Monday, December 19, 2011

Revisiting The Mystery at Lilac Inn

As I continue revisiting the early Nancy Drew books, I began reading the revised text of The Mystery at Lilac Inn. The first two chapters annoyed me, since the descriptive information is too brief and various random disruptive events occur seemingly constantly.

The book barely begins when Nancy and Helen learn about Nancy having a double. Then, on the very next page, their canoe capsizes. The girls arrive at Lilac Inn to see that Emily is troubled. Next, one of the gardeners falls into a hole. A few pages later, a mysterious cry is heard from outside. This is all in the first fifteen pages. The events seem disjointed and thrown together.

Once I reached Chapter 3, I began enjoying the story. The mystery about Nancy's double is sinister. The jewel theft is quite a mystery, with suspicion thrown on Maud Potter. The mystery is intriguing in all aspects. I have always greatly enjoyed the revised text of Lilac Inn, and this time was no exception.

In fact, I enjoyed this reading so much that I almost felt like I was reading one of the longer original text stories. The story seemed fuller to me than the revised texts of the first three books. Perhaps the difference is that this particular story was almost completely rewritten whereas the first three revised text stories were mainly condensed versions of the original texts, which made those stories come across as inferior.

I have never liked the original text of Lilac Inn, so as I began reading the original text this time, I wondered what my reaction would be. I liked the opening scene in which Nancy meets Emily outside Lilac Inn and has lunch with her. After that interesting scene, Nancy gets caught up in servant problems.

Why would an average child during the Great Depression want to read about a girl moaning about servant problems? Perhaps girls really enjoyed learning about the problems of the upper class, but I find it really obnoxious. Even worse, every single one of the servants sent to Nancy is from a minority group and described as unsuitable. This subplot is racist, stereotypical, and not necessary.

In fact, the entire first part of this book seems off to me as compared to the first three original text books. Nancy and her acquaintances are too fixated on the problems of the upper class.

Next, we have Mrs. Willoughby and her friend, Clara Potter, who pick up Emily's jewels from the safe deposit box. They decide to take lunch at Lilac Inn with the jewels on the table inside Mrs. Willoughby's purse. The two women act nervous and talk constantly about how they hope nobody knows about the jewels. Of course everyone knows, since the women are acting so strange. Not surprisingly, the jewels are stolen. I find this part of the story to be very annoying. I cannot stand stupidity to be the reason why a theft happens.

Once I read past the theft and the immediate aftermath, I began to enjoy the story more. I found it hard to be very sympathetic to Emily, perhaps because she seems to spend too much time crying about her misfortune. I also found it hard to be sympathetic to Mrs. Willoughby, since she caused the theft of the diamonds.

Around page 80, I began to thoroughly enjoy the story. It felt like the story finally hit its stride at this point and became a good adventure and mystery. Nancy gets heavily involved in sleuthing and quits worrying about her servant problems.

In summary, I really enjoyed the revised text, except for the first two chapters. I enjoyed the original text overall, but I did not enjoy the first 80 pages as much. The stories both involve the diamond theft, but the revised text has the intriguing, dangerous plot with Nancy's double. For that reason, I prefer the revised text.
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4 comments:

Miranda James said...

I agree with your comments about the original text of Lilac Inn, which I reread a few days ago. I think the revised text is a more tightly plotted story, without some of the irritating elements of the original. I think that condensing the originals was problematic, to say the least. Unfortunately it was done badly a little too often

Kathleen said...

Written by a young lady, perchance?

mousecliffe said...

Most of Nancy's early cases seem to helping heiresses claim or regain their lost fortunes. However, I am somewhat surprised at your referring to the Drews as "upper class". By the standards of the time they are drawn as a rather modest upper-middle class household. They only have one servant; according to Emily Post, a "small" house needed at least 3 servants (cook, waitress, housemaid) to run properly. Hannah would have brought in extra help when the Drews were entertaining "prominent" guests. Most households at the time had some kind of help. Even very simple housework took a great deal of time and hard work. I expect that most girls who had money and time to read the books had a maid or housekeeper in their own homes. I also found the stereotypes rather disturbing (even as a youngster).
The Tophams (in Old Clock) are portrayed as wealthy with a large house and multiple servants including a butler, I think.
That said, I have to agree that Mrs. Willoughby seems like she's dumber than a box o' rocks. Imagine taking all those jewels to lunch! However, if people were smarter our girl would have nothing to detect.
I grew up reading the original texts. I only think 4 or 5 had been revised by the time I had moved on to more adult reading.

mousecliffe said...

I meant the stereotypes of the maids were disturbing, in case it isn't very clear...........