Marie Bjelke Petersen

Marie Caroline Bjelke Petersen (18741969), author, arrived in Hobart with her Danish family in 1890. She helped her brothers teach physical education, but after a breakdown in 1907 this lifelong spinster produced nine throbbing, pulsating, romantic novels, mostly set in Tasmanian mines or bush. With her companion Sylvia Mills, Marie travelled widely to research the background material, which led to vivid descriptions in her books, probably accurate. Over 250,000 copies of her novels were sold; in 1922 the London Athenaeum magazine included Dusk in its pick of the publishing season; and Louise Lovely filmed Jewelled Nights in 1925.

Ahead of her time, Marie espoused the causes of environmentalism and health foods, and was a devoted if idiosyncratic Christian. As literary tastes changed, her novels became outdated, and after 1938 none was accepted for publication. A nephew became premier of Queensland.

Further reading: A Alexander, A mortal flame, Hobart, 1994.

Alison Alexander