My first mystery book was given to me by my father. It was the breakout title from the original Nancy Drew series: “The Secret of the Old Clock.” I remember studying the vintage cover, admiring Nancy in her key lime pencil dress — impressed that she managed to look chic, even while solving crimes!
I was instantly intrigued at the thought of a classy young woman, an “amateur sleuth.” My father’s gift sparked my love for the eponymous heroine of the novel, and I devoured the series as fast as I could.
Nancy Drew As an Icon of Feminine Strength
Although I appreciated the books as a child of the ‘90s, Nancy Drew appeared on the scene in 1930, the first four titles becoming smash hits that soon had a cult following. Within four years, Fortune magazine noted that Nancy Drew was taking the literary world by storm: "Nancy is the greatest phenomenon…How she crashed a Valhalla that had been rigidly restricted to the male of her species is a mystery even to her publishers."
Now, nearly a century later, Nancy Drew’s original series has been translated into 45 languages and as a franchise has entertained generations in many mediums via books, comic books, six feature films, three television series, and even video games. You could venture that Nancy Drew’s popularity transcends the love of mystery novels and rather is proof positive of her character as an icon for femininity rooted in strength. Nancy is even lauded as a formative influence by women across the globe, most notably, Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Sonia Sotomayor.
How can it be that a spunky girl from yesteryear with her penny loafers and blue-roadster convertible still captivates us today?
Nancy doesn’t allow her strong qualities to overpower her femininity and vice versa.
Perhaps it’s because Nancy Drew’s character traits embody the best of the feminine genius. Nancy has been likened to a “modern-day Joan of Arc,” excelling in what was traditionally considered a man’s domain (crime solving), as Joan of Arc led the charge onto man’s domain of the battlefield. Also similar to Joan of Arc, Nancy offers the juxtaposition of genteel feminine qualities with the more puissant, but doesn’t allow her strong qualities to overpower her femininity and vice versa. She is well-coiffed and polite yet daring and determined. When she needs help, she asks for it – like when she takes advice from her father – but that doesn’t detract from her intelligence and independent spirit. She possesses a wholesome sex appeal but doesn’t reduce herself to sleeping around. She is adventurous and autonomous, but not self-focused; she seeks to help others, to the point of putting “herself at the forefront of danger in search of answers, investigating fraud and thievery.”
Take a Clue from Nancy Drew
Nancy’s enduring influence stems from her admirable moral character. She’s a rare role model for young women in a world gone wild. With that said, we could take a “clue” from how Nancy Drew not only exemplifies feminine strength, but could also apply her mystery-solving savvy to one of the greatest mysteries of modern life: dating.
Every good mystery has the same elements, and the cases Nancy solved were no different. First, you meet the characters. Each person we meet can be seen as a puzzle to be solved, a character to analyze and discover facts about. This might sound harsh – after all, isn’t dating supposed to be romantic? You want to be swept off your feet, right? Not in Nancy’s book. You never want to judge someone for good or bad too quickly. A big part of your job while dating is to decipher a person’s character to see if that person would make a not only suitable – but wonderful and supportive – life-mate. This requires patience, thoughtfulness, and asking the right questions.
Characters eventually reveal themselves to be who you first thought they were – or someone entirely different. This can be positive or negative. You might have a so-so connection on a first date, and then the second date hits it out of the park. Or you might date someone for a time and start to uncover qualities that are inconsistent with the person they project to be. The main pointer here is to keep your detective hat on. What are his motives? Has he proven himself with hard work? Does he have healthy aspirations and ambitions? Can he make a promise and keep it? Can he make sacrifices for you and others? What are his motives with you? Are you a “fling” or a “fill-in” in his eyes, or are you someone who is being respected, encouraged, and treated with genuine care?
Characters eventually reveal themselves to be who you first thought they were – or someone entirely different.
The setting in a plot is where the mystery unfolds. So where is your setting? Your setting is where you are currently – but is it a place you want to be? This place could be physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, geographical, or financial. This will influence the types of characters you encounter and the way you relate to them. Throughout the series, two traits Nancy Drew exhibits are compassion and justice. We can assume the same traits, and be compassionate, by not being hard on ourselves for where we may not want to be, but do ourselves and our future life justice, by doing the work to get to where we do want to be.
While Nancy is certainly the main character in her own story, she has tried and true friends. Her best friends Bess Marvin and George Fayne, and her boyfriend, Ned Nickerson, always have her back, and she’s a faithful friend to them. We all need friends like these in our own lives. “Friends of the good,” as coined by Aristotle, who can support us and our values while we date. You want to save “marriage privileges” for marriage? Well, you need friends who will not only support that conviction, but who hopefully want the same for themselves, and who will (with your permission) hold you accountable. We need friends who will speak truth into our lives, especially when we’re in the midst of puzzling together what a future with someone might look like.
Every mystery has the “overt clues” which are obvious. In dating, an overt clue could come by way of a guy saying he hates Christmas or doesn’t like kids. No cold case there! But hidden evidence can be more difficult to pinpoint. Any element that seems foggy, or is something you don’t want to delve into out of discomfort, would qualify as hidden evidence. Practices regarding pornography, social media use, communication during conflict, views on lifetime commitment and having children – these will most definitely impact a future life together. The phrase “leopards don’t change their spots” is generally spot-on. Nancy would advocate to leave no stone unturned.
Nancy models the belief that you have the aptitude to solve the mysteries you encounter, great and small.
When you’ve done your due diligence, all the puzzle pieces should fit together. The mystery is solved. The character is either good or bad. If the guy is good, you can see how all the clues you’ve considered throughout your story add up to paint a big picture of what a future together would look like. The facts should feel clear, and the man who you’ve discovered to be everything he said he is should make you feel admiration and excitement. Maybe you’ll be partners in crime? Or for the sake of Nancy Drew, hopefully crime-solving!
Closing Thoughts: Case Closed
It’s refreshing to think that a heroine like Nancy Drew exists. Her fearless persona can embolden us as we face interpersonal mysteries in our own lives. I for one can’t wait to share the world of Nancy Drew with my own daughters one day, not just for the love of the stories but for what they model – being a keen judge of character, awareness of the world around you, and the belief that you have the aptitude to solve the mysteries you encounter, great and small.
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