Front cover of Virago 1983 edition, with details of Dorrit Black's painting, 'Mirmande'.
1983 edition of Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow by M Barnard Eldershaw

Last year marked the 75th anniversary of the publication in Melbourne of a novel compared by some to Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and described as ‘a lost masterpiece’.1 Others dismissed it as ‘chaff’, 2 as ‘confusion on the grand scale’ and ‘unreal, crazy, impossible’.3

More recently it was described as ‘a book that is very ambitious and very strange’.4

The novel in question, Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, was by M. Barnard Eldershaw, ‘the telescoped name’ adopted by Marjorie Barnard (1897-1987) and Flora Eldershaw (1897-1956) in a ‘most successful and enduring’ partnership that produced ‘remarkable’ novels, short stories, literary criticism, essays and lectures.5

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, the title taken from Shakespeare’s Macbeth,6 was the duo’s 5th novel, and their first to be published in Australia. Written mostly in 1940-42, and mostly by Barnard, it was published in 1947 by Georgian House, a firm established in 1943 ‘for the purpose of publishing books by Australian authors’.7

1947 edition of Tomorrow and Tomorrow featuring blue cover with clouds
1947 edition of Tomorrow and tomorrow by M Barnard Eldershaw

However, in this case, Macbeth’s line had one ‘tomorrow’ cut because ‘three would not fit conveniently on the spine.’8 The text itself was cut in 1944 by the wartime government censor and by Georgian House’s Edgar Harris, who felt that the novel’s literary qualities were compromised by a wild apocalyptic vision: ‘your picture of the years between the wars is so magnificently done that we feel that it is of permanent value,’ Harris wrote to Barnard, ‘and should not be made to suffer by your speculations being confounded in a few months or a few years.’9

‘Are you prepared to risk your reputation as front rank Australian creative writers,’ Harris warned, ‘for the sake of an ideology?’10

But what ‘ideology’ was Harris – ‘one of the most creative publishers in the English-speaking world’11 – reacting to? ‘In writing the book I had no intention of peddling panaceas,’ Barnard insisted, ‘nor had I any faith, secret or overt, in any of them.’12

The ideology was the ‘nonconformist liberalism’ of George Arnold Wood (1865-1928), who had taught both Barnard and Eldershaw, and to whose memory they dedicated their 1938 study of Arthur Phillip.

‘He made of me what I still am, a 19th century liberal,’ Barnard maintained.13 At the end of her life she still acknowledged Wood as the best influence she’d had. ‘I nearly fainted when he said to me I was the best student he’d ever had,’ Barnard added, ‘I think it was because I had a literary style.’14

Black and white portrait photo of Marjorie Barnard. She is wearing pearl earrings and round glasses and looking off to the right side of the camera.
Portrait of author Marjorie Barnard (1897-1987), ca 1935. Courtesy of National Library of Australia

‘Writing Tomorrow and Tomorrow was a soul-searching, mind-probing task,’ one American literary scholar observed. ‘Its basic “ideology” is only a profound love for – pity for – mankind, and a deep-seated antagonism toward any and all systems or events that work him woe.’15

Sadly, attempts in 1944 to have the intact version of the novel published with Reed & Harris, an ‘alternate publishing firm’ also established in 1943,16 were unsuccessful. Barnard visited John Reed in Melbourne, but Reed judged parts of the novel as ‘quite hopeless’.17

‘This was a missed opportunity,’ the editors of Reed’s letters would state, since Barnard and Eldershaw ‘produced some of Australia’s finest and insightful commentary culminating with Tomorrow and Tomorrow.’ 18

It was, as well, a devastating blow to Barnard and Eldershaw. Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow ‘hangs like a carcass in a butcher’s shop,’ Barnard wrote in July 1945, ‘dead meat & deteriorating.’ 19 

Thirty years after the cut version appeared, Barnard still referred to it as ‘the book that broke my heart, because I really thought I had something to say most desperately.’ 20

Amongst those who recognised the book’s value was Patrick White: ‘It is one of the few mature Australian novels,’ he wrote to his New York publisher, ‘and at the same time it is of universal interest. The shell is, admittedly, a little tough, but do get inside it, and I think you will be surprised. It is full of passion and truth.’ 21

Black and white side portrait of Flora Eldershaw as a young woman. She has short, dark hair and is wearing a white shirt.
Portrait of author Flora Sydney Eldershaw (1897-1956), ca 1915. Courtesy of National Library of Australia

Not until 1983 did ‘the full uncensored text’ appear under its original title. By then, Eldershaw was dead, but Barnard, now in her mid-80s, received that year’s Patrick White Literary Award, an award White had created with  proceeds from his 1973 Nobel Prize for Literature.

The Awards Committee singled out Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow in particular.22 ‘Patrick was genuinely excited about this novel, and making the 1983 Award to Marjorie Barnard,’ we learn, gave him ‘the most pleasure.’ 23

For us in the 21st century, can we recognise Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow as ‘a lost masterpiece’, a rich work to explore?

Written under difficult circumstances in a time of crisis, the novel was set 400 years in the future, in the Riverina region of New South Wales, here called the Tenth Commune. Knarf, a writer ‘in his forty-seventh year, a prey to desolation and doubt’, has completed a novel set 400 years earlier, in the 20th century, and is reading bits of it to his friend, Ord, an archaeologist.

‘It was half-past seven on a Friday evening in November 1924,’ Knarf’s novel began, with a scene at Sydney’s Central Station. Knarf’s title, Little World Left Behind, was ‘lifted from the ancients’, he explained, referring to a short story by Henry Lawson.

The juxtaposition of one day in the 24th century and several decades of the 20th century gave the Barnard Eldershaw novel a framework for what became a ‘remarkable and remarkably complex social, political, and economic study’;24 a novel ‘distinguished not only by its innovative structure and its sustained meditation on the social role of the writer, but also by its haunting evocation of the city of Sydney.’ 25

‘But for Ord the book would never have been written,’ we learn in Barnard and Eldershaw’s text, ‘without the long walks through the countryside, the unearthing of relics the more stimulating to the imagination because so naïve, the circles of crumbling cement which Knarf thought the last remnants of forts, but which Ord said were silos or wheat reservoirs.’

Is this a clue, one wonders, to how the Barnard-Eldershaw collaboration worked, and to Eldershaw’s knowledge of the Riverina landscape she had grown up in?

Louise Rorabacher urged readers to take the novel ‘at a slow walk, with frequent pauses to look with attention at the details,’ and to realise that ‘it is a compassionate book, full of support and understanding and grief for humanity, especially for all thoughtful, sincere, suffering humanity.’26

‘The novel is the organ of becoming, the voice of a world in flux,’ Ord reflected early in the work. ‘The novel was a mouth, sucking avidly at life,’ he continued a few lines later: ‘A Protean form for an age out of control.’ No ‘perfect’ version of Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow exists. It is past time for a scholarly edition of this ‘lost masterpiece’.

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  1. Roe, Jill, 1984, ‘The historical imagination and its enemies’, Meanjin, vol. 43, no. 2, p 245; and McQueen, Humphrey, 1988, ‘What is in a name?’, Australian Book Review, no 107, p 24
  2. Franklin, Miles, 1948, Letter to Katharine Susannah Pritchard, 2 December, in As Good as a Yarn with You: Letters between Miles Franklin, Katharine Susannah Prichard, Jean Devanny, Marjorie Barnard, Flora Eldershaw and Eleanor Dark (ed Carole Ferrier), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p 208
  3. Roderick, Colin, 1948, ‘The battered caravanserai’, Southerly, vol 9, no 4, p 223
  4. Moran, Thomas, 2022, ‘Sci-fi realism: M Barnard Eldershaw’s Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow’, Overland, no 248, p 3
  5. Barnard, Marjorie, 1977, ‘The gentle art of collaboration’, Ink No. 2 (ed Hilarie Lindsay), Society of Women Writers, Sydney, p 127; Dever, Maryanne, 2002, ‘Marjorie Barnard and Flora Eldershaw (M. Barnard Eldershaw)’, in Australian Writers, 1915-1950 (ed Selina Samuels), Gale, Farmington Hills, p 4; and Roderick, Colin, 1945, The Australian Novel, William Brooks, Sydney, p 220
  6. Act 5, Scene 5. Macbeth’s ‘Tomorrow’ soliloquy is a reflection on life: ‘it is a tale’, Macbeth stated, ‘Told by an idiot full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing’.
  7. Georgian House: The First Two Years, 1944-1945, 1946, Georgian House, Melbourne, p 1
  8. Barnard, Marjorie, 1970, ‘How “Tomorrow and Tomorrow” came to be written’, Meanjin, vol 29, no 3, p 328
  9. Harris, Edgar, 1944, Letter to Marjorie Barnard, 22 March, quoted in Saunders, Ian, 1993, ‘The texts of Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow: author, agent, history’, Southern Review, no 26, p 245
  10. Harris, Edgar, 1944, Letter to Marjorie Barnard, 22 March, quoted in Saunders, Ian, 1994, ‘“The most difficult love”: Expectation and Gender in Barnard Eldershaw’s Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow’, in Constructing Gender: Feminism and Literary Studies (ed Hilary Fraser and R S White), University of Western Australia Press, Nedlands, p 199
  11. Holroyd, J P, 1996, ‘Harris, Edgar Charles (1897-1964)’, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol 14, Melbourne University Press, Carlton South, p 393
  12. Barnard, Marjorie, 1970, ‘How “Tomorrow and Tomorrow” came to be written’, p 330
  13. Fletcher, Brian H, 1999, History and Achievement: A Portrait of the Honours Students of Professor George Arnold Wood, Braxus Press, Sydney, p 58
  14. Baker, Candida, 1987, Yacker 2: Australian Writers Talk about their Work, Pan, Sydney, p 35
  15. Rorabacher, Louise E, 1973, Marjorie Barnard and M. Barnard Eldershaw, Twayne, New York, p 70
  16. Lloyd, Brian, 1999, ‘Reed & Harris: Publishers of the Avant-Garde’, La Trobe Journal, no 64, p 33
  17. Reed, John, 1944, Letter to Max Harris, 9 May, Papers of John and Sunday Reed, State Library Victoria, MS 13186, Box 11A/18
  18. Letters of John Reed: Defining Australian Cultural Life, 1920-1982 (ed Barrett Reid and Nancy Underhill), 2001, Viking, Ringwood, p 347
  19. Barnard, Marjorie, 1945, Letter to Jean Devanny, 31 July in, As Good as a Yarn with You, p 112
  20. Keesing, Nancy, 1977, ‘Everything is not Enough: An Interview with Marjorie Barnard’, Overland, no 67, p 52
  21. White, Patrick, 1956, Letter to Ben Huebsch, 5 September, quoted in Marr, David, 1991, Patrick White: a Life, Random House Australia, Milsons Point, p 348
  22. ‘Barnard wins White Award’, 1983, Canberra Times, 19 November, p 3
  23. Wetherell, Rodney, 2010, ‘Patrick White and his Award’, in Remembering Patrick White: Contemporary Critical Essays (ed Elizabeth McMahon and Brigitte Olubas), Rodopi, Amsterdam, p 38
  24. Rorabacher, Louise E, 1979, Frank Dalby Davison, Twayne, Boston, p 146
  25. Dever, Maryanne, 2009, ‘From Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow’, in Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature (ed Nicholas Jose), Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, p 421
  26.  Rorabacher, Louise E, 1973, Marjorie Barnard and M. Barnard Eldershaw, pp 69-70, 75

This article has 8 comments

  1. Thank you for publishing this well-researched and beautifully written piece. Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow is indeed a masterpiece – a great work of history and imagination – and will not be forgotten, if we now read or reread it.

  2. Thanks for bringing to light a significant piece of writing. So well researched – I think the review will inspire those of us unfamiliar with the novel to seek it out. It sounds hugely ambitious and challenging and with, perhaps, a message for our times.

  3. Monica Raszewski

    Such a clear, well-written article that has inspired me to read this novel that’s been sitting on my bookshelf for years. Thank you.

  4. Your fine piece clarifies so many things. Your telling conclusion points to this great novel’s resonance in ‘an age out of control’ like our own. However disappointed its authors may have been at the time, they were not only insightful but prescient. Maybe now their time is coming. Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow is one Australian novel that lives on inside me. Thank you for your insights.

  5. Humphrey McQueen

    Your deep reading and wide understanding of a period which Thomas Mann diagnosed as ‘world-wide class war’ allows you to perceive the novel, its setting and its pertinence to our present world, giving us history as the past through the present to imagined possible futures. Like Barnard, you will have none of ‘the News’ churned out on the quarter hour from ‘within the context of no context.’

  6. Thank you for prompting me to find and read my second hand copy of the 1947 ‘Tomorrow and Tomorrow’.
    I’m amazed to realise its relevance to today’s troubling times and glad to know that the full uncut version was published in 1983.

  7. Until I read this information about ‘Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow’, Marjorie Barnard was this person who was a historian & not-so-much-of-a-one at that. Our matriculation teacher told us so! From memory it went something like this in Australian History: most certainly read Manning Clark & then AGL Shaw & if you’ve got the time try Barnard, though she’s not in their league! So thanks for putting all that to bed, because 60 odd years should make us at least reconsider.

  8. Allow me to please thank those who took the trouble to write the above comments.
    I like to imagine that, at this very moment, there is a bright young scholar amongst us who has become fascinated by the work of ‘M. Barnard Eldershaw’ and is determined to prepare a scholarly edition of ‘Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow’. What a gift that would be!
    To this bright young scholar I would simply say: do read Nicholas Jose’s new novel, ‘The Idealist’, to get a feel for a writer who states (above) that ‘Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow is one Australian novel that lives on inside me’.
    Regarding Marjorie Barnard as a historian, let me quote a fellow historian: ‘From her dozen published works of history and literary criticism’, he noted in 1987, ‘it is clear that Marjorie Barnard could have been a distinguished occupant of either the chair of literature or of history at her old university’. (Barnard had in fact topped her class in history at the University of Sydney and was awarded the University Medal and a place at Oxford; her father, however, did not allow her to go to Oxford.)
    Two years later, the same historian (Humphrey McQueen) wrote on ‘Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow’ for Helen Daniel’s ‘Good Reading Guide’ (1989). ‘The intellectual and imaginative range of this political science fiction has not been surpassed in Australian writing’, he pointed out, ‘and it’s treatment of memory and imagination under totalitarianism is more subtle than Orwell’s and Huxley’s.’
    May ‘Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow’ live on for us, and help us face our own present and future,

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