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Virginia Woolf and Children’s Literature

100 years ago today Virginia Woolf published her very first novel, The Voyage Out. We thought we’d celebrate Woolf by having a look at her children’s books…

Woolf is not always remembered for her whimsical children’s books. Brilliant, sometimes intimidating, challenging, modernist fiction- yes. Children’s books about animals- no.

virginiawoolf_nurselugtonscurtain2Although they’re relatively unknown, Virginia Woolf’s The Widow and the Parrot and Nurse Lugton’s Curtain, are stories about animals and magic and are also beautifully illustrated.

In 1923, already an established author and member of the Bloomsbury Group, Woolf responded to a submissions call from The Charleston Bulletin, which was run by her family, published by her teenage nephews. The Widow and the Parrot is what she came up with. Woolf’s older nephew, deplored the work as “a tease…based on the worst Victorian examples,” devoid of Woolf’s typical subversive humor he had hoped for.

In short, the story follows a widow who travels to her brother’s home, on borrowed money, after news of his death. The widow’s brother has left 3000 pounds and a house to her, however, once she arrives she is told that nothing remains of the riches and the house is in disuse. The only thing left is her brother’s parrot. After a sudden fire in her brother’s old house, the widow rushes to the scene to ensure the parrot survived, but there is no sign of him. That night, after being taken in by neighbours, the parrot comes to the window and directs her to the riches.

Moral of the story: Be nice to animals, they could prove pretty useful.

virginiawoolf_nurselugtonscurtain17Nurse Lugton’s Curtain, written in 1924, follows Mrs. John Jasper Gingham’s drawing-room window curtain. The drape is covered with the figures of animals who come to life when the seamstress falls asleep. The story was untouched for decades, until it was published in 1991 with expressive and enchanting watercolors illustrations by Julie Vivas.

Moral of the story: Don’t sleep, you’ll miss all the fun.

Woolf did not come to fame through these writings and had all of her greatest works, including Mrs Dalloway and To The Lighthouse, ahead of her while writing them. However, the stories show us a softer side of Woolf and give us an insight into her imagination, along with her

Kate Nic Dhomhnaill

Author Kate Nic Dhomhnaill

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