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text 2018-06-28 23:29
The Hidden Staircase – ND2.6

The Hidden Staircase - Carolyn Keene  The Hidden Staircase - Mildred Benson,Carolyn Keene  

Reading the 1930 & 1959 versions of The Hidden Staircase simultaneously, comparing differences in the story and characters, and pondering dated plot points. Spoilers: full plot description below!

 

1930 Chs 17-22; 1959 Chs 18-19

 

FINALLY we get to the hidden staircase, and the pace really picks up as all the random plot elements start to converge. But not before we spend a lot more time in 1959 with Nancy and the police tracking down the men who kidnapped her father. Acting on clues that Nancy gave them, they’ve picked up one of the men, but can’t get a confession from him. So naturally (?!?), they ask Nancy to do the interrogation. She is of course successful, by using her feminine wiles to appeal to his sense of decency and shames him into cooperating because he’s really just a good guy who fell in to bad company and is now heartily ashamed of himself.

 

1930 Nancy, convinced that Gombet is her “ghost”, decides to confront him directly, but conceals her plans from the frightened old ladies. After they fall asleep, she sneaks out of the house through a window, armed with a flashlight and her gun. Gombet is leaving his house just as she’s getting there, so she decides to break into his house and explore rather than questioning him. She sees a “surly-looking creature” (Gombet’s servant) through the window and avoids the kitchen, then tries all the windows until she finds one to the cellar that’s open. Excitement ensues as she sneaks around, trying to avoid getting caught by the servant, until she accidentally falls through a hidden door in an upstairs closet and all the way down a hidden staircase.

 

1959 Nancy, having spent all the valuable page space dancing, cooking, cleaning, eating delicious meals, and investigating her father’s disappearance, doesn’t get to have fun sneaking around a house that she’s broken into, avoiding detection by a scary servant. Partly because the later revisions deal with the earlier racist stereotypes by just making all the characters white, and partly because 1959 Nancy is too virtuous to engage in illegal breaking and entering. Instead, she wheedles a realtor into giving her permission to explore, despite the house already having been sold to (surprise!) Nathan Gomber. Once again, Nancy lets other characters engage in the shady ethics while she profits from it. She’s like a mob boss keeping her hands clean by letting lesser people do her dirty work. Anyway, similar to 1930, Nancy finds the hidden door upstairs and falls down the staircase, then she and Helen go exploring, eventually coming to another stone staircase, but are confronted by a man telling them to stop.

 

1930 Nancy’s time in the tunnel is a lot more fun, because she’s down there alone at night and nobody knows where she is, and it’s dank and smelly and there are rats, and her flashlight battery is fading, but she bravely marches on until she comes to another stairway that takes her up to… a trapdoor in the attic floor at The Mansion! Nancy sleeps in the next morning and wakes to find that the sisters have finally caved to Gombet’s demands and have verbally agreed to sell the house, but Nancy reveals that Gombet was the ghost and shows them the hidden stairway. They all go exploring together, and discover all the hidden entrances to explain all the ghostly happenings. Then Nancy and the old ladies pile into her little roadster and roar off into town to report to the police.

 

Dated Plot Points: Nancy is trapped in the hidden passageway with no way to call for help, so I’m not sure how this would work in a modern adventure story. I suppose their mobile phones might get no cell reception underground, or maybe Nancy’s phone could have smashed when she fell, and Helen could have forgotten to bring her phone? Also, I loved that the 1959 girls would go exploring a dilapidated old mansion wearing skirts, and even more so that those skirts would have pockets AND those pockets would big enough to carry their flashlights in. I don’t believe they had mini maglites in those days, so these would have been bulky, heavy devices.

 

Considerations: It has always bugged me, and still does, that the books use a single “p” spelling for kidnapped. “Kidnaped” instead of “kidnapped”, although apparently either spelling is correct. Doesn’t make it right though.

 

Index of posts for The Hidden Staircase:

ND2.0

ND2.11

ND2.12

ND2.2

ND2.3

ND2.4

ND2.5

ND2.6

ND2.7 (pending)

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text 2018-06-26 14:59
The Hidden Staircase - ND2.5 Artwork Comparison

The Hidden Staircase - Carolyn Keene  The Hidden Staircase - Mildred Benson,Carolyn Keene  

Reading the 1930 & 1959 versions of The Hidden Staircase simultaneously, comparing differences in the story and characters, and pondering dated plot points. Spoilers: full plot description below!

 

Artwork Comparison

 

The changing artwork is part of my fun in collecting these books. Although there are two text versions, the illustrations were updated three times, with the quality deteriorating each time.

 

Russell Tandy did the first two versions, but the second revision, to save costs on the printing, only included a single frontispiece in a plain paper rather than glossy page, and he kept essentially the same design, but updated the hair and clothing styles. The book in my collection with this illustration was printed about 1954, but based on Nancy’s hair and clothes, I’m guessing that this illustration was revised in the 40’s.

 

The illustrations were revised again for the 1959 revised text, but this time by an uncredited artist who had little of Tandy’s talent, and by the 1970’s (for the later volumes in the series) the illustrations look like they were pulled from a reject pile of scribblings. The revised versions all have 6 plain paper line drawings. These revised text illustrations don’t attempt to mirror Tandy’s original work, although they sometimes show a similar scene.

 

And last, here’s an illustration of one of those random scenes inserted just to have an end of chapter cliffhanger and artificial drama, but don’t actually have anything to do with the mystery. In this scene, the ceiling collapses on Nancy and Helen because the old ladies neglected to repair a roof leak. This is never referred to again during the book, not even to discuss the cleanup, despite the author’s zeal for detailing the dusting and tidying and dishwashing, so I guess everyone kept stepping around the pile of rubble and not bothering to get a contractor out to fix the giant hole in the ceiling. I guess the Cult of Domesticity includes ladies engaging in housework, but not actual home repairs or maintenance. All I know is, 1930 Nancy would never have let a collapsed ceiling go unfixed. All 1959 Nancy did about it was change into clean clothes. 

 

Index of posts for The Hidden Staircase:

ND2.0

ND2.11

ND2.12

ND2.2

ND2.3

ND2.4

ND2.5 

ND2.6 (pending)

ND2.7 (pending)

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text 2018-06-24 16:18
The Hidden Staircase - ND2.4

The Hidden Staircase - Carolyn Keene  The Hidden Staircase - Mildred Benson,Carolyn Keene  

 

(note: sorry about that previous post - I had last posted these before my dad passed away and lost track of where I was, so ND2.12 was a duplicate)

 

Reading the 1930 & 1959 versions of The Hidden Staircase simultaneously, comparing differences in the story and characters, and pondering dated plot points. Spoilers: full plot description below!

 

1930 Chs 13-16; 1959 Chs 9-17

 

1930 Nancy is now so worried about her missing father that she doesn’t have much heart for solving the mystery anymore, but soldiers on for the old ladies’ sake. She’s certain that Gombet is behind the “haunting”, to try to force the Turnbulls to accept his lowball offer, and she’s determined to expose him. She decides to confront him, and is surprised when she finds out that he lives in the next house over. The sisters explain the history of the “twin” houses, which is similar in both versions, except that in the original, Gombet lives a miserly existence in the decrepit twin house alone with just a servant, but (how’s this for random) raises birds and has a taxidermy hobby, which somehow conjures images of Norman Bates, and now every time Nathan Gombet/Gomber is in a scene, I picture Anthony Perkins.

 

In the first and only scene without Nancy, we get the backstory on what happened to Carson Drew. He is met at the train station by Gombet, who claims Nancy is at his house, so badly injured in a car wreck that she can’t be moved. Mr. Drew is so distraught that he just goes along with it, and doesn’t realize he’s been tricked until he’s been locked in an upstairs bedroom. After hours alone, unable to find a way to escape, Gombet tries to coerce him into signing a check for $20,000 and a promise not to prosecute. When Drew tries to go on the attack to escape, Gombet pulls a gun on him and has his (servant? Co-conspirator? Lackey?) tie him up. Gombet threatens to starve him until he signs, then when Carson remains resolute, he threatens to dope and kidnap Nancy. Carson calls Gombet a “reprobate” and a “fiend”.

 

This servant is the next major example of character cleanup in the Nancy Drew series. This 1930 character is so awful that she is removed entirely from the 1959 update and the story entirely re-written so that Gombet/Gomber has landowner Willie Wharton to be his evil sidekick instead. No name is given to this woman – she’s just “the colored woman” or “the negress”, who is described as fat, slovenly-looking, clumsy, sullen, and looks as though she were an ogre. Gombet is as mean to her as to anyone else, so there’s no indication of why she’s even helping him.

 

1959 Nancy finds out that her father had called Hannah a few days earlier to let her know he was on the way to Cliffwood, so the “unavoidably delayed” telegram was a hoax. Nancy begins investigating her father’s disappearance, calling Chicago and transportation companies, and finally driving to the Cliffwood train station to interview employees and cabbies. She finds nothing useful until one of the cabbies is shamed into admitting that Carson Drew had passed out while riding in his taxi with some strange men, who then transferred him into another car and threatened the cabbie’s family if he told.

 

Nancy finally reports her father’s kidnapping to the police, who tell her that they’re on it and to leave it to them and to stay home where she belongs. Nancy promises to be a good girl and let the menfolks handle it, but internally is already making plans to continue investigating on her own. Which she does, picking up clues and telling the police what to do with them. The police seem to take this remarkably well, and readily share their findings with her.

 

Meanwhile, there is something exciting happening at Twin Elms in every chapter, and the clues keep piling up. Gomber finally catches Aunt Flora alone and bullies her into signing papers to sell the house, causing her an hysterical attack that confines her to bed after she refuses to go to the hospital.

 

Considerations (1): The differences in writing styles is more apparent in this second book in the series, since the story was extensively re-written in the revised edition. The 1930 author created tension with atmosphere & description.  The 1959 author created tension with a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter, but most of it is totally manufactured drama that isn’t relevant to the story. 

 

Considerations (2): At one point, 1959 Nancy gets a frantic call to come back to Twin Elms right away, she doesn’t really put the pedal to the metal, but drives “as fast as the law allows”, meaning that she’s just driving the speed limit. I guess that means that she normally drives slower than the speed limit, like an old grandma. Very different than 1930 Nancy, who regularly pushes her roadster so hard that even the police can’t keep up with her.

 

Dated Plot Points: Related to my DPP from my ND2.3 post, the scene where Nancy is beginning her investigation into her father’s disappearance by calling Chicago and transportation companies and hospitals, I had a happy moment of nostalgia when she had to leaf through various phone books kept by the Turnbull’s phone to get contact information, and even to find out what hospitals were nearby. I had forgotten what it was like before Google, when you had a different paper phone directory for every city and they were all piled up by the main phone in the house. Nowadays, Nancy could have been searching and calling and investigating from her convertible as she drove into town, although the 1959 virtuous and law abiding Nancy probably wouldn’t do websearches while driving.

 

Also: Lunch at a drugstore food counter, with a flirty counterman and nobody is staging a sit-in. I wonder when drugstores stopped having these in their stores? I can only remember one, in my grandmother’s tiny rural town that was too small to even have a Dairy Queen, and that would have been before 1975.

 

Cult of Domesticity: In an oddly random scene, everyone tries to distract Nancy from worrying about her missing father by having a costume party (?!!), which gives them an opportunity to be super girly by dressing up in colonial era clothes (of course Nancy gets the ball gown while Helen has to wear the men’s duds), playing music, and dancing the minuet with a modern twist. More domestic details describing the care the girls take of Miss Flora, although why an attack of the vapors should require her to have a dinner of bouillon, dry toast, and plain gelatin, I don’t know. By “plain gelatin” I’m assuming they mean regular fruit flavored jello without (warning, don’t click the link if you’re hungry) bits of fruit, vegetables, or meat floating in it. There are more scenes of the girls doing housework and cooking and descriptions of meals. Drugstore lunchcounter: Hot split pea soup, declined the pie for dessert.

 

Index of posts for The Hidden Staircase:

ND2.0

ND2.11

ND2.12

ND2.2

ND2.3

ND2.4 (current post)

ND2.5 (pending)

ND2.6 (pending)

ND2.7 (pending)

 

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text 2018-01-12 03:53
The Hidden Staircase – ND2.3

1930 Chs 10-12 vs 1959 Chs 5-8

The Hidden Staircase - Carolyn Keene  The Hidden Staircase - Mildred Benson,Carolyn Keene   

Reading the 1930 & 1959 versions of The Hidden Staircase simultaneously, comparing differences in the story and characters, and pondering dated plot points. Spoilers: full plot description below!

 

 

Now we are into the middle section of the mystery, where strange things keep happening in the Turnbull’s home and Nancy’s exhaustive but fruitless investigations are detailed, but there are plenty of opportunities for her to demonstrate her intelligence, bravery, and resourcefulness.

 

1930 Nancy continues exploring the house and grounds, looking for clues over the next week. It seems to be long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of excitement whenever one of the strange events occurs. But even though Nancy is all over it, she’s not turning up any useful information, leaving her feeling humiliated that the “ghost” is pulling these stunts right under her nose. The creepy atmosphere builds over time: lurking shadows, strained conversation, the sisters tense and trembling. They all lock their bedroom doors at night, and Nancy sleeps with the revolver under her pillow.

 

There are some funny moments, such as Nancy’s inner monologue when she wakes up hearing Floretta shrieking, and her first reaction is to clutch her blanket to her throat, “as though by doing so she could protect herself from unseen danger,” then rushes out of bed with gun and flashlight, only to be horrified when she can’t get out of the room, then chagrined when she remembers that she’d locked the door. When an urn is found missing and Floretta is again screaming about ghosts, Nancy dryly remarks that a ghost wouldn’t need to push a chair up against a bookshelf to climb up and take it.

 

Although the Turnbull sisters are talking about leaving, Nancy is determined to stay until she solves the mystery. Although the sisters, under Nancy’s questioning, say no one has any reason to force them out of their house, they do admit that they’ve had multiple offers to sell it, including one from Nathan Gombet that was so low they’d never consider it, even if he wasn’t known to be a shady dealer. Gombet threatened them that they’d be sorry they hadn’t accepted his offer.

 

1959 Gomber shows up at the door to continue his apparently ongoing campaign to harass Miss Flora into selling him their house for a super cheap price. He barges into the house, hunts down Miss Flora to bully her some more, and tries to intimidate Nancy. But Nancy is having none of that, and the ladies kick him out of the house. Although he’s tried a sob story about coming from humble roots and wanting a grand old home, Nancy suspects he wants to tear the house down and flip the property for building lots. But even though he specifically mentions that Miss Flora will have to sell cheap because nobody wants a haunted house, nobody seriously considers that he might be the “ghost”. Obvious villain is obvious!

 

Crazy things keep happening and, although Nancy is usually able to discover enough to prove that they have logical, human cause explanations, she’s unable to catch anyone at it or figure out how they’re getting in and out of the house undetected. Nancy calls the Cliffwood police and, although they were dismissive of the old ladies before, they readily agree to send an officer to hang around outside for guard duty “every night as long as you need”. Even as a kid reading these stories, the willingness of local police to serve personal guard duty seemed pretty implausible to me. Nancy, of course, quickly forms a mutually respectful, professional relationship with the officer, who has the very Irish Cop name of Tom Patrick.

 

1930 Nancy starts worrying when her father fails to return from Chicago on time. She drives back and forth into town, calling their housekeeper, Hannah, for news and telegraph the Chicago law firm for information, only to find that Mr. Drew left there two days earlier and hasn’t been seen or heard from since.

 

1959 Carson Drew calls to let Nancy know that he hasn’t found Wharton and is on his way back from Chicago, but the next morning, Nancy receives a telegram that he’s been unavoidably detained and will let her know when he arrives. Cue ominous music!

 

Dated Plot Points: The advancements in communication technology from 1930 to 1959 created a bit of a problem for the revision with regards to key plot points. Most residences, especially poor households, wouldn’t have a phone in 1930. This required Nancy to roar into town to make phone calls, but other communication had to be by easily intercepted written correspondence and telegram, which wouldn't be very likely in 1959 when household phones were common. So the revision required the invention of a hidden “listening post” for the intruder to overhear phone conversations. The 1959 version was still able to keep the telegram mishap plot device, as it was perfectly plausible in 1959 to have long distance communication by telegram rather than exorbitantly expensive long-distance phone calls.

 

Cult of Domesticity: The 1959 author continues to ensure that Nancy demonstrates her feminine virtues, describing the cooking and cleaning. More meal descriptions – fruit cup for starters, steak and fries, fresh peas, and a “floating island” for dessert. I had never heard of floating island so had to look it up. It looks tasty but seems like more work than it would be worth. Have a Martha Stewart video of it, as she seems to be the very personification of Domesticity.

 

Index of posts for The Hidden Staircase:

ND2.0

ND2.11

ND2.12

ND2.2

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text 2018-01-09 18:44
The Hidden Staircase – ND2.2

1930 Chs 8-9 vs 1959 Chs 3-4

The Hidden Staircase - Carolyn Keene  The Hidden Staircase - Mildred Benson,Carolyn Keene  

 

Reading the 1930 & 1959 versions of The Hidden Staircase simultaneously, comparing differences in the story and characters, and pondering dated plot points. Spoilers: full plot description below!

 

 

1930 Nancy plays a game of tennis with Helen Corning, who fusses at Nancy for being so secretive while solving The Secret of the Old Clock. Nancy just smirks to herself and says nothing about her current mystery, because Helen is a “natural born gossip”. Carson Drew has gone to Chicago on business trip and plans to stop in Cliffwood to see how Nancy is getting along with her haunted house mystery.

 

1959 Action and danger kick into high gear as Nancy and Mr. Drew are almost crushed by a runaway truck at the bridge’s construction site, and Nancy displays her sleuthing skills by deducing from a few footprints that a short man must have deliberately released the emergency brake and run away. Nancy and Helen drive to Cliffwood in Nancy’s blue convertible, and Helen shares her BIG SECRET that she’s engaged to some guy she’s been having a long-distance relationship with for the last couple of months and the two girls spend the entire trip excitedly talking wedding plans. Mr. Drew’s trip to Chicago is similar, except he’s there to look for Willie Wharton. 

 

1930 Nancy is again home alone when someone leaves a threatening letter for her on the porch. “The message was brief, but its words carried an import of veiled violence which mystified and frightened her.” But after pondering the threat and the old ladies’ plight, Nancy decides that the ghost must not actually be very brave if it was afraid to have her on the case. She’s frightened but undeterred, determined to expose the shenanigans, and decides that she’s not only going to bring the gun but also enough ammo to “annihilate an army”.

 

1959 Nancy and Helen arrive at Twin Elms in Cliffwood to find Aunt Rosemary and Miss Flora upset over a revised version of the incident with the missing jewelry. 1959 Miss Flora is a very different character than 1930 Floretta. Instead of a drama queen ready to believe in ghosts, she is dainty but stately with a gentle smile and formal manner. However, she serves the same purpose in driving the plot because her frail health will have her collapsing or near collapse whenever the “ghost” is up to tricks, instead of Floretta’s collapsing in hysterics. Similar to the original version, Nancy investigates all logical means by which an intruder could have entered, taken the jewelry, and left without detection, but finds no clues. At one point, the radio in Miss Flora’s room seems to turn itself on while everyone is downstairs. Nancy concludes that the motive for the strange occurrences must be robbery but is puzzled as to why a thief would want to expend so much energy trying to scare the old ladies, too.

 

A key plot device is introduced in the 1959 book that will be introduced much later in the original 1930 version is the twin/duplicate home next door to The Mansion/Twin Elms. Riverview Manor was built by the brother of the original owner of the Turnbull house, but the families became estranged after their sons quarreled and the other home has changed owners multiple times over the years, and now has been vacant for a long time. Nancy notes that secret passages were common in colonial homes, but Aunt Rosemary and Miss Flora have never heard that their home has any.

 

Considerations: There are some nice descriptions of Twin Elms in the 1959 revision, which is similar to 1930 The Mansion in that it is a grand old home that has become a little shabby over time as the family fortune has declined, but is completely lacking in the enjoyably spooky atmosphere of the 1930 version. One of the descriptions was of a “candlewick” bedspread, an unfamiliar term that delighted me when I looked it up, because I remember being fascinated as a girl by the same style of bedspread in my grandmother’s guest room.

 

Cult of Domesticity: One striking difference in the 1959 books is the significant amount text devoted to demonstrating that Nancy, despite her intelligence and determined, inquisitive nature, is still compliant with the virtues of feminine domesticity. Nancy and Helen are described preparing almost every meal and cleaning up afterwards. They change into fresh dresses immediately after getting dirty while exploring the house for clues. The actual meals themselves are described in detail – this in particular always stuck in my memory of the stories when I read them as a girl. Dinner after church: Sherbet glasses filled with orange and grapefruit slices, followed by spring lamb, rice and mushrooms, fresh peas, and for dessert, chocolate angel cake with vanilla ice cream.  Luncheon at Twin Elms: chicken salad, biscuits, and fruit gelatin (yaassss jello desserts in 1959!).

 

Index of posts for The Hidden Staircase:

ND2.0

ND2.11

ND2.12

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