There’s Something about Nancy
Posted by: Gillian Engberg
According to a feature by Mary Jo Murphy in yesterday’s New York Times, Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor share more than just a passion for the law:
It doesn’t take a big clue to deduce that there’s something between Supreme Court women and Nancy Drew of River Heights, Somewhere, U.S.A., the teenage star of a wholesome series of detective novels that have been in print in some version — dated and updated — since their inception in 1930.
Murphy puzzles over just what it was that drew these women to the Nancy Drew series in their youth. Certainly, she writes, it wasn’t the formulaic plots or the way that Nancy overcomes obstacles with ”comically smooth sailing.”
Murphy’s questions made me pick up the phone and call my sister, with whom I regularly spent whole afternoons plowing through as many books about the titian-haired teen sleuth as our library cards would allow.
“What was it about those books that we loved so much?” I asked her. It turns out that, according to my sister, the formulaic plots and all of that “comically smooth sailing” were part of the appeal: “They were reassuring,” she said. “The template was the same, and you always knew what was coming. They were like comfort food.”
As we got older, my sister and I turned on Nancy. We read to mock, sharing passages out loud in order to laugh over the clichés, the repetitive descriptions, the wholly improbable turns of events. We even wrote our own satirized versions. But even then, through all the mockery, we kept reading. How come? My sister echoed many of the women that Murphy quotes in her piece when she said, “Nancy made her own decisions (with the help of her father, the attorney Carson Drew), and she wasn’t afraid of the unexpected. We were reading books in which the girls, Nancy and her chums, set the agenda. I think that was influential. There was a trio of boyfriends, but they were just along for the ride.”
Everything my sister said makes sense. But I’m sure there are other reasons, too. I’d love to hear from those of you who also spent many hours of your young lives reading Nancy Drew books. What was it that drew you back for more? Do the books ever surface in your current, adult life? Do you ever find yourself wondering, ”What Would Nancy Do?”