Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Nancy Drew and World War II

I spent some time with Nancy Drew over the Thanksgiving holiday. I read all of the ND books when I was a kid, but I don’t remember much about them so I’ve been gradually rereading them and discovering all kinds of stuff all over again. You might remember some of my previous posts on my ND adventures, Books That Last and the Stratemeyer Syndicate
This time I learned the following about Nancy:
  • She can play guitar 
  • She knows Spanish and can even speak several dialects 
  • She is shy about singing in public, but will do it if encouraged. This time she sang in Swahili!
 When I was growing up, I didn’t care when the books were published. I probably read more of the ’60s and ’70s versions, but I did occasionally find one from the ’30s and ’40s. As an adult, I admit to a preference for the earlier versions.

In the 1939 version of The Mystery of the Brass Bound Trunk I found this interesting note on the title page: “This book, while produced under wartime conditions, in full compliance with government regulations for the conservation of paper and other essential materials, is COMPLETE AND UNABRIDGED.”

That got me curious so I put on my Nancy Drew hat and did a little investigatin’.

From Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak, I learned that the Stratemeyer Syndicate that produced ND had to give up all its old book plates as scrap metal during WWII. There was also an interesting note on BBT: originally Nancy took a trip to England in the story, but because of the situation in Europe, it was changed to Buenos Aires.

I was also curious about the restrictions placed on publishers in general during WWII. Starting in fall 1942, American publishers could only use so much paper. To start, they were allowed to use 90% of the paper they used in 1941. That fell to 75% in 1944. Britain suffered much greater restrictions: beginning in 1940 it was 60% of the paper they used in 1939. It went down to 37.5% in 1942.

But it wasn’t only paper that was being saved. The use of copper, cloth, lead and chlorine were also restricted. All of these things were used in book production. Plus there was also a shortage of printers and binders since many had been drafted.

So the paper for books became cheaper and thinner and typefaces and margins smaller. Britain had strict typographical standards.

Grosset & Dunlap, who published ND, started using pulp paper in 1942 and the “wartime conditions” notice I found in BBT was placed in books from 1943 to 1945. Because of the differences in paper and covers, the Nancy Drew books shrunk. In 1941 and 1942, a typical ND book was 2 inches thick. By 1945, they’d shrunk to about 1 inch.

What is especially interesting to me is that the demand for books actually went up during the war. Due to rationing of gasoline and other wartime restrictions, more people spent time at home so more people started reading. Plus soldiers read during their down time.

Those are just some of the tidbits I learned in my investigation. I hope you found this an interesting foray into the past. If you have a craving to learn more here are some interesting links I found that go into more detail:

LibraryThing – A discussion about publishing in wartime

Article from the Journal of Publishing Culture – This one focuses on Britain in WWII.

Publishing in Wartime: The Modern Library Series during the Second World War


Marianne Wheelaghan said...

Oh, i do enjoy all these thoroughly researched details, they bring the past to life for me. Thank you. My mother introduced me to Nancy Drew, along with Emil and The Detectives (by Erich Kastner) and Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, to name but a few :) There is a brief reference to Nancy Drew (and Emil) in my first novel, The Blue Suitcase. The Blue Suitcase is based on letters and diaries I found after my mother’s death and tells her true life story of growing up in Silesia in Hitler’s Germany. Not a crime novel as such but not really for the bedside table. Thanks again :)

Sybil Johnson said...

That sounds like an interesting story, Marianne. I shall check it out. I remember enjoying Emil and The Detectives as well. I love researching stuff like this. Makes the past come to life indeed!

Rick Blechta said...

Great post, Sybil. I always enjoyed Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys series, and even at a young age, preferred the older stories. Guess it was that sense of history and information that was unfamiliar to my young self. There was also a certain style to them that I guess would seem dated to modern young readers, and so the style changed. To my mind, a lot was lost.

Call me an olde fogey.

Sybil Johnson said...

I'm an old fogey at heart, Rick. Always have been. Can't stand the newest incarnation of Nancy Drew from the 90s? or whenever they started creating new stories.

Triss said...

There is a truly fascinating book about books for soldiers in World War 11- When Books Went to War by Molly Gupthill Manning.