The Anti-Nancy Drew: Revising the Girl Detective

Curator's Note

Since Veronica Mars premiered in 2005, the titular character has been unable to escape comparisons to another famous teen detective: Nancy Drew. A pop culture icon since the Nancy Drew book series began in 1930 with The Secret of the Old Clock, blonde, perky and intrepid Nancy has spent the last 80 years jetting around in the cultural imaginary in her roadster, her cousins Bess and George and boring boyfriend Ned Nickerson ever at her side.

With the release of the Veronica Mars movie this year, Nancy Drew references have continued to pervade conversations about the series. USA Today recently called Veronica “a latter-day and much hipper Nancy Drew,” while The Hollywood Reporter dubbed her “the Nancy Drew of the new millennium.” Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas has even expressed his hope that Veronica will replace Nancy Drew as the “queen of teenaged sleuths,” stating that “Nancy Drew has had a corner on the market for the last 70 years, I would love if Veronica got [the] next 70.”

Notably, what these comparisons tend to have in common is that they imagine a direct lineage: Nancy, the girl detective’s past; Veronica, her future. Nancy, the old-fashion teen sleuth; Veronica, the modern one. Both strong female characters who make things happen, role models for the smart and fearless girl of a particular cultural moment who takes the solving of mysteries into her own hands.

But what this conversation erases – and what the attached clip gets at – is precisely what I think is interesting about Veronica Mars for many viewers. By design, Nancy Drew is moral, generous, kind, popular with everyone except the worst bad guys, and likable to a fault. But increasingly throughout the series, and carried over into the film, Veronica has been harder to digest. Although she has qualities of the intrepid, quippy girl detective, Veronica is also damaged and at times cranky, irrational, and difficult to like. She can be petty and wrong. She self-sabotages. She makes bad choices. She hurts other people, intentionally and unintentionally.

This difficult nature is at the heart of the character. Far from being a new incarnation of a beloved and iconic trope, Veronica may be something different altogether – and that might be exactly what inspires so much fan devotion to her. Should we be calling her not the new Nancy Drew, but the anti-Nancy Drew?


I agree with you whole-heartedly that there is an undeniable connection between Nancy Drew and Veronica Mars. A “direct lineage” as you put it. To me, the similarities between the two are endless and extend beyond their similar appearance and knack for solving crimes. It’s the differences that you point out, though, that are most fascinating to me. Veronica is, yes, at times unlikeable and holds an undeniable amount of baggage/damage from her past, which Nancy does not share with her (even as Nancy has evolved over decades of releases). I’ve always attributed these differences between Nancy and Veronica to our own cultural landscape, which Veronica emerged out of. She is, after all, a post-9/11 Girl Sleuth. I think our culture required someone who was willing to take the wrongs of the world personally and seek vengeance for those of us that couldn’t do it by ourselves. Beyond that, I think it’s important to consider the landscape of women’s rights, which is vastly different between when Nancy started her sleuthing and when Veronica started hers. The expectations and allowances for girls/females in each of these times is vastly different. I guess the point that I am getting at is: Should we be thinking of Veronica as the “anti-Nancy Drew” (as you put it) or just a natural evolution of the Girl Sleuth that has come out of the changing cultural landscape?

Add new comment

Log in or register to add a comment.