Brain Pickings

Nurse Lugton’s Curtain: Virginia Woolf’s Little-Known Children’s Story, in Gorgeous Watercolors

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A lovely allegory about the whimsical wonderland we enter as we slip into sleep.

In 1923, with her literary fame still ahead of her, beloved author and reconstructionist Virginia Woolf collaborated with her two teenage nephews, one of whom went on to become an intellectual tour de force in his own right, on a witty and wonderful family bulletin. It was there that Woolf’s first little-known children’s story, The Widow and the Parrot, made its debut. A year later, in 1924, Woolf penned another children’s tale but, like Gertrude Stein’s alphabet book, it only entered the world posthumously, in 1965. Nearly three decades later still, Nurse Lugton’s Curtain (public library) — the story of a whimsical world that lurks inside the pattern of the drawing-room curtain Nurse Lugton is quietly sewing, then comes alive as she falls asleep — was published in 1991 with expressive and enchanting watercolors illustrations by Julie Vivas.

This long-lost gem, alas out-of-print but still findable used, comes as a fine addition to other little-known children’s books by famous authors of literature for grown-ups, including previously uncovered treasures by Mark Twain, Maya Angelou, James Joyce, Sylvia Plath, William Faulkner, Gertrude Stein, Anne Sexton, T. S. Eliot, John Updike, and Jane Goodall.

Complement Nurse Lugton’s Curtain with Woolf’s first children’s story, then revisit the beloved author’s meditation on how to read a book and the only surviving recording of her voice.

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