Who drove a roadster and lived in River Heights with her widowed attorney father and faithful housekeeper Hannah Gruen.
Of course I am referring to that emancipated icon of young female intrepidity and independence - Nancy Drew, Girl Detective
I recall exactly the conditions of our first meeting. I came upon her completely unaware and unintroduced while browsing the shelves of the Brookline Public Library in the early 1960s as a third grader. For some reason I pulled out a blue tweedy book with the rather uninspired name of The Bungalow Mystery written by Carolyn Keene. Little did I know that fateful day that Nancy Drew books contained a powerful and addictive opiate – Girl Power!
Remembering your first Nancy Drew is like recalling your first cigarette or your first Lay’s Potato Chip; you meant to stop at one but were helplessly in thrall before you knew what had happened to you.
Up until that time I was either reading dusty classics from my parent’s archives or whatever juvenile lit was being served up in my classroom. But Nancy Drew was older, a teenager, with a boyfriend and a car, who was remarkably free from parental interference. Not only did her father not mind if she took off on short notice with her friends to go a dude ranch or New Orleans or Mexico, he apparently was fine with bankrolling all her many adventures without once asking for a receipt or giving her a budget.
In fact, Carson Drew (who I imagined looking like Hugh Beaumont from Leave it to Beaver) was sanguine about all of Nancy’s escapades, whether they involved infiltrating gypsy encampments or investigating industrial espionage or rescuing kidnapped heiresses. Whereas most parents would have been full of remonstrance not to go get bound and gagged again, Nancy’s father would even initiate danger by asking Nancy to “look into a little matter for me” if she had some spare time.
I mentioned that my first Nancy Drew was in the blue tweed cover of the first editions. Very shortly thereafter I discovered the new and improved Nancy Drew who had been revitalized, updated and re-issued by the publisher into the series with the iconic yellow background and signature cover portrait of Nancy in peril. They also helpfully had the number of the book in its order in the series.
Being the young anal retentive that I was, my great goal was to own ALL of the Nancy Drews so that I might have my own solid block of yellow spines in my personal bookcase. No Shakespeare collector ever fondled a First Folio edition with more reverence than I lavished upon my Nancy Drew books.
Now, in contrast to Carson Drew, my father was budget oriented and both he and my mother became concerned when an increasingly disproportionate amount of the family household income was being diverted to Nancy Drew books. In desperation, my father took me aside one day and hissed “Carolyn Keene is a fat little man who smokes a cigar” in order to break the spell.
While at the time, I thought he was simply being slanderous towards my beloved authoress, I discovered later that he was somewhat accurate. Carolyn Keene was pseudonym used by a publishing syndicate headed by man named Edward Stratemeyer which was also churning out the Hardy Boys and the Dana Girls among other series. If there was a real Carolyn Keene, it is generally considered to be a woman named Mildred Wirt Benson who was responsible for the first books and who created many of the indelible enduring details of Nancydom.
Fortunately for both my father and the family finances, there did come a time when I had to regretfully acknowledge that I had outgrown my dear sweet friend Nancy, her boyfriend Ned, and her two buddies George and Bess. While she would remain forever young and adventurous in River Heights, my own life was thundering relentlessly forward to my own adolescence.
While many may dismiss Nancy Drew as a waste of time and a form of junk literature, I must disagree. At a time when I was extremely imprintable as a young girl, Nancy displayed qualities of curiosity, independence, bravery, loyalty, and self-reliance. Even today when I encounter situations requiring investigation and analysis, I feel that I am drawing upon my own inner Nancy Drew.