Marie Bjelke Petersen's 'virile story': Jewelled Nights, gender instability, and the bush

Publication year

Elaine Fleetwood has run away from her Melbourne society wedding, fleeing to a remote ravine on the Savage River in Tasmania. There 'he' joins the rough miners seeking the rare metal osmiridium, and meets the handsome Salarno, 'the older man' [...]. After much sexual and gender confusion -- as well as wrenching jealousy caused by 'Dick's' three female rivals for Salarno's affections -- the properly heterosexual couple is united in the conventional happy ending.

This paper looks first at Bjelke Petersen as an Australian author, confronted by the particular challenges of being a woman and a writer in this country in the immediate post World War One period. Bjelke Petersen's connections with consumer culture are next explored, placing her work into its mass-market context. Focussing specifically on Jewelled Nights, the odd, sustained atmosphere of gender instability is then discussed, against the background of post-war worldwide anxieties over gender roles. The effects of that instability on the novel, both as a romance and as a work relating to the Australian bush tradition, will also be examined. After considering popular entertainments and their circulation of discourses about sex and gender, the paper concludes by arguing that, even if deficient by high-culture literary standards, Bjelke Petersen's works are rewarding if scrutinised in the context of popular culture. (115-116)