This little-known and delightful children’s story by the famed British novelist Virginia Woolf was found among her papers after her death in 1941. Newly illustrated by Australian artist Julie Vivas, Nurse Lugton’s Curtain it’s a gem.
Nurse Lugton, a nanny, falls asleep in her chair while hemming a blue-and- white cotton curtain. When she snores for the fifth time, the tiny figures in the curtain’s pattern begin to move, signaling each other that the ”great ogress” who holds them under her spell is safely asleep.
Nothing much happens in this subtle story, yet the enchantment is palpable. Out they prance, zebras and antelopes, monkeys and giraffes. Nurse Lugton’s thimble shines above like a sun, the patterns spring alive into grass and trees, and all the people waving from the windows of the little houses come out to admire ”the lovely beasts.”
Julie Vivas’ sculptural pastel shapes against airy white backgrounds give perfect form to this lighthearted vision. Vivas’ long-legged, gaily dressed human figures parade with childlike zest, and her roly-poly animals tumble off the curtain like comical acrobats.
Then a fly buzzes Nurse Lugton awake. In a flash, all the people, animals, and flowers turn back into a cloth pattern. Stodgily unaware, Nurse Lugton takes up her needle again.
It’s the slightest of stories, but wonderfully satisfying because it suggests the worlds-within-worlds magic of the most ordinary scenes and the sparkling riches that are available to those who have the imagination to see. A