Who was Opal Whiteley?
August 21, 2007 11:06 AM   Subscribe

In 1918, at the age of 20, Oregonian Opal Whiteley published "The Fairyland Around Us" (contains full text & pictures), a nature book for children. Two years later, her diary (also contains full text and pictures) was published and became one of the best-selling books in the world. She died in a British mental hospital in 1992. More.
posted by dersins (18 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I would buy this book if it were in print. Thanks for posting this.
posted by jquinby at 11:50 AM on August 21, 2007

I mean, The Fairyland Around Us.
posted by jquinby at 11:53 AM on August 21, 2007

Fascinating, thank you. I look forward to tracking down her books. I'm generally not inclined to read diaries, and never expected to be interested in the diary of a six year old girl written nearly a century ago, but the selections I found were strangely captivating. Such an interesting connection, and perhaps a fine dividing line, between her heightened sensitivity to her surroundings and her rather tragic mental illness.
posted by bepe at 11:53 AM on August 21, 2007

Some of her stuff is in print.
posted by dersins at 11:55 AM on August 21, 2007

Also, pdf of the bio at the first link.
posted by dersins at 11:57 AM on August 21, 2007

Excellent. Thank you for this!
posted by jtron at 12:14 PM on August 21, 2007

Wow, this is great! Thanks for posting it. I just paperback-swapped the diary... can't wait to read it.
posted by vorfeed at 12:18 PM on August 21, 2007

I work for a large bookstore in Portland and one of the programmers here always uses "singing creek" as his test book (to confirm that programs are working right, etc).
Until this post, I'd never heard Opal Whitely referenced apart from that...cool.
posted by mrnutty at 12:19 PM on August 21, 2007

Great post! Opal Whiteley's life story is fascinating. I bookmarked the book and diary sites so I can go back to them and spend more time.
posted by amyms at 12:23 PM on August 21, 2007

If you are in the Southern Willamette Valley, you can visit the place where she lived for a lot of her life.

Includes a tour.
posted by Danf at 12:55 PM on August 21, 2007

Many believe the work to be a forgery, by Whiteley herself. See Kathrine Beck, Opal: A Life of Enchantment, Mystery, and Madness. The author does not take a definitive position, but the book suggests that she had both motive and means to cook up the tale.
posted by texorama at 2:49 PM on August 21, 2007

I'm the 5th generation born and raised in the Willamette Valley and my daughter is now the 6th, yet I don't think I've ever heard of Opal Whitely before. I'm taking it in as I can and I have to buy these books. The excerpts I've read so far are wonderful and I'm really not sure how I've missed it before.

Thank you very much
posted by afflatus at 3:04 PM on August 21, 2007

What's this about Oprah Winfrey?
posted by BoatMeme at 3:46 PM on August 21, 2007

I hate to break it to you...

I read the recent book on her by Katherine Beck. It was very sympathetic, but the author found out all sorts of details that made it pretty clear that the diary was written when she was an adult, not when she was a child.

The main evidence:
- there is no record of her ever mentioning the diary until she was quite old.
- the sister denied ever tearing it up.
- there were anachronisms, facts that couldn't have been known till when it was written.
- Opal later in life became more or less a professional confidence artist.

Beck doesn't definitively say, "Opal was a fake," but it's really hard not to come to that conclusion after finishing the book.

Still a fascinating read for all that.

Oh, and it's "Whiteley".
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 4:07 PM on August 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Whether Opal wrote it as a child or not, it's a wonderful read -- and she's a fascinating character.
posted by OolooKitty at 5:28 PM on August 21, 2007

I've been sitting on an Opal Whiteley post for years (damn!). Between the ranch house and the house we live in is the singing creek where the willows grow.... The diary is a haunting book, regardless. And I hadn't heard of Beck's biography. Something for the top of the To Be Read pile!
posted by steef at 5:47 PM on August 21, 2007

dersins, What a fascinating and surprising post! A heart-breaking, touching story, whatever the details. Anyway one looks at her life and her writing, it's profoundly moving and tragic. Just as she was getting on her feet in life, after surviving childhood abuse, she was lobotomised. So wrong that and then she lived 50 years after the lobotomy.

Everett Baker, an attorney and head of the Christian Endeavor organization in Oregon, wrote a letter to the publisher of Opal's diary testifying that on two occasions Mrs. Whiteley, Opal's adoptive mother, admitted to him and his wife that Opal was "adopted."

Definitely a favorite post.
posted by nickyskye at 8:01 PM on August 21, 2007

Knockout post Dersins!
posted by Jofus at 4:38 AM on August 22, 2007

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