki'ing and saw a discussion of the evolution of Nancy Drew - in the original texts she was sassy, straight-forward, and stood up to male authority figures; as time went on she became more emotional and sympathetic (fulfilling the "caring" ideal of femininity), subordinate to, polite and respectful of male authority. This is in tandem with the evolution of cinematic female heroines - in the days of black and white they were so sassy and witty, but have gradually faded to being passive, serious characters while the men get all the good lines (with some wonderful notable exceptions). [A basic example here is Hermione - oh so lacking in self-esteem, desperate for male approval, and always so serious!] Basically, as women became more empowered in society our role in mass storytelling diminished - it's fine, great even, for women to be subversive and hilarious within a society of powerlessness, but in our society of technically and legally having almost equal rights subversion of male authority is dangerous as, well, it'll lead to Actual Equality. And we can't have that happening, can we!

My Nancy Drew would be sassy, subversive, smart, funny - but with an edge of fallibility that would make her real. She'd also be wearing some kick-ass '50s dresses (despite her birth being in the '30s), perhaps even quality nylons, but would be in flat shoes - all the better for adventure - and might even have a hair out of place or two.

One thought on “My Nancy Drew”

  1. I recall the male equivalent of Nancy Drew being the 'Hardy Boys' series.
    There was also the, um, was it Wilbur Smith? authored books, where young chaps were always getting called up by their uncles in Africa or some such to go on adventures.