I'm not saying Nancy Drew was a lesbian.
(Believe me, I still remember the pushback on our 2007 article, How Gay Were the Hardy Boys.) But the original Nancy Drew stories were written in 1930, and sometimes their outdated language creates a problem.
"Will you tell us why you came here, and promise never to divulge to a soul a word about this place?"
"I promise nothing," Nancy declared.
"What!" the men ejaculated in astonishment.
I hate it when that happens....
That's an actual quote from the 1933 edition of Password to Larkspur Lane. The language was updated in later decades, and most readers have never seen the original texts. But before Nancy even hooked up with her butch friend Bess Marvin, she'd enjoyed this strange adventure with a young femme named Helen Corning.
After Helen and Nancy Drew encounter a suspect, Helen gushes "I just hated the looks of that man. Let's think about something pleasant." And then...
The girls accordingly enjoyed themselves by admiring each other's dainty lingerie, choosing the stockings which would best match slippers and frocks, and so for a time forgot the mystery. Helen was in ecstasies over Nancy's powder blue evening gown...
And when Nancy finally sneaks into the bad guy's house, Helen actually kisses Nancy Drew.
"Good luck," she whispered.
I swear I'm not making this up! ("Helen kissed her chum," it says on page 173.) That's how mind-bogglingly innocent people were in 1933. Or... There's something else going on here.
Nancy even spends the night sleeping with Helen. And the next morning, when she tells Helen she has "an adventure" in mind - Helen can't wait....
She threw back the covers of the bed and began dressing rapidly. "Hurry up, Nancy," she cried gayly.
"Lead me to this adventure..."
And to hell with sleuthing!
Sorry, my mind wandered off there for a second. Or am I the only one who sees sexy lesbian bondage overtones in the 1930 frontispiece illustration for The Mystery at Lilac Inn? (See the picture above.) Even twenty years later, when the books were updated, Nancy Drew was still tied up at the hands of the domineering jewel thief Mary Mason.
And then there's this 1939 scene from The Clue of the Tapping Heels.
Still, I want to believe that even the most prudish reader would be curious about a chapter titled "The Man with the Whip." ("You saved me from a very unpleasant experience back there, Effie...") But the real moral of this story is that even in 1933, Nancy Drew kicked bad-guy ass.
"'Oh dear, this is something I don't know much about," the girl said in vexation. "How does one go about crippling an airplane motor?"
Maybe it helps to think of the books as antique children's pulp fiction.