Reading, for me, is entertainment and an escape from the real world. But it can also inform and stretch the boundaries of the life I live.
1930 Chs 4-6 vs 1960 Ch 3
In these chapters, the girls get better acquainted, visiting one another and meeting Laura’s suspiciously awful new guardian, before parting ways with Laura going to live with the Aborns and Nancy getting to have another perilous storm adventure while driving home.
In the original 1930 version, Laura visits Nancy and Helen at the girls’ summer camp (vs the 1960 resort motel) the next day, where they get to know one another a little better. Helen brags on all of Nancy’s exploits as an amateur detective. Laura, confessing that she’s still worried about meeting her new guardian the next day, asks Nancy and Helen to visit her at the hotel so she’s not entirely alone with him.
1930 Nancy is thoroughly unimpressed with Laura’s new guardian. Jacob Aborn isn’t ugly, so he’s not immediately recognizable as a ND villain, but the reader, and Nancy, have enough clues. The flashy diamond on his hand, the scowl and cruel glint in his eyes, his boasts about his genius with money, and the plans to take Laura away to a remote cottage on Melrose Lake at an address he refuses to disclose, all put Nancy’s wind up. Once they’re out of sight, Nancy and Helen overhear Jacob yelling at Laura to get packed and quit sniveling.
After an interlude of 1930 Nancy and Helen doing fun girls’ campy things and Nancy teaching Helen to swim, it’s time for Nancy to go home. Her 40 mile drive has plenty of drama, because there are storm clouds in the distance, she’s on dirt roads until she gets close to home, and she come unexpectedly on a detour that takes her off in a mysterious direction. When the storm once more breaks over her in a fury, the rutted dirt roads become so bad that our intrepid girl detective has to stop and put chains on her tires. She ruefully wishes someone would come by and help her, but our intrepid girl detective doesn’t hesitate to get out in the storm and mud and do it herself.
1960 Differences: Once again, the revision complicates the story by adding unnecessary characters and subplots while eliminating the wonderful subtleties and atmosphere of the original. 1960 Nancy has an early encounter with a new character who turns out to be Laura’s guardian’s wife, Marion Aborn, who shows up at the motel looking for help with a flat tire. She’s immediately recognizable as a villain, because she’s rude, swaggering, and mean to the help. Also, she has bleached blonde hair, so villain status confirmed. Nancy, as always, is polite and helpful, and demurely lets Helen angrily rant about Marion’s behavior, because 1960 Nancy is always too virtuous to say mean things, no matter the provocation. Another new character is Helen’s Aunt June, who only exists to feed the subplot of Helen’s marriage and another subplot of Hannah Gruen’s (1930 Nancy’s housekeeper servant and 1960 Nancy’s housekeeper mother substitute) sprained ankle. See Cult of Domesticity below for more on these characters and subplots.
Like the original version, the 1960 revision makes it clear from their descriptions and behavior that the Aborns are suspicious characters. But here we have Jacob Aborn confiding to the girls that Laura is actually penniless because her mother blew all their money with her prolonged illness and their lavish lifestyle. Helen recognizes Jacob as a man who almost ran them off the road earlier in a black foreign car, and in another new subplot, Nancy spends a great deal of time unsuccessfully trying to connect him with that foreign car.
The stormy drive scene is similar, except that 1960 Nancy doesn’t need chains on her tires. I guess automobile and tire technology has advanced enough to make it unnecessary, even when driving on a dirt road detour?
Considerations – Property Insurance: When 1960 Nancy explains to the motel manager about his boat ending on the bottom of the lake, he tells her not to worry about it, because the insurance will cover it. 1930 Nancy’s apologies are similarly dismissed by the campground owner, but insurance isn’t even mentioned. I was curious about the difference, so here is what I was able to find out: Insurance was largely unregulated at the time of the original text, with rampant fraud and abuse. Companies began self regulating for fear of government takeover after the Social Security Act in 1935, but there was still no federal regulatory oversight until 1944. So it’s possible that property insurance simply wasn’t commonly carried by a small business like the girls’ summer camp in 1930.
Considerations – The Beauty Parlor: The 1960 Laura was able to sneak away and visit the girls because Marion Aborn was having her hair set at the beauty parlor. I remember thinking how amusingly archaic my grandmother was, going to have her hair set in the early 1980’s, but when I read this, I was unsure at what point a weekly wash and set stopped being a regular thing. In looking for the answer, I was amazed to read that some salons still have regular customers for this. For you youngsters who have even less memory of this bizarre hair ritual than I do, here’s an explanation that matches my mother’s stories, including the disgusting scalp buildup underneath a week’s worth of ratted hair coated in Dippity Do and layers of Aqua Net. Also, I found a YouTube newsreel short of a “beatnik” transformation into a “gracious lady” (looking 10 years older IMO) and a slideshow of 1960 beauty salons.
Considerations – Villains: Ugly, tacky, rude people are always the villains in the Nancy Drew worldview. Especially vulgarly dressed and made up women. This is convenient as it makes them easy to spot.
The Cult of Domesticity: Once again a driving force in the 1960 revision. The added subplot of Helen’s impending marriage is the most obvious example, giving the girls page time to dream over wedding plans and dress designs. We also get a new character in Aunt June, who of course works as a department store buyer and only appears in a single chapter to drive two new subplots that seem to exist only to further the Cult of Domesticity theme: marriage and caregiving. These will appear as new story elements in the revised text, apparently only to help Nancy seem more traditionally feminine.
Dated Plot Points – the Perilous Drive Home: A modern retelling of this story would have to do some serious gymnastics to make this work. This scene depended on Nancy not having access to a weather forecast, a weather app, a maps app showing road closures, or a mobile phone to call AAA/Roadside Assistance. The dirt (not even gravel!) roads are still possible, but unlikely. Even in the revision where the dirt road is only a detour, I think it unlikely that a detour from an area where there are fine hotels and lake resorts to a major urban center like River Heights is going to be re-routed on a badly maintained dirt road. Dirt roads, (in my experience) are fairly uncommon today, at least in rural Texas. They are mostly private roads or small short roads that lead only to private property or residential areas.
Dated Plot Points – the Black Foreign Car: I couldn’t understand why the author created the foreign car subplot. Clearly the car is going to be a clue or plot twist in the revised story later, but why the emphasis on “foreign”? Some internet sleuthing later, I discovered that the first imported automobiles arrived in the US in 1949, and by 1960 would have been widely available, but still uncommon enough to catch the attention of an observant person. I’m still not sure why the sinister overtones by virtue of its foreignness, but the driver being recklessly rude and endangering other drivers was enough to mark it as a story villain in the Nancy Drew worldview.
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