Simanaitis Says

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GIVEN THAT, to Sherlock Holmes, Irene Adler was the woman, it would follow that, to generations of young women, Nancy Drew was (and continues to be) the girl.


The Secret of the Old Clock, by Carolyn Keene, Grosset & Dunlap, 1930. This original edition, with Nancy’s portraiture by Russell H. Tandy, is highly collectible. Both and list it, as well as subsequent editions and the other books cited here.

Since her debut in 1930 in The Secret of the Old Clock, this feisty teenager could drive a car (her blue convertible), speak French, run a motor boat, shoot a gun, cook a gourmet meal, play tennis, dance like Ginger Rogers and administer first aid like the Mayo brothers. (Or so says James P. Jones in “Nancy Drew, WASP Super Girl of the 1930’s” in The Journal of Popular Culture, March 5, 2004.)

Where do I meet this young lady?


A map of Nancy Drew Land. Image from The Mystery of Nancy Drew: Girl Sleuth on the Couch.

Nancy resides in River Heights, where she lives with her father, attorney Carson Drew, and housekeeper Hannah Gruen, their counterpart of the Sherlockian Canon’s Mrs. Hudson.

Nancy’s adventures often begin with clues from her father’s law practice. He shows evident pride in her detective work and she responds with what some Drew authorities liken to an Electra Complex, Carl Jung’s proposed feminine version of the male Oedipus fixation.


The Mystery of Nancy Drew: Girl Sleuth on the Couch, by Betsy Caprio, Source Books, 1992.

Betsy Caprio’s book, subtitled Girl Sleuth on the Couch, identifies Nancy’s adventures as archetypal heroic journeys. Each has “Initiation to the Quest, the Road of Trials, a ‘Death’ Experience followed by Rebirth! New Life!” Nancy’s frequent episodes in locked closets, cellars, caves and the like represent her journeys into the unconscious.

All in good Jungian/Drew fun.

Carolyn Keene, the author of the Nancy Drew series, is merely a pseudonym of its real chroniclers, just as Dr. John Watson’s literary agent, Arthur Conon Doyle, is often credited with compiling the Sherlockian Canon. Two names loom large in the Drew chronicles. Edward Stratemeyer initially thought her name was Stella, just as literary agent Doyle inexplicably confused Sherlock with Sherringford. Mildred Wirt, later Mildred Wirt Benson, straightened out matters for Stratemeyer.

At first, the Stratemeyer Syndicate paid Wirt and others $125 a tale, a fair piece of change in the 1930s, roughly two months’ wage of a typical newspaper reporter. During the Great Depression, the fee diminished to $100 and eventually $75.

In 1933, the Stratemeyer Syndicate schemed with the Library of Congress to retain anonymity of Drew chroniclers. Eventually, there were law suits, counter suits, claims of frivolousness, poor taste and outright lies.

By contrast, Watson’s approach made a lot of sense: secreting his notes for unwritten chronicles in “a travel-worn and battered tin dispatch-box” held in the vaults beneath the bank of Cox & Co., at Charing Cross. (See “The Problem of Thor Bridge.”)

We know what Sherlock Holmes looked like through portraitures by Sidney Paget.  Similarly, Nancy’s good looks were originally copied from life by artist Russell H. Tandy.


Nancy Drew in silhouette, by Russell H. Tandy.

In fact, Tandy’s silhouette of the sleuth has become iconic.

Over the years, Nancy found herself spiffed up, dumbed down and thrust through some positively bizarre transformations.


False Moves, Case 9, The Nancy Drew Files, by Carolyn Keene, Simon & Schuster, 1987.

At her website “bookshelves of doom,” Leila Roy offers an entertaining analysis of latter-day Nancy and her pals. See

Sherlock Holmes had his cinematic personification in Basil Rathbone. Nancy Drew had hers with Bonita Granville.


Bonita Granville, 1923 – 1988, starred in four Nancy Drew flicks, one in 1938, three sequels in 1939. All are now available in DVD (

Nancy’s exploits have also appeared more recently on film and television, in video games and on DVDs. Other books of interest include The Nancy Drew Scrapbook: 60 Years of America’s Favorite Teenage Sleuth, by Karen Plunkett-Powell, St. Martin’s Press, 1993; and The Mysterious Case of Nancy Drew & The Hardy Boys, by Carole Kismaric and Marvin Heiferman, Simon & Schuster, 1998.


A Secret in Time, by Carolyn Keene, Aladdin, 1991, is Nancy Drew’s adventure no. 100. It also displays her evolved late-20th-Century image.

Most appropriately, the timepiece of Nancy’s first adventure returned in her 100th, A Secret in Time. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2014

2 comments on “NANCY DREW—THE GIRL

  1. nanojaner
    April 2, 2014

    The housekeeper was Hannah Gruen. Not Green.

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