Goodreads: Nancy Drew and Company
Age Category: Adult
This anthology includes critical essays on various girls’ series from L. M. Montgomery’s Anne books to Cherry Ames, Nancy Drew, and Judy Bolton. Lesser-known works such as the Linda Lane and Isabel Carleton books are also covered.
Nancy Drew and Company, published in 1997, argues that the girls’ (and children’s) literature, though long overlooked by the academy, deserve to be serious objects of literary study. Through such literature, Sherrie A. Inness asserts, we can gain a greater understanding of our history, both in how it is depicted in popular literature, but also through the ways in which literature seeks to shape history. Girls’ series provide role models for readers that can simultaneously challenge and reinforce class, gender, and social roles. Thus, these books reveal, as Inness argues, “our culture’s values, mores, and biases” (10). The essays in this book explore a variety of girls’ series, from more popular books such as Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames, to some lesser-known series such as the Linda Lane and Isabel Carleton books. Each essay opens a window into how literature works to shape society’s understanding of womanhood.
If there is any recurring theme that seems to link all the essays in Nancy Drew and Company it is that girls’ series often sought–usually unsuccessfully–to balance new ideals of womanhood with old ones. That is, even as these series asserted girls’ independence, assertiveness, and agency, they sought to convince readers that the protagonists were not interested in changing the status quo. Automobile girls might drive across the country seeking adventure, but they were also still concerned about appearing feminine and dating boys. They might be mistaken for suffragettes, but they were quick to tell everyone that their motives were not political. In the same way, many of the other heroines of girls’ series tried to balance domesticity or motherhood with their independence, creating contradictions that were never fully resolved.
These contradictions, however, are possibly what helped to make such series so successful. No matter what a reader was looking for in a heroine–assertion or passivity, independence or romance, adventure or domesticity–these qualities could be found in girls’ series. My own theory is that many modern adaptations of Nancy Drew have failed because they do not match up with readers’ expectations. And readers’ expectations can be vastly different precisely because of the way the original books are written. Some readers might laud the feminist bent of Nancy Drew, while others appreciate her old-fashioned values. Nancy Drew is a contradiction–something contemporary adaptors have to grapple with.
Nancy Drew and Company relies on the fame and popularity of Nancy Drew to lure in readers, but all the essays included are thought-provoking and fascinating. The book will have readers rethinking old favorites, but will also introduce them to many more interesting pieces of girls’ literature that have hitherto faded into history.