Saturday, October 10, 2009

Ambiguity in Nancy Drew

In Girl Sleuths, Bobby Ann Mason uses the following quote from The Mystery at Lilac Inn to illustrate Nancy's association with the color blue:
“The driver, a pretty girl of perhaps 16, attractive in a frock that either by accident or design, exactly matched the blue of her automobile, smiled whimsically.” (p.1, original version)

The use of blue was interesting but I was stunned by the phrase "either by accident or design." Either/or! From the very first page of this book, we're confronted with mystery, ambiguity, forks in the road. Which is it? Is it accident that Nancy's "frock" matches her car or is "design?" And what are we to make of this mysterious Mona Lisa smile, this whimsical smile, that apparently results from being hungry and reading a sign for chicken dinners?

When I first went looking for this quote, I mistakenly picked up The Password to Larkspur Lane. (Larkspurs, Lilacs ...) I was perplexed I couldn't find the quote I sought. What I did see was the following: "If this were 2,000 years ago ...." Not fact, but supposition, followed by plants "that waved their blue plumes as if saying: 'Choose me! Choose me!'" Three short paragraphs into the book and we read two "ifs:" we are in the world of supposition, possibility and, with the imagined cries of the flowers, choice.

Both openings point to depths and mysteries in Nancy herself that make her a more interesting character. Does Nancy plan her frocks to match her car? What about Nancy we don't know? Is she more calculating than we may believe, more in control of the aesthetics of her environment than she might let on? Or it mere chance that her dress matches her car? Is her "whimisical" smile because of hunger or a nod to the way she's put one over on us? The text leaves us hanging ... or more precisely, puts the burden on us to look for "clues" in the text to tease out our own conclusions.

In the Password to Larkspar Lane, we find Nancy and Hannah Gruen in a domestic, pedestrian and typically female endeavor: cutting flowers from a backyard garden for a flower show. Yet the text lifts it into another, more mysterious realm. Nancy is not just an everyday girl in the midwest. She connects herself to a larger story, a history that goes back 2,000 years to ancient Greece, a place that evokes wisdom and mystery. The text also subverts Nancy's feminine activity. She's the actor, the chooser, the "male" figure in this scene. She has the power over the passive flowers, who can only say "Choose me!" It's she who walks among the contestants in this beauty pageant, making decisions and taking action: "Snip!"

How is this similar to Jane Austen?

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