Nancy Drew Critical Ideas

Boesky, Amy. "Solving the Crime of Modernity: Nancy Drew in 1930." Studies in the Novel 42.1&2 (2010): 185-201.

"middle class threatened by various aspects of modernity—new economic instabilities, the erosion of "older" orders and the replacement of certain kinds of labor (even fictionwriting) by new modes of mechanical reproduction" (185).


"Stratemeyer was in the process of building a mass-market syndicate that went on to produce thousands of books for young readers before his death in 1930. Unlike the dime novels of the 1880s and '90s, Stratemeyer's new formula fiction starred young people taking part in adventures firmly anchored in middle-class America." (188)


"Stratemeyer's characters seemed like models of sublimation: The protagonists of his most successful series—including the Hardy Boys and the Nancy Drew mysteries— embodied as if by prescription Hall's eight "optimal" (17) adolescent traits: health and hygiene, superabundant energy, a willingness to be taxed or "stretched," sympathy, love of nature, sublimation, activity, and loyalty or fidelity, both to self and community (Hall 17, 451-67)." (188)


"To a great extent, these books marginalized adults, leaving the starring roles to adolescents. While the police conveniently show up to take criminals away after Nancy has found them, adult law enforcers are portrayed in these books as bumbling or delayed, and in their absence Nancy obligingly outperforms them." (189)


"Nancy Drew is Miller's "amateur supplement" writ large: she constantly polices the terrain of River Heights, finding clues where others see nothing, locating suspicious persons with her uncanny (and unerring) "intuition," identifying criminals through such superficial symptoms as bad posture, unusual accents, or poor vocabulary. Using her inherent (and inherited) sense
of right and wrong, Nancy defends a middle class that increasingly defines itself against intruders—foreigners, "Negroes," thugs, robbers, the poor." (189)


"Lesko has argued that adolescents often take up "border zones between the imagined end points of adult and child, male and female, sexual and asexual, rational and emotional, civilized and savage, and productive and unproductive" (50), and Nancy Drew exemplifies this kind of border work (190)."


"Delinquency is as fixed in the world of Nancy Drew as virtue; bad characters can be captured and punished in these books, and good characters rescued from danger, but bad people never reform. Criminals do not change in Nancy Drew's world but instead are revealed. In this sense, the juvenile detective series presumes, as Miller argues elsewhere, that crime is an enclosed world from which it is all but impossible to escape, one that constantly threatens the "middle-class world of private life" (5-6)." (189)


"[A]s Bobbi Ann Mason notes, Nancy's mysteries are not "whodunits" so much as adventures set on a "bedrock of domesticity" (60). Injustice here is corrected; crimes of character or judgment resolved; goods restored to the good.... River Heights is at once mythic and localized, filled with lakeside cottages, summer camps, department stores, roadways and avenues, bungalows, and endless houses, each setting working within the "feminine, domestic, aristocratic, slightly Gothic" remnants of a "traditional…idealized world" (Mason 57)." (189-190)


Mason notes the repetitive structure of the mysteries:
The plots of Nancy Drew mysteries are like sonnets—endless variations on an inflexible form. A plot may contain any or all of these elements: the pursuit of at least two separate mysteries which turn out to be astonishingly intertwined; a warning to get off the case; a trip to a quaint or exotic place (with tourist bureau description supplied); the befriending of an innocent victim…who faces ruin if the mystery isn't solved; a romantic story about a tradition or secret in a prominent family; the appearance of twins or doubles….(57). (189-190)