Sunday, June 17, 2012

"There is often a big disparity

between the way in which we perceive things and the way things really are." ~ Dalai Lama

I lucked into a stash of early books at the flea market a couple weeks ago, and, even though it is Father's Day, I am doing a roundabout to talk about men.
 
In doing my research for this post, I was gobsmacked to discover that the Nancy Drew books were not written by good old Carolyn Keene, but by someone's Daddy!  Edward Stratemeyer, founder of the Stratemeyer Syndicate book packaging firm, had created the Hardy Boys series in 1926, and the series was so popular that he decided to create a similar series for girls, with an amateur girl detective as the heroine. While Stratemeyer believed that a woman's place was in the home (again...history is always enlightening),  he was aware that the Hardy Boys books were popular with girl readers and wished to capitalize on girls' interest in mysteries with a strong female heroine.

The character first appeared in 1930. The books were ghostwritten by a number of authors and published under the collective pseudonym Carolyn Keene. Authors had to sign away all rights to authorship or future royalties. The contracts stated that authors could not use their Stratemeyer Syndicate pseudonyms independently of the Syndicate.

 In the early days of the Syndicate, ghostwriters were paid a fee of $125, "roughly equivalent to two month's wages for a typical newspaper reporter, the primary day job of the syndicate ghosts." During the Great Depression this fee was lowered to $100.  All royalties went to the Syndicate.
According to my research, Nancy Drew has evolved in response to changes in USA culture and tastes. The books were extensively revised, beginning in 1959, largely to eliminate racist stereotypes. ( I think I need to reread these books!).  Many scholars agree that, in the revision process, the "heroine's original, outspoken character was toned down and made more docile, conventional, and demure." In the 1980s a new series was created, The Nancy Drew Files, which featured an older and more professional Nancy as well as romantic plots.  In 2004 the original Nancy Drew Mystery Stories series, begun in 1930, was ended and a new series, Girl Detective, was launched, with an updated version of the character who drives a hybrid electric vehicle and uses a cell phone. Illustrations of the character have also evolved over time, from portrayals of a fearless, active young woman to a fearful or passive one. Along the way, there were many lawsuits by the various authors who tried to claim royalties.  In 1980, the battles were still in the courts.  Guess Nancy could not solve that problem!
 What is fascinating about these books....other than my dashed myth of Carolyn Keene...is how the books are promoted during those trying times...Depression...WW II...
There are a number of Judy Bolton books also.  Now these were written by a woman, Margaret Sutton, and are also a popular girls' mystery series. The first 4 volumes were published in 1932 by Grosset and Dunlap. The series continued until 1967 and consisted of 38 volumes. Each book was "based on something that actually happened" and many were based on real life sites.   Penny Parker books are in the stash.  Penny Parker was the heroine of a series of 17 books written by Mildred Wirt and published from 1939 through 1947.

I found the book covers fascinating...but, as I said earlier, in a roundabout way, I have to honor my Daddy on this Father's Day, who was taken years ago by cancer, but who helped me write my story...and, unlike Nancy Drew's creator, did not believe I needed to be in the home (although he did expect my mother there!), and who took me to the library weekly for all of these "girl" books.  I leave you with a quote from the one book cover ~little did they know what the 21st century would bring~ granted we have plenty of gorgeous "girl" detectives on TV, but "Take away our books, and we become slaves, unknown and unknowing."

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