Famous fictional detectives rely on their powers of deduction, reasoning and educated thought to solve strange and oftentimes grisly crimes. These characters have long been a staple of detective stories, mysteries and crime fiction and are both professionals and amateurs who have quirky, prickly and sometimes even “defective” personality traits which set them apart from their peers and make them such unique and entertaining characters, masterfully drawing their readers into their complex fictional world in their quest to solve the elusive “whodunit”. Fictional detectives are generally placed into the following four archetypes: the amateur detective, the private investigator, the police detective and the forensic specialist.
One of the most famous amateur detectives of all time in the mystery fiction genre is Nancy Drew. Nancy Drew is a teenage sleuth whose character first appeared in the year 1930.The Nancy Drew mystery series have been ghostwritten by a number of authors and are published under the collective pseudonym, Carolyn Keene. Over the decades the character has evolved in response to changes in U.S. culture and tastes but has remained a popular staple with young girls around the world. In 1959, the books began an extensive revision, mostly to eliminate racist stereotyping. In the original version of the series, Nancy was a 16-year-old high school graduate, and in later versions, her character changed to that of an 18-year-old high school graduate and amateur detective. In the series, Nancy Drew lived in the fictional town of River Heights with her father, attorney Carson Drew and their housekeeper, Hannah Gruen.Nancy is often assisted in solving mysteries by her two closest friends, Bess Marvin and George Fayne, and also occasionally assisted by her boyfriend, Ned Nickerson and his two friends, all college students.
The character was conceived by Edward Stratemeyer, founder of the Stratemeyer Syndicate.Stratemeyer had created the Hardy Boys series in 1926 (although the first volumes were not published until 1927). The series had been such a success that he decided on a similar series for girls, featuring an amateur girl detective as the heroine. While Stratemeyer, like many men of his day, believed that a woman's place was in the home, he was smart enough to realize that the Hardy Boys books were popular with girl readers and wanted to capitalize on girls’ interest in mysteries by offering them a strong female heroine they could identify with.
Stratemeyer initially pitched the new series to Hardy Boys publishers, Grosset & Dunlap as the "Stella Strong Stories", adding that "they might also be called 'Diana Drew Stories', 'Diana Dare Stories', 'Nan Nelson Stories', 'Nan Drew Stories', or 'Helen Hale Stories'." Out of these options, editors at Grosset & Dunlap preferred "Nan Drew", but opted to lengthen "Nan" to "Nancy". Stratemeyer began writing plot outlines and hired Mildred Wirt (later, Mildred Wirt Benson) to ghostwrite the first volumes in the series under the pseudonym, Carolyn Keene. Subsequent titles have been written by a number of different ghostwriters, all under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene.
Critics of the series have often accused the title character as being “unrealistic”. For example, although Nancy didn’t have a job, she never lacked money, despite her worldwide travels and her reluctance to accept monetary compensation. When another series of “girl detective” mystery books was written beginning in 1948 featuring Trixie Belden as the title character, comparisons between the girl detectives were inevitably made.Beatrix "Trixie" Belden was a young teen living just outside the fictional town of Sleepyside-on-Hudson, in the Hudson Valley area of New York and with the help of her friends and her older brothers, solved mysteries, had adventures and travelled. Although Nancy Drew was clearly the older and more sophisticated girl sleuth, Trixie Belden was considered the more realistic persona, as a teenager growing up on a farm who grumbled about doing chores and having two older brothers and one younger brother constantly sticking their noses into her business.
Putting aside, for the moment, any existing girl detective comparisons, the fact remains that the Nancy Drew character has proven hugely popular worldwide: at least 80 million copies of the books have been sold, with translation of the books into over 45 languages. Nancy Drew has been featured in five films, two television shows, and a number of popular computer games; she also appears in a variety of merchandise sold all over the world. Nancy Drew is also a cultural icon who’s been cited as a formative influence by a number of prominent women including Supreme Court Justices, Sandra Day O’Connor and Sonia Sotomayor, as well as former First Ladies, Laura Bush and Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Whether loved or reviled, very few will argue that after 84 years, Nancy Drew still has the distinction of being known as the world’s most famous fictional girl detective.
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