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Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Herby Melanie Rehak
2006 Edgar Award for Best Critical/Biographical
"And now, for Nancy Drew fanciers old and young, comes Melanie Rehak's Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her. With her first sentence ('Grab your magnifying glass, because this is a mystery story') Rehak shows she has a finger on the pulse of the faithful. A proper sleuth for grown-up girls, Rehak — in prose steely, lovely, and precise — explores why Nancy Drew has remained so popular since her arrival, in 1930, and answers the question: Who was the mysterious Carolyn Keene?" Sandra Tsing Loh, the Atlantic Monthly (read the entire Atlantic Monthly review
Synopses & Reviews
A plucky "titian-haired" sleuth solved her first mystery in 1930. Eighty million books later, Nancy Drew has survived the Depression, World War II, and the sixties (when she was taken up with a vengeance by women's libbers) to enter the pantheon of American girlhood. As beloved by girls today as she was by their grandmothers, Nancy Drew has both inspired and reflected the changes in her readers' lives. Now, in a narrative with all the vivid energy and page-turning pace of Nancy's adventures, Melanie Rehak solves an enduring literary mystery: Who created Nancy Drew? And how did she go from pulp heroine to icon?
The brainchild of children's book mogul Edward Stratemeyer, Nancy was brought to life by two women: Mildred Wirt Benson, a pioneering journalist from Iowa, and Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, a well-bred wife and mother who took over as CEO after her father died. In a century-spanning story Rehak traces their roles — and Nancy's — in forging the modern American woman. With ebullience, wit, and a wealth of little-known source material, Rehak celebrates our unstoppable girl detective.
"The intrepid Nancy Drew has given girls a sense of their own power since she was born, Athena-like, from the mind of Edward Stratemeyer in 1929 and raised after his death in 1930 by his daughter Harriet Stratemeyer Adams and Mildred Wirt Benson, a journalist who was the first to write the novels under the pen name Carolyn Keene. Poet and critic Rehak invigorates all the players in the Drew story, and it's truly fun to see behind the scenes of the girl sleuth's creation, her transformation as different writers took on the series, and the publishing phenomenon — the highly productive Stratemeyer Syndicate machine — that made her possible. Rehak's most ambitious choice is to reflect on how Nancy Drew mirrors girls' lives and the ups and downs of the women's movement. This approach is compelling, but not particularly well executed. Rehak's breathless prose doesn't do justice to the complexity of the large social trends she describes, and tangents into Feminism 101 derail the story that really works — the life of a publishing juggernaut. All the same, Stratemeyer himself would undoubtedly say that the story is worth telling. Drew fans are likely to agree. 8 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. Agent, the Wylie Agency. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Packed with revealing anecdotes, Rehak's meticulously researched account...will delight fans of the beloved gumshoe whose gumption guaranteed that every reprobate got his due." Booklist (Starred Review)
"A breezy social history." Kirkus Reviews
"As a literary biography, Girl Sleuth is necessarily tangled, since the Nancy Drew mysteries...had numerous parents. But Rehak does a terrific job of bringing to life the writers and editors who constituted Carolyn Keene, the pseudonymous author of the series." Kate Arthur, The New York Times Book Review
"In her evenhanded, readable book, Rehak does a good job of exploring the class tensions between the two creators....
"In this well-researched and fluidly paced book, Rehak delivers a complex interweaving of the writers' biographies with the context of their times....Rehak writes with gusto and intelligence....Nancy would be so proud." Chicago Tribune
"Melanie Rehak unspools the fascinating story of how Nancy came to be....
"Whatever becomes of [Nancy's] future...Rehak has given her past its due in this vivid, unpretentious and sympathetic history." Newsday
"Rehak sheds light on perhaps the most successful writing franchise of all time and also the cultural and historic changes through which it passed. Grab your flashlights, girls. The mystery of Carolyn Keene is about to begin." Karen Joy Fowler, author of The Jane Austen Book Club
"Girl Sleuth is meticulously researched, elegantly written, and riveting. Melanie Rehak juxtaposes teen sleuth Nancy Drew's omnipotence with the all-too-real struggles of her creators." Susan Kandel, author of Not a Girl Detective
Book News Annotation:
This volume reveals that the many mysteries solved by Nancy Drew, the brainchild of children story mogul Edward Stratemeyer, were written by two women who published under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene. Working from correspondence, articles, and other archival materials, Rehak recreates the lives and careers of Stratemeyer, his daughter Harriet, and writer Mildred Wirt Benson, in an engaging book that grown Nancy Drew fans will enjoy.
Annotation ©2005 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
The brainchild of children's book mogul Edward Stratemeyer, Nancy Drew was brought to life by two women. In a century-spanning story, Rehak traces their roles — and Nancy's — in forging the modern American woman.
For longtime Conan Doyle fans as well as readers just discovering Sherlock Holmes, a wickedly smart and rollicking journey through the birth, life, and afterlives of popular cultures most beloved sleuth.
For longtime Conan Doyle fans as well as readers just discovering Sherlock Holmes, a wickedly smart and rollicking journey through the birth, life, and afterlives of popular culture’s most beloved sleuth
Today he is the inspiration for fiction adaptations, blockbuster movies, hit television shows, raucous Twitter feeds, and a thriving subculture. Over a century after Sherlock Holmes first capered into our world, what is it about Arthur Conan Doyle’s peculiar creation that continues to fascinate us? Journalist and lifelong Sherlock fan Zach Dundas set out to find the answer. Through sparkling new readings of the original stories, Dundas explores Conan Doyle’s fictional and real-world inspirations and reveals how the Holmes tales laid the groundwork for an infinitely remixable myth, kept alive over the decades by writers, actors, and readers. Dundas’s investigation leads him—like a Bill Bryson of Baker Street—on travels into the heart of the Holmesian universe. He infiltrates fan conventions, nearly freezes on a heath out of The Hound of the Baskervilles, and talks to the creators and star of the BBC’s Sherlock. Along the way, he discovers and celebrates the ingredients that have made Holmes go viral—then, now, and as long as the game’s afoot.
THE FIRST BEHIND-THE-SCENES HISTORY OF THE BELOVED GIRL DETECTIVE
"Through the history of Nancy Drew, Rehak sheds light on perhaps the most successful writing franchise of all time and also the cultural and historic changes through which it passed. Grab your flashlights, girls. The mystery of Carolyn Keene is about to begin." — Karen Joy Fowler, author of THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB
* The original proposal for Nancy Drew suggested that her name be Stella Strong, Nell Cody, Helen Hale, or Diana Dare.
"GIRL SLEUTH is meticulously researched, elegantly written, and riveting. Melanie Rehak juxtaposes teen sleuth Nancy Drew's omnipotence with the all-too-real struggles of her creators." --Susan Kandel, author of NOT A GIRL DETECTIVE
* When Nancy Drew was introduced she wore cloche hats and gloves whenever she was out in public. In the 50s she changed to sport dresses and rompers and even — gasp — pants.
"Witty, fast-paced, and smart, Girl Sleuth makes the story behind Nancy Drew as much fun to read as the mystery novels themselves. It's superb."
--Jean Strouse, author of Morgan, American Financier
* Nancy and her boyfriend Ned Nickerson never once kissed, although in The Secret of the Old Attic she does "faint into his strong arms."
About the Author
Melanie Rehak is a poet and critic. A recipient of the New York Public Library's Tukman Fellowship at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, she writes for the New York Times Magazine, the New Yorker, Vogue, and the Nation, among others. She lives in Brooklyn.
Table of Contents
The Stratemeyer Clan 1
Alma Mater 48
Hawkeye Days 73
Nell Cody, Helen Hale, Diana Dare 90
Nancy Drew Land 110
Syndicate for Sale 126
An Unfortunate Break; or, The Cleveland Writer Comes into Her Own 140
Motherhood and Nancy Drew 168
"They Are Nancy" 197
The Kids Are Hep 224
Nancy in the Age of Aquarius 254
Will the Real Carolyn Keene Please Stand Up? 288
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