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Tomorrow & Tomorrow & Tomorrow, by M. Barnard Eldershaw

August 19, 2015

Tomorrow & Tomorrow & Tomorrow, by M. Barnard Eldershaw.   London : Virago, 1983.  First published, 1947.

5 stars

AUSTRALIAN WOMEN WRITERS

A moving novel about the Depression and World War II in Australia by two women living through that time.

M. Barnard Eldershaw was the name taken by the unusual partnership of two Australian women writers. Working together they published novels, historical studies and literary criticism from the 1920s to the 1940s. They were part of the flowering of women authors in the Australian literary scene described by Drusilla Modjeska’s fine book, Exiles at Home: Australian Women Writers, 1925-1945. (See my review.) Like some of the other women they were sharply sensitive to the problems which the working classes were suffering and engaged in debate about possible solutions. These concerns are foremost in Tomorrow & Tomorrow & Tomorrow.

The novel gives us a story within a story featuring Knarf, a novelist living in the twenty-fourth century who is writing a novel about the turbulence of the mid-twentieth century in Sydney. In his imaginary future, poverty and war have been eliminated because competition and capitalism no longer exists. Technological international solutions insure enough for all, but not enough to satisfy the dreams and challenges of youth like Knarf’s son.

At the core of this book are the accounts of the lives of Harry Munster and his family and of other individuals from various places in the social structure during the Depression and World War II. These accounts excel at probing individual motivations and the structural context which shaped and limited their options. Many of the characters are part of a working-class neighborhood hit hard by the changing economic conditions. Others have more secure status and/or are involved in the rebellious movements seeking change. All are fully articulated characters, described in detail, with whom the authors sympathize, even when they criticize them or their viewpoint. Their stories hold the reader’s attention and expand our understanding, for example, of why people sometimes respond to conditions with violence. Writing in 1943, the authors create their own ending for World War II and for the destruction of Sydney by some of its residents.

I found the book compelling, especially in its depiction of the people of the twentieth century. Personal and public stories are skillfully interwoven. The prose is a bit old-fashioned with long paragraphs, but sentence after sentence are gems worth quoting. The authors say that they talked about what they wanted to write in detail and then one or the other would do the actual writing. That such a method could produce such fine prose is incredible to me. At times, especially in the twenty-fourth century sections, the political and social discussion weighs down the text as the authors try to balance various factors. They clearly see fatal problems with capitalism and the wars of competition it inspires, but they do not offer any viable alternative. While they understand why people rebel, they do not condone such violence.

I strongly recommend this book, not just for Australians, but for all who are concerned about the possibility of a world with room for both needs and dreams.

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