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A photograph by Dorothy Lange, Girls at Lincoln Bench School, Malheur County Oregon, October 12, 1939


       . . . .Could you shrink from so simple an adventure? No, no, you will proceed into this small vaulted room, and through this into several others, without perceiving anything very remarkable in either.  In one perhaps there may be a dagger, in another a few drops of blood, and in a third the remains of some instrument of torture; but there being nothing in all this out of the common way, and your lamp being nearly exhausted, you will return towards your own apartment.  In repassing through the small vaulted room, however, your eyes will be attracted towards a large, old-fashioned cabinet of ebony and gold . . .  Impelled by an irresistible presentiment, you will eagerly advance to it, unlock its folding doors, and search into every drawer--but for some time without discovering anything of importance--perhaps nothing but a considerable hoard of diamonds (Northanger Abbey, Chapter 20)


She found 100 ivory elephants in the cabinet (from David Godine illustrations)

Dear friends,

A few weeks ago I discovered that two of my old blogs on girls' books did not make it to my new one. I liked those and grieved to think they are lost forever. So I thought to myself I would at least rewrite about a couple of books on girls' books. One I'm teaching this term is Bobbie Ann Mason's Girl Sleuth: In Search of Nancy Drew, Judy Bolton and Cherry Ames:  one could say I teach courses nowadays by assigning a few of my favorite books. This class is Advanced Composition in the Humanities class.  I hope to add blogs about women's books particularly connected to Austen or her era as I go along.


Sitting on Cherry Ames, among others

My love of such books remains under the sign of Austen's parody in Northanger Abbey where Henry Tilney imagines Catherine Morland getting up at midnight with a fragile light like all true gothic heroines and goes in search of adventure.

Bobbie Ann Mason goes in search of lost time and tires to remember her experience of reading poplar books at the same time as she analyzes them from an adult and feminist perspective.  The basic  thesis of the book is that the impulse to be a detective, to solve a mystery which is often equated with liberation and adventure turns out to be way to tidy up the world, to mark it safe for the present powerful establishment and retain the status quo -- so her book is not only about children's literature, since it's about the very popular genre of mystery stories, she also reveals the norms and suppositions behind these.  And not just in US but versions for different countries (Sue Barton, nurse replaces Cherry Ames), plus these books travel. I've had young women from Nigeria tell me their favorite book was Nancy Drew one and bring in an old copy printed in Europe. Presumably shipped to Africa.

What appears to "tweak" the present world in a more liberal or enlightened or humane direction actually reinforced the present establishment and its ideas.   While this is so obvious in the earliest series and the original versions of the later series, it is still true of today's syndicated series books. The girl--or boy, from the The Hardy Boys or present syndicated popular adventure books for boys-who seems free and powerful if anything but; or he is policeman or policewoman holding up the present order. Like detectives of popular formulaic detective fiction whose great wisdom provides the happy ending so shows universe to be a good place.

Further, the morality of these books which in each generation seems somewhat forward looking is really of reflection of what the average person is thinking according to the public discourse (what gets into the papers, what the average teacher says, syllabuses constructed by education department and boards of education).  They are controlled by what publishers are willing to publish and parents willing to buy.

Where once a vein of unashamed snobbery and a view of women which held their lives were to be fulfilled in the home caring for children and being supported by husband prevailed we now have a new ideal ("political correctness").   Boys in these books were to be manly:  the sort of values one sees afflicts the men in Swift's Last Orders.  It would appear we are for all people being equal; enlightened or more varying and wider-ranging ideas are asserted. But the reality of the story lines shows us that a mere veneer is being used under which we are encouraged to despise the poor, those with crude manners, the old distrust of "sex" is kept up.  Any indulgence from an older strict morality is punished.  We are encouraged to admire glamor and glittering prizes and upper class manners just as strongly as ever.

Anything which might disturb the order--such as even a belief in the supernatural--is explained away.  Mason sees supernatural as main way in which these books embody the "unknown."  The girl goes around the world with a broom sweeping "evil" away.

She gives context and purpose of her book in her autobiographical preface. This is a time when critics are studying popular culture; children have often preferred pop books to force-fed classics.  To return to these gives relevance to early periods of our lives where we spent time in popular culture without thinking about it. Our hidden lives.

With the very earliest of these popular books (Honey Bunch), we are in the period before a lot of money can be made, and in a period where only a minority of children went to school beyond age 12.  Some terrible racist books come from this era:  Little Black Sambo for example.  The Bobbsey Twins offer fictional nests, escapes from bullying, unkindness poverty and trouble. Today people are more conscious but we have groups strong to repress books that are outside their values from getting into the schools.

It's interesting that from the very beginning there was an attempt to show girls doing things, individual girl's brave struggles.  I think the idea we have the Victorians all despised women and wanted to keep them wilting flowers is overdrawn.  First of all many women worked since only a small percentage were middle class and could stay home.  They did not work in professional occupations, and it was thought to be for the family.  Stayed home when they could.   Staying home was a middle class ideal and influential. You were ashamed of yourself in part, and working class women did heavy work, for little pay often. Written to a formula but children did love them Girls did things, but they were upper crust. Money from daddy, girls upper crust   Stereotyped roles for sexes:  Boys on a single-minded mission to become manly; girls had three episodes in their lives: menustuation, marriage, motherhood. They off escapism with security.   Nancy Drew did stand out.  Strong accomplished and seemed independent  No mother about.

Nancy Drew. 



The key to the Nancy Drew image and the popularity of the figure as Bobbie Ann Mason sees it is not only does she satisfy two contradictory or opposed stereotypes, but the sheer snob appeal of the figure.  The figure appeals to the longings for the power, trappings, lifestyle, and aura of the upper middle class.  Not aristocracy.  Nancy is not Lady Nancy.  Again and again throughout the chapter everything Mason talks about relates back to Nancy's class status. The sex is strong but it's insidious and not recognized. All those who are evil are somehow sexy.  Nancy is endlessly repressing Ned.  He is an emasculated figure.

I'd like to admit these books were part of what made me idolize England. My favorite books were ones I found in the library, and not the more recent paperback vintage. My father was a reader and told me about books he knew:  Mary Poppins in the Park, Secret Garden, Dickens, Jane Austen.  So I thought maybe an English gentleman was the very best kind of husband a girl could have. I married a version:  poor boy who went to one of these schools as a day boy, hated it, but was himself incultured that way.



A haunted maze-garden, from a 1984 Shades of Darkness series (a Christman story, "The Maze")

Judy Bolton was not written by a syndicate and then rewritten every 10 years like Nancy Drew and Bobbsey Twins and others. The strongest section in the book is that on Judy Bolton and Trixie Beldon because here Mason is more ambivalent and finds more genuinely  positive elements in these series.  In the case of the Bolton books there was an author; she hasn't let them be rewritten into pap.  They do show Judy marrying and after a while the male, Peter, is the central agent:



He appears on most of the covers of the new series (alas it's being rewritten and marketed)

Margaret Sutton. She is willing to talk of the appeal of these books in ways that acknowledge deep-seated needs and desires in human nature without castigating them.  Books have individuality; some real imagery and scenes. Such as love of gothic:  this is a kind of romance that has long been favorite among women, though it's not fair to say men don't read gothics.  They do, but not quite the same kind.  Stephen King is a gothic.  Male gothic is more violent; women go for mysteries and ghosts; attics are part of this female gothic:  a place to escape to. She finds good humane values in the Bolton books too.Trixie Beldon:  except for nonsense about how miserable it is to be rich (all these servants around cluttering up the place), she makes a good case.

Glamour Girls:  up in the clouds, in hospitals, in ad agencies, in the movies. Rich picturesque places far away.  Beverly Gray, college girl (ivy league):  a moment in which the hack writer writes real prose with feeling, thought, individuality at least minimally there.  Helen Wells's Cherry Ames, Vicki Barr, better written, more stylish, more thought out, p 109:  Cherry Ames has original source in World War Two fervor.  Vicki Barr stories really about creating homes for herself, males are brothers and fathers. Connie Blair, most sexist, least inspiring.

Recent junior novels and praise for them shows you can't trust views of committees of teachers.  Committee choices of books are often conventoinal; they alienate you from your real self in other ways.  Problem of self-alienation due to norms we can't and really don't want to meet.  Betty Cavana books: we meet girls trapped by sex roles.  Mason herself wrote a series called the Carson girls

The crux of the problem:  these books have not gone beyond Louisa May Alcott, though this is a picture of favorite book from my childhood and I loved these illustrations:



The girl sleuth is perpetually a girl, perpetually disconnected, a virgin or unmarried.  There is a need for a heroine who becomes a woman who is an adult. Imposter Tea:  Nancy Drew series continues to thrive on descriptions of gourmet and luxurious eating:  latest book is a cookbook,; some of the more obvious snobbery and racism cut; at the same time characters more simplified.  Carson Drew still the reward. New emphasis on team work brings us back where we started, Outdoor Girls Series feature emerging youth class, privileged by early sophistication and postponed adulthood, p 136

Truth is fundamental values of American society changed very little from the beginning of the 20th to the beginning of the 21st century:  no challenge, no healthy truths about sex and our hidden lives straight. In Mason's early career:  she tried writing this kind of stuff; she went to New York to work on a magazine. She went on to write Shiloh and Other Stories (remarkably effective reflections of lower middle class people living in Kentucky); Clear Springs, autobiography, effective story of a vet who is disabled coming home to live with a niece, In Country. A movie was made.  She explores American here and now, the middle part of the country. She really really read for role models in this manner. She rejoiced and felt better when they read of powerful women who assert themselves against struggle. Feminist movement has freed women to talk of these things in ways they never did before, but not to go to the center of the problem which is sexuality and the taboos and contradictary pressures put on them.

Flaws in book.   She idealizes the workplace.   The modern workplace is the product of capitalism.  That she does not acknowledge she is arguing to create more people deeply engaged with the profit, vanity, pride, money, ambition motive is curious.  That she never talks about losses and gains.  In every social rearrangement there are winners and losers. There are only so many places on top.  She doesn't go into marraige: the books don't, but she allows us to skim over it as do the books. So central thing insisted that women do is not explored:  recent Jane Austen bio movies insisted she was miserable because she never married.  There's no evidence for that whatsoever, much on the contrary. She could have a writing life. She could have a writing life. however, marriage is satisfying and having children can be too. It's an occupation respected by society (if not paid) and she does not knowledge this nor the difficulties women have (very real) in going to work and caring for a family.

I would say outlook of book is upper middle class in its assumptions of people's expectations and what they can get from workaday world. She assumes work outside the home is fullfilling.  That when you "go out" there you get freedom.  There is sense of this. She need not go on about it, but there should be some acknowledgement. She also discounts too strongly the escapist motive which is important for adults and children. 

She is a wonderful writer I should add and her Clear Springs a moving memoir of her growing up in Kentucky.

Still I think the book is an eye-opener.  It was and still is genuinely ground-breaking.  The only one of its kind I know of.  It makes the reader think about what books he or she really might have read in childhood and why.  We can recognize ourselves. She's right that books like this for boys and girls have played an immense psychological role in the history of children and their culture and thus formed us.  A good similar book is Deborah O'Keefe's Good Girl Messages

***************



Remedios Varos, A Paradise for Cats

A brief history of children's literature:    Earliest children's books by which I mean books written for children specifically begin around the turn of the 18th century, 1790's, around time of French revolution. Before that children given Bible, Aesop's Fables, chapbooks with stories that we would recognize as folk and fairy tale.  Seven with one bound.  Jack, the Giant Killer.  Snow White and Rose Red.  Also tiny readers to go with chalk slates.  They were also in Europe given the Bible to read, but the Bible is hard, has a lot of sex and violence and it was more they were told stories from the Bible (like you would have a child's book today)

Attitudes towards childhood changed; new enlightened notions about development, about children not being little adults.  Important in this were ideas of Rousseau and various educationalists in 17th through 18th century. which only slowly altered European middle class households in the 19th.   First books were however, highly didactic.  Goody Two-Shoes. Eric or Little by Little.  We would find them insufferably moral. Since Victorians demanded their novels be sex-free, some of the novelists' novels could be read by 11 year olds (David Copperfield), also interest in childhood makes novelists choose to tell stories from time of hero or heroine's younger life.

Nineteenth century sees these patterns: In school upper class boys learned Latin and Greek; middling classes went to day schools to learn practical things like reading, writing, 4 kinds of arithmetical procedures, and sew and crafts. Around 11-12 some children graduated into adult reading, many stopped reading.   Boys began university which was often professionally oriented (law, medicine, the church) around 12.  Other boys apprenticed, went to sea.  Girls did not. Stayed home, at best by mid-19th century went to finishing school. The great real aim was to protect her virginity for the male; keep her sheltered and obedient.

Early children's classics of later 19th century are written as labor of love by people who are themselves people who write for adults.  Alice in Wonderland written for a real little girl as a present; Beatrice Potter's first books written for a child-friend. o money in it.  Not an industry.

As standard of living goes up and public education spread in 1870's we get first longer books published for money for children.  Time of The Secret Garden.  Wind in the Willosw.  The Little Princess actually was a play originally.  One could call this still the golden age of children's literature since it was not quite an industry, not truly commercialized, and yet books being produced. However, unless you got them in stallments in magazine form only the elite child could have them. In fact in the 1930s such magazines Girls' Own and boys' version sold popularly.  These are rather crude; it's in the book we find more complexity and more playfulness as in Winnie the Pooh typical, first written for child, and then published.  Period may be said to have lasted into World War II. Basically adults have far more disposable income and the coming of the paperback brought down the price of books.
   
Children's literature as a industry born after that.  Beginnings seen in syndicated books like Honey Bunch and Hardy books, and in magazines for boys and girls.  Really took off since 1950's.  Since the 1970s and 80s we get a prize culture.  Books are awarded prizes, very often these are (as in adult marketplace, inventions to sell books by publishers)  Rich and fertile.  Some wonderful books for children are written nowadays.  But a lot of trash and junk.  Some mediocre.

Adults control what can be written and shape it:  children seen as investment.  And dreams we have later on grow out of these, for me there is an indirect link by way of Dorothy Sayers and Harriet Walters as Harriet Vane that leads to Petherbridge as Lord Peter with his brilliance, sensitivity, humanity and butter-colored hair



Twilight with a rose

Ellen

Comments

( 25 comments — Leave a comment )
misssylviadrake
Sep. 5th, 2009 12:45 pm (UTC)
Girls' Own list
From Diana:

"Your Girl Sleuth blog is nice, I've read the Bobbie Ann Mason book. Should tell the Girls Own list about it."
misssylviadrake
Sep. 5th, 2009 02:20 pm (UTC)
But these books only seem to be escapist
Dear unknown friend,

I'm afraid you missed the point -- or ignored it. What Mason is showing is these books are not escapist but inculcate patterns of behavior detrimental to fulfillment for girls in life. They pretend to offer liberation but don't. I was generous, but read a young woman (a college student) today:

http://www.jimandellen.org/gmuhome/MichelleFergussonGirlSleuth.html

Note where she ends judiciously:

"The series lay bare the conflicts between adolescent romantic girls (the urge for experimentation and adventure) and her dread of the dissatisfied housewife (the dying imagination). Sleuthing becomes a positive outlet for thinking and adventure, and a way of achieving fulfillment for her the world (idea reinforced from her real experience) cannot offer under normal circumstances

Sleuth novels support the concept of Peter Pan "never growing up," and then conventional womanhood eventually happens = marriage"

I'm always puzzled why people ignore the meaning of texts. Here where it has been pointed out repeatedly by my summary, and by the links I provided it's as if I had not written the content I did. I read reviews of movies where they write about the surface events and characters and never for a moment look at how it really functions in their dream worlds and find these reviews so disappointing. That's why I miss Nick (a friend who can be relied on ever to talk about the content of what he's writing about).

Ellen


Edited at 2009-09-05 06:00 pm (UTC)
(Anonymous)
Sep. 5th, 2009 10:40 pm (UTC)
Girls oen books
Ellen,
Your information and comments were intelligible and interesting. All I was saying was that girls didn't care about any of that. At the time we just wanted escapism. Perhaps the books did rob us of the ability to accomplish anything in adult hood, but we were only looking for escape.
The authorities quotes say that these books are bad for girls, but what books are suggested as substitutes for them?
Perhaps I just disagree that such books give girls the wrong ideas or that such books raise expectations that can't be fulfilled.
Out of all the books available to girls today many still want to read the modern Nancy Drew and books in which girls solve mysteries, accomplish things and triumph over adults . Same song second verse of the old sleuth books and no more realistic. Some are reading ( if it can be called reading) the anime books from Japan where girls do all sorts of things. They read the books required for school but look for the sleuth books for fun.
frisbeewind.blogspot.com
Sep. 6th, 2009 01:52 am (UTC)
Ellen, I'm very interested in "Golden Age" children's literature, particularly since I just read A. S. Byatt's new novel, The Children's Book. The novel focuses on children's literature and art during the late Victorian and Edwardian eras, and analyzes the way writers like E. Nesbit, J. M. Barrie, etc., were writing fantasies more for adults than for children. ONe of the main characters, Olive Wellwood, is based on E. Nesbit (author of Five Children and It, The Bastables, etc.), who was a member of the Fabian Society, and Humphrey Wellwood is based on Nesbit's husband a philanderer whose child was raised by the family. There are also Arts and Crafts potters, puppeteers who stage dark fairy tales, etc. And the children of the artists are very ambivalent/hostile toward the books based on their lives. A fabulous novel.

I haven't read Bobbie Ann Mason's book: it's on my list.

The series books were so much fun, but I've always maintained that Trixie Belden is a more interesting character and better "role model" than Nancy Drew. Trixie and her best friend, Honey Wheeler, are the brilliant sleuths, but they have formed a kind of do-gooders' club of boys and girls, and they work on cases together. There is always sexual tension between Trixie and Jim. They're equals - it's a kind of friendly romance - but Jim is not marginalized as Ned is.

i've also just finished a fascinating 1909 children's novel, Gene Stratton-Porter's A Girl of the Limberlost - a page-turner with a creative, intelligent heroine, Elnora, who collects moths and sells them to a naturalist to finance her her education. She faces so many obstacles to education - including an abusive mother - but is determined not to spend her life on a farm. The character is idealized and sentimental, and romance is certainly underplayed, but she is a more powerful character than some of the stick-figure cookie-cutter characters in the sleuthing books.

I did love all of the sleuthing series, though, but I haven't reread them.



misssylviadrake
Sep. 6th, 2009 05:18 am (UTC)
Girls' and women's books
Dear Judy, Kathy and anonymous,

I thought of another book on girls' and women's books which I still do have a few paragraphs on on my old blog, Maureen Corrigan's Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading.

http://www.jimandellen.org/feministblog/477.html

You have to scroll down.

Now she is much more positive, but then she chooses books that she finds genuinely inspiriting (one is Sayers's Gaudy Night) as well as providing nourishment for dreams.

Actually once again (to anon) Mason does not say the books are just bad for girls, but brings out a lot that is useful, good and entertaining in them, which I summarized too. When you say you are not interested in "any of that" it's hard for me to understand as "any of that" is utterly part of the content of the dreams; it's not separable.

I am interested in girls' books. I do think they influence us (reading girls) enormously; boys' book perhaps influenced reading boys less so -- I don't know quite why I think this, only that boys are so much more respected and give more to do in the world later on. I will look to see if I can get those titles. Good Girl Messages is far more critical and sees less of use and value in popular girls' literature, but then she doesn't choose these sleuth books. Now I'm wondering if the "female gothic" I wrote about in my paper on NA doesn't work in these sleuth books and thus the sanguine optimistic vein of them is part of what makes these sleuth books a little bit healthier. Some of these series travel outside a single country (Nancy Drew) and others don't (Cherry Ames for the US, Sue Barton for the UK). We never did try any of these books on womens' books as such beyond that Light book we did on WWTTA; I thought that book I wrote a blog on by Diane Phillips on womens' books of the last quarter century superb.

http://www.jimandellen.org/feministblog/512.html

I never came across the Trixie Beldon ones, alas, and now I'm too old. I saw A.S. Byatt's new book advertised in WRofB. I must go over and look at it. I'm enjoying _Cat's Eye_ by Margaret Atwood very much -- sometimes it's painful for she tells hard truths about how girls bully one another, but it's therefore more strong.

Thank you all three for these replies. They have "made" my evening.

Ellen

P.S. It's Bob Dixon, _Catching Them Early_. I picked it up for a dollar. I've heard of _You're a Brick, Angela_ somewhere but will have to hunt on until I find an inexpensive copy. There seem to be few about and they are high.
misssylviadrake
Sep. 6th, 2009 11:25 am (UTC)
The influence these kinds of books have on us
From Diane R on Janeites:

"Thanks for the review of Bobbie Ann Mason's Girl Sleuth book. I had forgotten about it, and I don't know if I ever read it. I will now. I was also interested in your brief history of children's lit. I suppose this should go on another list, but have you read "Queechy" or "Wide Wide World?" Both were written about 1850 by a woman author who turned to writing to help her family earn money. I haven't read them, but apparently they were "wildly popular."

They seem to be treacly Victorian stuff that we would have a hard time reading --at least so I thought after glancing at a facsimile copy of Queechy on the Web. What interests me is the influence these kinds of books have --lifelong! I think we tend to underestimate the power of these "childish" books to seep under the skin and influence people deeply. Queechy and Wide Wide World came on my radar screen because they made a deep impression social activist and Catholic convert Dorothy Day. When I read about the books, I thought, these were more than an "influence:" they were a
map she followed for the rest of her life: lean on God, be strong for others, work hard, be cheerful .... So it becomes a little frightening to see children's books (and YAs) become so terribly commodified today. I'm trying to read a Gossip Girl now so I can relate to my daughter and the book becomes self parodic, so ridiculous are the product placements, of the ilk that "he leaned over her with his Old Navy gray tee topped with the Ralph Lauren loose-knit cable sweater in raspberry from the 2006 Liner collection casually flung over his shoulders and he almost slipped in his gray cashmere DKNY socks because he'd taken off his LL Bean Docksider loafers."

Anyway, I ramble, but as you so well say: "And dreams we have later on grow out of these." What dreams are we planting?

I loved this graf: "The modern workplace is the product of
capitalism. That she does not acknowledge she is arguing to create
more people deeply engaged with the profit, vanity, pride, money,
ambition motive is curious. That she never talks about losses and
gains. In every social rearrangement there are winners and losers.
There are only so many places on top. She doesn't go into marraige:
the books don't, but she allows us to skim over it as do the books. So central thing insisted that women do is not explored: recent Jane Austen bio movies insisted she was miserable because she never married. There's no evidence for that whatsoever, much on the contrary. She could have a writing life. She could have a writing life. however, marriage is satisfying and having children can be too. It's an occupation respected by society (if not paid) and she does not knowledge this nor the difficulties women have (very real) in going to work and caring for a family."

And as you--or Mason--point out, the supernatural (and potentially) the religious is sanitized or scrubbed from these books, with a message not to believe these "superstitions,"
ghosts and God conflated and then thrown into the same waste basket.

That, I would say, is a major, major change from 19th century youth
literature--at least I am thinking of Little Women, with a sense of
religious duty permeating the book--the girls are in fact on
"pilgrimage" modeled on Pilgrim's Progress, which they receive as a
Christmas gift at the beginning of the book after donating their
Christmas breakfast to the poor, and Queechy and Wide Wide World are apparently openly religious."
misssylviadrake
Sep. 6th, 2009 04:58 pm (UTC)
On ones' daughters' reading :)
Dear Diane,

You bring up reading with your daughter. I did try to give them books I had loved but found that the first one didn't share my taste (except for Jane Eyre and then when she was older) and the second also had a different kind of taste (science fiction, which I can't stand) though she nowadays loves Austen and does read some of the same books and kinds of books (she liked Wives and Daughters very much, some Trollope books and we've read the same modern memoirs too).

I never tried to control their reading as it seemed counterproductive, and they never did bring home pornography or anything that I might have objected to. They read a great deal on the Net and there they were free :) The one thing I really regret is the young adult book, and the marketing of semi-children's books for adults. People will go for the easier thing and I now think the older girl (now 31!) will probably never read the better books (more challenging, simply more adult too) and the younger one is still to my mind wasting much of her mind on these modern series books (sci fi and others). Also Austen does suffer here because she seems hard in comparson and then these girls read the sequels and say that's Austen or watch the movies and hink they know Austen. The marketplace for children's and young adult books specially marketed crowds out the better or serious books -- I don't mean they need be long or old, and I find in teaching my reading students (the ones who like to read) will sometimes be grateful and say they loved such-and-such (eg., The Namesake, Bel Canto) and would never have heard of it but for the class.

Ellen.

Edited at 2009-09-06 05:06 pm (UTC)
ibmiller
Sep. 6th, 2009 07:26 pm (UTC)
Fascinating that you should bring this up - I just got done reading another post on very similar lines: here.

I would challenge your dismissal of science fiction and other "popular" literature - after all, Austen was once seen as precisely that sort of disposable fiction, as was (and is, to some extent) Sayers, and P. D. James. I read a lot of books in this category, and while I think probably about 90-95% of them are trash, I also think that about 90-95% of all that is written, in whatever genre, is trash. And there is a wonderful 5% of novels in all genres that are thoughtful, important, and moving. I recently read a popular science fiction novel called Anathem by Neal Stephenson which, while retaining an exciting and easy to follow plot, also dealt seriously with philosophy and literary criticism.

A lovely post, even if I think that Edward Petherbridge's Lord Peter is a terribly written (if fairly close visually) travesty of the original character.
misssylviadrake
Sep. 8th, 2009 02:39 am (UTC)
Girls books
Dear Ian,

Actually the blog is about popular literature and while I (as well as Bobbie Ann Mason) critique it, I would not have written it if I didn't think it is important and centrally part of children's lives, in this case girls. To examine and critique is not to reject. I am doing that for the Austen movies and her books too.

On science fiction, I meant that as simply about me. I can't stand the stuff: to me except in highly unusual cases (Michel Faber's Under the Skin is one), I find the allegory wooden, obvious and complacent.

I can sometimes enjoy reading about genres when I don't like the novels themselves that much. This is true for mystery and detective novels. Leave Me Along, I'm Reading has a long chapter on women's mysteries and detective novels, and I enjoyed reading it. I liked _Gaudy Night_ and much of Sayers but generally speaking I don't care for mysteries.

Ellen
(Anonymous)
Sep. 11th, 2009 01:14 pm (UTC)
From Linda on WWTTA:

"The photo by Lange is lovely, and the artwork by Cousturier [on my Ellen and Jim have a blog, Two under the artist's name] is exquisite.

Linda"
misssylviadrake
Sep. 19th, 2009 02:19 am (UTC)
Bob Dixon
A friend and I got to talking of Dixon's insightful books and here's part of what she wrote:

However, I've now discovered that, since Dixon's death, the
whole text of both volumes of 'Catching Them Young' has been put
online at his website (you might want to add this link to your site
for anyone who is interested, though the type for the first volume is tiny and hard to read - more apologies that I hadn't spotted this etext before you forked out for a copy!: Anyway, the link is:
http://www.peace-workshop.freeuk.com/Catching_Them_Young.htm
I see he actually did a third book, about toys, which is still in
print, and that he was also a poet and a left-wing activist.

This morning at his website I've been able to reread the sections on Blyton, which I found interesting and quite disturbing. I had
remembered that he pointed up the snobbery in the depiction of police officers, and also the way that girls, gypsies and "foreigners" are all stereotyped, so I think I'd actually remembered it all better than I thought I had.:) I still think it is a good study as far as it goes, and points up some of the things that are wrong with her books and the awful underlying politics - but I suspect his Orwell-style method of criticism has dated, and would be interested to know if you are getting this impression too.

Rereading all this now, I have a feeling there is possibly more to
Blyton than he says and that she can't be so easily dismissed - as
with the films that Jeanine Basinger writes about, there is more in
there somewhere to account for her popularity. It would be interesting to read a feminist critic on her work or someone who takes a perspective involving more deconstruction. (She's often criticised for concentrating too much on her career rather than her family, and, I seem to remember, for cheating on her first husband, so I'll be interested to see whether the biopic takes this sort of moralising angle - and I'm pleased that Dixon doesn't go there.)

I was never a big fan of Enid Blyton, but I do remember some more
positive bits from some of her books that I read as a child, although I know I have a tendency to remember the good bits of an author or at any rate the bits that struck me. I remember that one of the heroines in her boarding school stories is a Spanish gypsy/circus girl called Carlotta, and I *think* that when a snobbish girl exposes her background she says: "Yes, I am a gypsy and I'm proud to be a gypsy" and then takes some of her wealthy new friends to visit her family in the caravan - I'm sure it is all very patronising, but still interesting that she included such a storyline at all.

I also remember reading one of her books which I think must have been aimed at older girls, about a family at a run-down farm where the heroine is a "tomboy" type girl who is patronised by a more
glamorous/feminine cousin who pretends to help her while in fact
putting her down - maybe I'm building this up into something more than it really was, but I think the psychology there was better than in the extracts Dixon chooses. I remember descriptions of this girl trying to give up biting her nails (oddly enough, I remembered this after seeing your comment on the self-harming in Atwood) and her method, ie just biting the little nail on one hand, so I wonder in retrospect if Blyton had bitten her nails herself and was writing from experience here."
misssylviadrake
Sep. 19th, 2009 02:57 am (UTC)
Box Dixon: and ignoring woman's point of view
I had read a little of Dixon (having bought the book) and did think that not that the attitudes towards race and sex would be any better than class and money in children's books but might be different, and thought you might be interested in his having written another book -- especially since you mentioned Enid Blyton in the blog. I felt turned off. I should have remembered that you like to be exact and very fair.

First I've never read any Blyton at all, as I've never read the Little Prairie books and a number of other famous series which are said to be conservative or simply awful (Ronald Dahl is said to be malicious and cruel). I have had the experience of returning to what I did read and being appalled. We once spoke of this on WWTTA. Angela R agreed with me Heidi was unreadable to an adult (with brains). For me the worst experience was _Five Little Peppers and how they grew_ but almost as bad (to be truthful) was _The Secret Garden_: the pious gratitude of Susan and Dickon's self-abasement was electrifying.

What I thought Dixon was getting at (though I didn't get far enough to see if he says this) is that books are written by adults. If they positively drip with condescension, snobbery, false humility and jus awful values, the adult writing them must know this. So when we have so many such books, it has to be deliberate: such books are published by those who know what they are publishing.

There's a book on children's literature with the words "Peter Pan" in it where the author says there is no such thing as a children's book since all are written by adults, bought by adult and must be marketed in part to adults who can control and direct their children's reading -- at least to teen years.

You may be right that from a feminist or woman-centered point of view there is something valuable in books Dixon won't see. He's from an earlier era too where he might never have come across it.

Nowadays this is so erased in most places that I forget not what is there for women but just how pervasive this ignoring is so that when someone writes in a leftist way and doesn't bring feminism up I don't necessarily think of it unless I've read the text or seen the movie. ON top of that is the problem that feminism comes in so many forms. Basinger's book was particularly good in taking on board ambiguous ambivalent and all sorts of forms of liberation. I keep these in mind better than I would because of Wompo where the woman are ever debating feminism.

Ellen
misssylviadrake
Sep. 26th, 2009 02:11 pm (UTC)
Bob Dixon on children's literature
Back again a couple of weeks later:

Bringing back the issue of childen's literature (girls' books especially) I began a pair of books Judy recommended on her blog: Bob Dixon's _Catching Them Young_, the first on Sex, Race and Class and the second on Political Ideas.

He's very good and subtler than most such books. While I thought Deborah O'Keefe's _Good Girl Messages_ spot on:

http://www.jimandellen.org/feministblog/105.html

after all, we all nowadays anyway (he was writing in the later 1970s and 1980) know the usual stereotypes to be found: girls passive, not active, made to suffer, self-sacrifice, and erased. He goes beyond this to demonstrate how much children's literature and girls' books (especially Enid Blyton in this first chapter) inculcates and makes socially admirable even in-group cliques and typical common cruelties. Such things are not criticized, it's only the most outrageous bully who is ostracized (and often then it's someone lower in class).

I was impressed by this. He also offers titles of decent books to parents; his book is meant to be useful.

It's these deeper values and human behaviors that lead to our unjust societies.

There's a book on children's literature with the words "Peter Pan" in it where the author says there is no such thing as a children's book since all are written by adults, bought by adult and must be marketed in part to adults who can control and direct their children's reading -- at least to teen years. What Dixon is getting at more deeply is
thought Dixon was getting at is that books are written by adults. If they positively drip with condescension, snobbery, false humility and jus awful values, the adult writing them must know this. So when we have so many such books, it has to be deliberate: such books are published by those who know what they are publishing.

I have had the experience of returning to what I did read and being appalled. We once spoke of this here. Angela, if she reads this, may remember she agreed with me Heidi was unreadable to an adult (with brains). For me the worst experience was _Five Little Peppers and how they grew_ but almost as bad (to be truthful) was _The Secret Garden_: the pious gratitude of Susan and Dickon's self-abasement was electrifying.

I will be doing Girl Sleuth with my students again this term as well as children's literature as a field of study.

Ellen

misssylviadrake
Sep. 27th, 2009 01:00 am (UTC)
Then and now
From Linda on WWTTA:

"I have to say that when I was growing up, I loved the Five Little Peppers and the Secret Garden--maybe because I was brought up, unfortunately, to be passive, long-suffering and self-sacrificing. Those were the times.It seemed there was a lot more emphasis on character and moral values in children's literature in the old days.

I'm talking about the 50's--when I was a youngster. Pre-television era--when I went to the library two blocks away every summer morning to be pick out my book for the day. And when television did come to my household, it wasn't very good--so I continued to be a reader.

I loved Nancy Drew but not Cherry Ames. I loved Louisa May Alcott--she was my heroine.

Children today have the distractions of television, video games and the Internet. I am amazed when I meet young girls today who appear to be avid readers--I wonder how they escaped the electronic world and discovered the joy of reading. As a children's librarian for 20 years, it was my job to promote reading--but it seemed predetermined in most children at an early age. It was difficult to make a convert.

I read an article once that children with asthma tend to become readers. So I did some of my own independent research and started asking readers if by any chance they had asthma--and it turned out that a surprising number did.

I did everything one is supposed to do with my son to interest him in reading--reading to him in the womb--reading to him nightly as a todler and young child--bribing him--and yet he is not a reader. He is a body builder. (Recently, he started reading a bit when he is on the treadmill--and I am overjoyed. It is just a small victory.)

I haven't read Bobbie Mason, but I read your blog, Ellen, on girl sleuths and enjoyed it very much. You are a treasure trove of suggested reading--and I keep a list by my computer. I wait every Tuesday for the interlibrary loan delivery at my library to see what treasures I've requested that will arrive today. thank you.

Linda"
misssylviadrake
Sep. 27th, 2009 11:34 am (UTC)
Pre-TV childhood
From Linda on WWTTA:

"I have to say that when I was growing up, I loved the Five Little Peppers and the Secret Garden--maybe because I was brought up, unfortunately, to be passive, long-suffering and self-sacrificing. Those were the times.It seemed there was a lot more emphasis on character and moral values in children's literature in the
old days.

I'm talking about the 50's--when I was a youngster. Pre-television era--when I went to the library two blocks away every summer morning to be pick out my book for the day. And when television did come to my household, it wasn't very good--so I continued to be a reader.

I loved Nancy Drew but not Cherry Ames. I loved Louisa May Alcott--she was my heroine.

Children today have the distractions of television, video games and the Internet. I am amazed when I meet young girls today who appear to be avid readers--I wonder how they escaped the electronic world and discovered the joy of reading. As a children's librarian for 20 years, it was my job to promote
reading--but it seemed predetermined in most children at an early age. It was difficult to make a convert.

I read an article once that children with asthma tend to become readers. So I did some of my own independent research and started asking readers if by any chance they had asthma--and it turned out that a surprising number did.

I did everything one is supposed to do with my son to interest him in reading--reading to him in the womb--reading to him nightly as a todler and young child--bribing him--and yet he is not a reader. He is a body builder. (Recently, he started reading a bit when he is on the treadmill--and I am overjoyed. It is just a small victory.)

I haven't read Bobbie Mason, but I read your blog, Ellen, on girl sleuths and enjoyed it very much. You are a treasure trove of suggested reading--and I keep a list by my computer. I wait every Tuesday for the interlibrary loan delivery at my library to see what treasures I've reques ted that will arrivetoday. thank
you.

Linda"
misssylviadrake
Sep. 27th, 2009 11:36 am (UTC)
Children's literature today
From Clare:

"I enjoyed you article , Ellen. Well, no I didn't, I should say I was intrigued and interested by it. I didn't read many children's books as a child. I had access to my grandfathers small library of books. His attitude was what I didn't understand wouldn't hurt me, so I was interested in your view of girls books. Some of the one's I really liked were the children's books of Elleston Trevor, the sort of animal books, like "The Wind in the Willows" that were popular in UK in the 50's. A particular favourite was "Deep Wood".

Anyway, recently I read the Journals of Beatrix Potter, mainly because of the botanical interest. These sent me to her children's books, which I loved, and this made me think that maybe I should catch up with some of the classic children's books, e.g.. Blyton and Arthur Ransome.

However, your article has made me think that I'd be wasting my time.

My readers' group are keen to read children's books each Christmas,
any suggestions that aren't too sexist? Most members are women and
the two men are open to persuasion, so they say. I think the remark
of one was" as long as it's nothing girlie, like "Heidi". I'll show
him your article, he'll be relieved.

Clare"



misssylviadrake
Sep. 27th, 2009 11:49 am (UTC)
Dixon's purpose
Thank you so much, Linda, for that appreciation. I was all alone reading my books for literally much of my life before I came onto the Net, and now I am contented to share and hear and talk about what is worth loving and living for.

I would say to Linda and Clare, Bob Dixon does not mean that children should not read children's books, but that adults should be aware of the morality being inculcated. Linda, Dixon would say that today there is a morality inculcated, and since his books were published in 1977 and 1980 not that long ago, he is showing us how conservative thought that is punitive, and justifies unjust and cruel patterns of behavior is still being passed on under the guise of entertainment and morality. That is, today's books may often appear to be detached but they are not.

He does not mean that adults should monitor or forbid reading of anythning. Since we as individuals cannot control what the establishment presses produce, all we can try to do is two things: 1) talk with our children about what they are reading, and try to present an alternative point of view. Bring better books into the house when we can. That's why he presents an alternative list.

Clare, you will rejoice to know _wind in the Willows_ is according to Dixon one of the more generous decent books from the earliest part of this century. What you can tell your friends is some of what is found in books (that are lauded as books) is not much better than they see on popular TV and go to popular movies for.

Dixon's idea is to make us aware. We can also "vote" with our pocketbooks. We can refuse to buy a pernicious book.

I remember that my father did talk with me about what I read and did sometimes counter the morality in them -- according to his agenda of course and his lights. But he did.

Finally, Linda my idea is reading girls, and reading boys too are somewhat unusual people. They are often brighter and may be more sensitive. Contrary to the perpetual anti-intellectualism of our times and fierce insistence on socializing as the way to learn about life, the reading girl and boy leads a richer life, and they can find in some books a much finer morality and experience to think about than what they find in their daily lives. They can learn some history and about other countries. Their minds are exercised.

Probably Dixon also means to talk to other writers and is spaeking out to parents and the publishing world as a protest. He wants to see such texts change, and his "agenda' is one of noble egalitarian charity, decency, understanding what real kindness is and where pain comes from. Children are made of human nature and will want the amorality too, but you can present it in ways that judge it truthfully at the same time.

Ellen
misssylviadrake
Sep. 30th, 2009 11:22 am (UTC)
Bad children's books replace classics
From Catherine on WWTTA:

"Dear Ellen, Diana and all,

I am jumping in late, but doesn't the problem lie with limiting children to the genre of children's literature? The books I loved most as a child were not children's books. They were The Odyssey, Don Quixote, Eugenie Grandet, The Arabian Nights. I was also in thrall to Andersen's and Perrault's fairytales, but I still reread them with the same, or greater pleasure today.

I am not saying that all books are appropriate for children, but early exposure, as soon as reading fluency is achieved, to accessible "adult" books would allow kids to develop critical skills and spot what may be objectionable in the subtext of children's books.

The Odyssey, for instance, contains some misogynistic statements from Telemakos (accepted by Penelope) but also some strong female characters. I found the juxtaposition of both illuminating. Likewise Eugenie Grandet deals with what it means to be a woman in a French provincial town in the 19th century.

That said, kids should be encouraged to read whatever floats their boat. If that's children's literature, fine, but, just as with adult literature, with a follow-up discussion of the underlying issues.

Catherine"
misssylviadrake
Sep. 30th, 2009 11:24 am (UTC)
young adult and commercial books
I never said anyone would come to harm. What I suggested was Dixon showed the kind of values that lead to some of the worst structures of our society (exclusionary practices, bullying, sheer admiration of rank and materialism, coterie-behaviors, despising people who are weak against others in some ways) are inculcated in some children's books and among these some of the most popular (because pushed).

The whole society is permeated by these and it's no surprize it's there. What Dixon suggests as a protest is publishers know this and ought to try for something better; he wants parents to know and talk to their children when topics come up. He suggests books which don't have these values.

Would you not like to see us live in a better world? Were earlier books to have more decent underlying values it would be better for us, the way better children's programming is good.

In fact I like what Catherine wrote: one way to get past these books (and many are the concocted series types) is to start reading adult books earlier. I did, but when I was young children's literature was not as fiercely marketed, there was just not as much and it was not inexpensive. You went to the library for it and needed a parent to take you. Further, as I've said now there is a huge market in young adult books, books written for money precisely for the age group of 12 to 18. People are lazy and truly serious readers who like harder books because there's more there are rare. I daresay many readers of young adult books would not read much at all but for these books. But there are people who would and don't get to them.

I began reading adult books at 11 to 12. And yes I read the more classic books when young. There was nothing else at the time; my mother didn't know enough to take me to story hour where commercial books are now the dominant mode.

Ellen
misssylviadrake
Oct. 3rd, 2009 12:11 pm (UTC)
Who writes and who reads; good and bad
From Diane Reynolds on WWTTA:

"I have been following this thread with a great deal of interest, and, in fact, have just read Girl Sleuth.

I am probably paralyzed by having too much to say!

I do think that what we read as young children has a profound and
often unconscious influence on us all through our lives. So Ellen is right that we should take more care with what our children read.
Looking back, I see that most of my childhood reading geared me
towards materialism: I naturally, perhaps naively, expected to have
that roadster at 16, etc, etc. Even the Little House books, for all
their depictions of austerity, promoted the joys of materialism,
perhaps more so because getting, say, a stick of candy or a rag doll was such a wonder. My childhood reading also reinforced normative middle class values--never be "too" anything, always be clean, always be polite, etc.

Worse, they did set up a fantasy notion that the average girl will become a super-popular teen cheerleader with loads of dates and friends. This cruel fantasy world continues to be promoted today and I remember feeling sad for my daughter, who in late latency was fixated on becoming a cheerleader because of the books she
was reading. I recognized that door had already closed, given the
competitive nature of cheerleading in our area, my daughter's somewhat lack of coordination, and the fact that the girls who were destined for the cheerleading role had already had 5-6 years of cheerleading camp (starting at about age 4) and the kinds of mothers who would more or less walk on broken glass to get their daughters into cheerleading. So I think these books can do a disservice.

On the other hand, much of my early reading also subverted
stereotypes in subtle ways. Nancy Drew and Donna Parker were
forthright, independent, intelligent girls. I remember a series about a boy who worked as a babysitter. It was funny and also realistic about life--it's from these book that I learned that "life is 90% boredom," perhaps not true but more realistic than "every girl can become an exciting cheerleader, date the football star and become class president ... not to mention Homecoming Queen!" I also read two books, with Barker street, I believe in the title, that told the story of a bully from, first, the point of view of the victim and second, the point of view of the bully. While the books reinforced class stereotypes--the bully came from a dysfunctional, clearly-cued "lower class" family (I think the mother was "slovenly"), the books were mind opening to me at age 9 in showing that both sides had sympathetic stories, and thus that the world is not black and white, good and evil.

I read some adult books as a child, but I think it's unrealistic to
think most children will have that kind of access or inclination. I
don't know how much better the adult books were--I remember reading
Gone with the Wind, full of racist stereotypes, and The Agony and the Ecstasy, probably not great literature --but they did open up my interest in history.

This is too long already, but one last point: I think it's right to be interested in the fact that children's books are mostly written by mature adults and that many are highly autobiographical--Donna Parker is, Carolyn Haywood's Betsy series is, of course, Little House is, and the list goes on ... so what we get is not a snapshot of childhood/teen years in the years the books were written, but a snapshot of those years as they were experienced 20, 30, 40 years prior. For example, much of the Donna Parker series reflects not the late 1950s, early 60s, when they were written, but the author's experience of
adolescence in the 1930s. Likewise, the 1940s Betsy books are actually depictions of a child's life circa 1910 ... I think this would make these books essentially conservative. The girls reading these books are really learning about life a generation back.

Finally, on that note, I think it is interesting that the first Nancy Drews were written by a 23 year old, a young, single, childless career woman with a background as a diving champ at college who was hardly older than the character she was writing about. I think this must have had a profound influence on making Nancy the Nancy we love."
misssylviadrake
Oct. 3rd, 2009 12:25 pm (UTC)
In response to the previous
I can probably best respond to Diane's comments by focusing back on Mason's _Girl Sleuth_. As Mason says, her purpose is to being out into the discussable, the visible, our hidden lives. I think that Dixon's purpose too. That these books are very influential makes them important.

The effect is like much in life ambiguous. We take from books what we bring to them. I never responded to the books with the idea I must conform nor did I expect to live like the Bobbsey Twins (I read many of these books between the ages of 8 and 9); on the other hand, I know I've always wanted a blue car, preferably sleek: probably this also came from Diana Shore's TV program and its commercials: see the US in your chevrolet, and you saw a blue one heading out. The books reinforce what we get elsewhere. I also (no coincidence I've thought) married an Englishman very gentleman-like he is too; went to a public school as a day (=poor) boy; I couldn't have done that without going to England, but I went there as an English major, and from the time I was 8 I was also Anglophilic from reading others books (the so-called "classics" from the library).

The value of secondary literature on children's literature is to alert us: both to see ourselves and how we became what we are, and to see the effect on daughters or sons. As Diane says, most of these books record a previous generation (as do many "realistic" serious novels). The point might be to see where cruel things are being promulgated though I grant that's hard to see until years later and then the cruel fantasy that hurt was also the product of the rest of the child's environment.

I stayed away from the kind of woman who would do anything to make her daughter a cheerleader. I was outspoken against Barbie dolls, and simply would have nothing to do with what I thought wrong or misguided or hurtful (of other girls too, or boys, my daughters were not the only girls in the local universe). Both daughters joined the groups of high schoolers who participated in plays, the older one "rising" to be "somebody" in the group (she got big parts, partly from a histrionic talent), and I thought that was lovely and good for them.

My favorite was not Nancy Drew. I remember there was some obvious bully-type in either the Nancy Drew or Dana girls series, and what happened was I actually began to root for her. I don't know quite why: maybe it was her working class background. At any rate, it became an exercise in frustration because Nancy always won. It was then I knew it was time to put these aside.

My favorite was Judy Bolton; they were not rewritten at that time (though they are being rewritten now) and there were a limited number. I got through them and went on.

Yes it's unrealistic to look to adult or older classics, and (as I said) perhaps the young adult series pushed by schools bring into reading young adults who would never read but for these; on the other hand, I think something is being lost to the more serious reader. You may say if they want the book, they will find it on their own. They have to against the stream of everything around them, and until they get into college, will probably have to hide what they love, lest they be made fun of if they are part of any crowd.

There is something to be said then for marching to your own drummer.

Ellen
misssylviadrake
Oct. 12th, 2009 03:19 am (UTC)
Masculinity in boys' books
On WWTTA the question was asked whether boys' books are also evaluated thoughtfully: yes boys' literature is critiqued, and evaulated too, by among others Lesley Hall as part of her terrain of sexuality studies. It's harder to critique them since macho male values are so inculcated in our society, but not just this but other undiscussed attitudes inculcated are brought out in "masculinity" studies. And all that Dixon says of class and race equally applies to boys. And sex too: homosexuality (presented as unacceptable effeminacy) is out too.

Ellen
misssylviadrake
Oct. 12th, 2009 11:25 am (UTC)
Nancy Drew in France, Africa, identity creation
On WWTTA, Catherine DeLors wrote:

"Just a note: in the French translations, Nancy Drew is called Alice Roy. Roy is of course a French surname, and Nancy would not have worked as a woman's fist name since it is a city in Eastern France. The French don't use place names as first names.

Also in the French version, Nancy/Alice is not a WASP. Her father has a French name, and her late mother was also French. Was that detail also in the original? I don't remember her religion being stated.

In one of the books, though, she has one Scottish ancestor. She would then have some WASP in her.

Catherine

To which I replied:

Very interesting, Catherine. In Nigeria and a couple of other African countries, Nancy Drew sells widely: she is also renamed there, and equivalent glamor and "admirable" traits for the particular culture are given her.

However, the covers are not changed. A bright young woman told me "the covers stand for 'this is an American book and ideal,' and thus something you want."

Thank you, I'm always interested in French culture. Like Moushumi in _Namesake_, it's one I could move to in my imagination when I found I fit nowhere in my own.

E.

misssylviadrake
Oct. 12th, 2009 11:25 am (UTC)
Nancy Drew in France, Africa, identity creation
On WWTTA, Catherine DeLors wrote:

"Just a note: in the French translations, Nancy Drew is called Alice Roy. Roy is of course a French surname, and Nancy would not have worked as a woman's fist name since it is a city in Eastern France. The French don't use place names as first names.

Also in the French version, Nancy/Alice is not a WASP. Her father has a French name, and her late mother was also French. Was that detail also in the original? I don't remember her religion being stated.

In one of the books, though, she has one Scottish ancestor. She would then have some WASP in her.

Catherine

To which I replied:

Very interesting, Catherine. In Nigeria and a couple of other African countries, Nancy Drew sells widely: she is also renamed there, and equivalent glamor and "admirable" traits for the particular culture are given her.

However, the covers are not changed. A bright young woman told me "the covers stand for 'this is an American book and ideal,' and thus something you want."

Thank you, I'm always interested in French culture. Like Moushumi in Jhumpa Lahiri's _Namesake_, it's one I could move to in my imagination when I found I fit nowhere in my own.

E.

misssylviadrake
Oct. 27th, 2009 04:39 am (UTC)
Children's literature

We do like being let into a world we don't know. My home was like Diana's insofar as I too am by origin half-Jewish (as I wrote) and I was brought up more or less to be an atheist (my father was a strong atheist) and it was New York City schools I went to, public ones, not elite but we had no cheerleaders, and none of the other stuff claimed to be typical. I doubt it was; it isn't now. I never believed in the girl next door. Everyone I knew lived in an apartment
too.

Nonetheless I did like three books about one of these pastoral idyllic places when I was around 11 which reading Frisbee's Journal has reminded me of: Booth Tarkington's Penrod, Penrod and Sam (this one was probably racist to some extent as Sam is a black young boy who is a kind of servant to Penrod), and Kate Fennigate. These take place in some Edwardian never-never land with children on
one-wheel bikes and living in dollhouse like Edwardian townhouses. It was an escape from the Bronx the way Mary Poppins was when I was young and Austen just a bit later.

Tarkington had a decent morality and he critiqued American society seriously in his The Magnificent Andersons.

Ellen
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