Tuesday, May 05, 2015


Yesterday marked 85 years for Nancy Drew books.

Since I still have a few of those old books from yesteryear (a term I’m pretty sure I first heard on The Lone Ranger) I decided to try reading one, The Hidden Staircase.

It turns out, not surprisingly, for a book published in 1930, to be full of words that have long gone out of use – and many beyond the predictable ‘roadster’ so often mentioned in Nancy Drew lore. Two easy examples are davenport and sofa. We know what they mean, but does anyone still use them?

Technology references nabbed my attention, as in this passage where she’s received a gift from a friend with a farm: “Nancy carried the chicken and the eggs to the kitchen and placed them in the electrical refrigerator.” Hard to think of a time less than a century ago when an icebox, complete with a block of the cold stuff delivered by the iceman was more the norm than an 'electrical refrigerator'.

Messages are sent via mail or the now-forgotten telegram. Entertainment consists of reading or conversation, or as Hannah Gruen (the Drews’ housekeeper) makes a special request, “Miss Nancy, if you don’t mind, I’ll go to a moving picture show…”  

Travel of any distance is by train. Not everyone has a phone in their home, say nothing of in their purse or pocket.

Less charming than these depictions of a seemingly more carefree life is that of the not-so-nice ‘negress’ who serves as the villain’s accomplice. Her speech is written out in a hideous dialect, supposedly a Southern accent and is riddled with poor grammar.

On the other hand, Nancy’s vocabulary – even descriptions of action involving her are bloated with inflated words: “So this was the home of Nathan Gombet, Nancy ruminated. She could not help but feel that the dark, uninviting aspect of the structure provided an abode singularly in keeping with the sinister character of its master.” Whew! And I read this when I was a kid?!

But even the ever-noble Nancy runs into trouble now and then – one might even call it prejudice, based on the fact that she’s female. When she tries to convince the sheriff that he must arrest the evil Gombet, he brushes her off, and only takes her seriously when she identifies herself as the daughter of attorney Carson Drew. That makes all the difference and sets him and his deputies into action. To her credit, Nancy’s reply to him is delivered “sarcastically.”

So, maybe there was more to those mysteries of hers than mere diversions for a rainy afternoon.

Yet even if she isn't always sneaking in feminist messages, it’s hard not be at least somewhat charmed by her, typified by this description: “Nancy Drew turned this question over in her mind as she sat propped up with pillows in a corner of the big davenport, the very picture of a pretty girl in a brown study over some knotty problem.” Oh, my, oh sigh. 


Janet Vickers said...

It sounds so quaint. When I lived in Marlow there was a family who lived on the lock. They were or at least the father was in the airforce or army and they were from the US. They had five children, three of whom were triplets. We all were fascinated by them and we were invited into the house one time and given juice and cookies. They wore saddle shoes which were only available in the US or on the base. Everything seemed so well organized in those days - matching the grammar.

hg said...

They sound like the kind of orderly folk who would have fit into the world of Nancy Drew, right down to their saddle shoes.

And yes, it was fun seeing you in Nanaimo, even though actually visiting didn't seem to be much of a possibility. I am still a bit bedazzled by the conference. I found so much of it quite wonderful.