Talking to kids about Nancy Drew led me to interview my aunt Peg about her collection of vintage Nancy Drew Books. Peg is a New Yorker by all but birth and very glamorous. She is now in her sixties but you wouldn't guess it. I didn’t know until recently that she collected old Nancy Drews.
Do you still read the books, or just collect them?
I still read them. Even now, it’s almost embarrassing to admit, the books are page turners. When you get to the end of a chapter, you MUST keep reading to find out what happens.
Are there things in the books you notice now that you didn’t notice as a kid?
Yes, definitely. From my perspective now, though I didn’t notice these things as a kid, I see 1) what a thoroughly modern woman Nancy was. She changed her own tires on her roadster, she dried out carburetors. She was not helpless. She tackled problems fearlessly. 2) how unfortunately racist many of the books were. In The Mystery at Lilac Inn, for example, a "dark-complexioned" woman is described as "impudent," "insolent," "swaggering," and having a "sly look." In The Mystery of the Ivory Charm, an Indian man is cruel to animals and children, and “his eyes bulged with superstitious fear.” In The Clue in the Old Album, a grandmother explains that she has little control over her granddaughter, “Perhaps…because of the heritage on her father’s side.” (Her father was a gypsy.) Throughout this book, gypsies are portrayed in a negatively stereotypic way.
Even as a girl I was aware of the absurdity of Nancy falling into all those mysteries. I laughed even then at the boilerplate writing that appeared in all the books – her “famous criminal lawyer” father; his “sparkling blue eyes” and more. Also that Nancy never appeared to go to school.
I am a Nancy Drew purist, in that I don’t want to read the revised mysteries making the story details more current. I like the 30s and 40s time frame. In re-reading one of the books, I was confused as to why Nancy felt she had to rush home from her outing in her blue roadster when it looked like there was going to be a big storm. Nancy didn’t strike me as the type who would be afraid of driving in rain. As I read on I realized that in those days the secondary roads were not paved so a big rain would turn the dirt roads to mud. And sure enough, Nancy ’s car got stuck and so she had to go to a farmhouse for help, leading of course to a new mystery.