Dorothy Quentin a la recherche de la Madeleine Perdue: a bibliographical romance

Dorothy Quentin - the novelist you have never heard of who set her romances in New Zealand and on the high seas. We now have a guide to Auckland Libraries' formed collection of Rowan Gibbs’ Dorothy Quentin novels.

The “bibliographical romance” described by Rowan Gibbs in his 1998 work (published by Cultural and Political Booklets of Te Aro, Aotearoa, sets out the considerable publication history of Madeleine Batten whose primary pen name was Dorothy Quentin. This guide is now available in the Reading Room in Special Collections, at Tāmaki Pātaka Kōrero | Central City Library, to assist readers navigating the Quentin oeuvre. The redoubtable Rowan Gibbs has made a career collecting New Zealand fiction. This amounts to over 200,000 titles collected since 1977.

Image:  Cover of 'The Singing Hills' by Dorothy Quentin.
Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections. 

New Zealand libraries and book collections are richer for Rowan Gibb’s assiduous collection, particularly in fiction, across all genres. Terry Sturm’s 'Oxford History of New Zealand Literature in English' credits Quentin as “New Zealand’s first author to specialize in the hospital romance.” This genre continues to flourish in print and on screen including the long running television serial Shortland Street. A search on Te Puna, the catalogue for New Zealand libraries, for Dorothy Quentin, results in holdings only at the National Library and the Alexander Turnbull Library. These are now rare books. Quentin is represented in the British Library and other international academic and research libraries.

Until the 2022 purchase from Rowan Gibbs, Auckland Libraries held just one title by Dorothy Quentin: Goldenhaze. This novel was published in 1969 and tells the story of Mandy, who found out after her mother died, that she was the granddaughter of a rich old farmer in New Zealand.

Image:  Cover of 'Goldenhaze' by Dorothy Quentin.
Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections. 

The author’s note on the dust jacket for Goldenhaze includes the following note:

'New Zealand,' says Dorothy Quentin, 'has always been my second home. At one time I had …a house in Milford. You could almost say we commuted… I’ve been through the Panama Canal fourteen times and Suez four times, and, although I am Jean Batten’s sister-in-law, I’ve never been on a plane…'

The back cover features the promotional pitch for Mills & Boon titles finishing with: “A postcard will bring you a catalogue.”

Auckland Libraries now holds a representative set of Dorothy Quentin and related titles thanks to the acquisition of thirty-eight titles, collected since 1978 by Rowan Gibbs. These titles are in very good condition. Many of them were purchased in “as new” condition with dust jackets in 1979 at the closing sale of Ferguson & Osborn, the Wellington bookshop. It is difficult to assemble a collection of this mid twentieth century author whose works went straight to the top of the most popular lists in the day. In 1941 her work was featured on the list of books in demand in the Auckland Star.

Image: Auckland Star, Volume LXXII, Issue 45, 22 February 1941, Page 4 .

The titles by Dorothy Quentin give an idea of their content: 'Dear Anna' (1952) set on board a ship travelling from England to New Zealand, 'The doctor’s destiny' (1963) set on Papaaluva “a remote Pacific island”, and 'The healing tide' (1965) featuring a jilted nurse who finds romance on a ship to New Zealand. Unusually for this genre the novel starts with a whakatauki in te reo Māori with a translation supplied: “People die, are killed, disappear; not so the land, which remains for ever”. Many of these titles are now rare. 'Sparkling waters' (1945) is set on the Waitematā Harbour and is only held by Auckland Libraries, the Alexander Turnbull Library and two other international libraries.

Quentin first arrived in Auckland, as a twenty year old, in 1932. She reported in an article in the Thames Star that she “fell in love with New Zealand at first sight.” She lived in New Zealand for over ten years. Auckland Libraries' holds the English edition and a German translation of 'Perilous voyage' which is exceptionally rare.

Image: Cover of 'Perilous voyage' by Dorothy Quentin.
Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections. 

Image: Cover of 'Die fahrt nach Neuseeland' by Dorothy Quentin.
Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections. 

In this Stuff article from February 2023, Rowan Gibbs comments on the picture of New Zealand life readers gained from these captivating titles:

"Gibbs hasn’t read everything in his vast library of books, though he’s dipped into them all.

He’s read a surprising number of Mills and Boon romance writers, though.
“That makes people laugh, but there’s hundreds of thousands of people around the world that know New Zealand only from these romance stories about rugged sheep farmers. They have a very strange idea that we are all farmers when actually we’re mostly civil servants.

“But that’s what the English publishers wanted.”

The Mills and Boon romances are of great social interest and have attracted the attention of feminist academics, says Gibbs, who gave all the romance books and most of the other novels by women writers – almost two thirds of the collection - to a woman who is maintaining them as an archive."

Romance novels were read to death and not retained for research value. Thanks to Rowan Gibbs’ collecting and his bibliographical sleuthing we can read some of Dorothy Quentin’s considerable oeuvre. Sometimes her books were set in New Zealand, in her sometime homes in Thames and in Auckland. Her additional pen names were Madeleine H. Murat, Martin Tree, Linda Beverly, and David King.

Author: Jane Wild, Principal Curator Rare Books


  1. Fascinating: John Batten's wife. But what was Madeleine's maiden name?


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