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GIRL SLEUTH by Melanie Rehak


Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her

by Melanie Rehak

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-15-101041-2
Publisher: Harcourt

The true story behind the creation of the resilient fictional girl detective.

Even though the Nancy Drew mysteries subsist, according to poet and critic Reha, on “formulaic dialogue, totally implausible escapes and absurd plot twists,” readers admire and identify with the character of Nancy herself: “her bravery, her style, her generosity, and her relentless desire to succeed.” The author embarks on her own bit of energetic sleuthing into the life of children’s book mogul Edward Stratemeyer, the man behind the Nancy Drew, Rover Boys and Bobbsey Twins books. In 1905, he formed the lucrative Stratemeyer Syndicate, which essentially outlined new series and handed them out to ghostwriters so that “no one would ever be the wiser about who was actually doing the writing.” The character of Nancy Drew grew out of Stratemeyer’s success with earlier titles featuring gutsy, brainy, proto-modern heroines Dorothy Dale and Ruth Fielding, as well as the mystery-solving Hardy Boys. Stratemeyer farmed out the new mystery series for girls to eager Iowa journalist Mildred Wirt, who had fashioned the Ruth Fielding titles, and plucky Miss Nancy Drew made her debut on April 28, 1930, “dressed to the nines in smart tweed suits, cloche hats, and fancy dresses.” Wirt seems to have endowed the early Nancy Drew with her own indomitable spunkiness, while the series’ later ghostwriter, Stratemeyer’s Wellesley-educated daughter Harriet, instead emphasized Nancy’s pedigree and correct bearing. (Sidekicks Bess and George were the brainchildren of Stratemeyer’s intrepid and loyal secretary, Harriet Otis Smith.) The series was an instant bestseller for Grosset & Dunlap at 50 cents per copy, and Wirt would end up writing a dozen of the titles. In an unfortunate but perhaps inevitable denouement, she eventually had to battle in court for proper recognition from Harriet Stratemeyer, who took over the syndicate after her father’s death.

A breezy social history. (8-page black-and-white photo insert, not shown)