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The Lion and the Unicorn 26.1 (2002) 137-142
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Nancy Drew© and Company:
Culture, Gender, and Girls' Series
Sherrie A. Inness, ed. Nancy Drew© and Company: Culture, Gender, and Girls' Series. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State U Popular P, 1997.
Nancy Drew studies have exploded over the past twenty-five years, encouraged first by feminist studies (begun by Bobbie Ann Mason's The Girl Sleuth: A Feminist Guide, 1975) and then cultural studies (the first ever Nancy Drew conference held at the University of Iowa, 1992). Nancy Drew and Company: Culture, Gender, and Girls' Series, edited by Sherrie A. Inness, 1997, hoped, by its very title, to capitalize on this interest. Actually, though, the primary title is a bit misleading because only one-and-a-half articles of the nine focus on Nancy Drew. As the subtitle denotes, the real aim of this study is to open up lesser-known girls' series to serious scholarly consideration. That goal the book achieves admirably. Its range is good, as various scholars examine books as diverse as the Anne of Green Gables series, the Betsy-Tacy books, and the Cherry Ames series, going well beyond just mystery series, or the Stratemeyer Syndicate series books, to include other popular but today lesser-known titles. This diversity extends to the authors themselves; as the jacket cover promotes, the book brings together "a broad range of critical essays on girls' series fiction from established scholars, such as Chamberlain, Johnson, and Romalov, along with newly emerging scholars in the field, such as Katrine Poe, Maureen Reed, and Deborah Siegel" (back cover). This diversity of scholars allows for a varied range of approaches, as Inness points out in her introduction (5); while some authors engage in genre studies (Nancy Tillman Romalov's "Early Twentieth-Century Girls' Automobile Series"), others conduct literary comparisons (Sally E. Parry's "The Search for Values in Nancy Drew and Judy Bolton"), and still others use new historicism in examining historical, popular culture texts alongside literary ones (Parry's "Cherry Ames in World War II"). The studies are unified, though, in their focus [End Page 137] on culture as a backdrop to popular literature, with all, to greater or lesser extent, examining gender, class, and racial assumptions in their texts: some argue the liberalism of their series in these respects (Deidre A. Johnson's "Community and Character: A Comparison of Josephine Lawrence's Linda Lane Series and Classic Orphan Fiction"), while others conclude that conservative ideologies ultimately hinder the series (Kathleen Chamberlain's "Gender, Class, and Domesticity in the Isabel Carleton Series").
The Introduction is especially impressive, as Sherrie Inness fluidly weaves together a definition of "series fiction," a history of series fiction from 1910 to the 1950s (the scope of this book), and an overview of the nine articles to come, showing connections and variations between them. She shows how girls' series books have had four marks against them from the beginning, being not only children's, but girls' books, both popular and series books. She argues, though, that series books can be "one particularly intriguing way to explore how girls' culture is constituted" even though gender and class stereotypes often exist in them; consequently, we need to understand such books "in their historical context" and how "individual readers interpret the works differently" (10).
Because no two authors examine the same series (except Parry and Siegel, who both examine Nancy Drew), we really are not able to see different interpretations of the same works. However, each chapter is commendable in its own right, each opening with an overview of the series, often including detailed plot summaries for the uninitiated, and then plunging into its particular thesis. Opening the volume, K. L. Poe examines the Anne of Green Gables series from a feminist perspective, defining the books as "womanist" in that "the females in this series are separate from the male world and recognize this as a positive advantage, rather than a negative confinement," which she believes has been inspirational for young women readers then and...