Nancy Has Two Mommies | The Nation


Nancy Has Two Mommies

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In her evenhanded, sympathetic account of both Wirt and Adams, Rehak suggests that while each modeled Nancy Drew after herself, Adams, the female CEO, and Wirt, the tireless author, together produced a female character ultimately impervious to the progressive trends each woman embodied. After the war, for instance, the conservative backlash against Rosie the Riveter made for a tamer Nancy, and even though sales declined in the 1960s, Mademoiselle magazine gave her a twelve-page spread in 1964. Feminism too was good for Nancy. With women, as Rehak puts it, "on the move at last," more than 30 million copies of Nancy Drew Mystery Stories were in circulation in 1969. And though Nancy was wearing loafers (no more high heels), spouting Shakespeare and driving a convertible (no more roadster), she managed to inhabit a world without hippies, protest, pregnancy or marijuana. "Nancy had successfully made the transition from the Atomic Age to the Age of Aquarius," Rehak quips, "and she had done it her way." Well, Harriet's way.

About the Author

Brenda Wineapple
Brenda Wineapple is the author, most recently, of White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth...

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What of Carolyn Keene? With Mildred Wirt banished and her identity the kind of dark secret only Nancy Drew could divine, Harriet Adams, nearing 80, took full credit for creating the popular detective. But when she signed a more lucrative contract with Simon & Schuster and Grosset & Dunlap filed suit, Wirt reappeared, dryly remarking, "I am the only remaining ghost still alive." Going on the record for the first time, Wirt testified that she had written twenty-three of the first thirty Nancy Drews. Yet when Adams died in 1982, her obituaries claimed it was she who created the teen detective, and in a way that is true, too.

As for Nancy Drew, still popular, her continuing appeal is heartwarming and a little scary. Rehak exuberantly concludes that Nancy today still teaches readers "how to think for ourselves, how to jump eagerly into adventure and then get out of the scrapes it inevitably involves, how to get to the truth...how to dress properly for the events at hand, to make tea sandwiches and carry on polite conversation." This suggests, of course, that the cultural shifts documented by Rehak amount to nothing more significant than the changing length of one's hem. Tea sandwiches prevail. Rehak may be too stalwart a Nancy fan to trace the implications of her own argument: that Nancy Drew is Huck Finn in white-gloved drag. Never sad or wrinkled or fatally misunderstood, she "solves" our anxieties about womanhood by dodging them. And since she, unlike us, stays perpetually young, we tend to romanticize her maverick freedom, which otherwise might seem, alas, a quaint thing of the past, never realized, never real.

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