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Introduction to
The Diary of Opal Whiteley

In March of 1920, the Atlantic Monthly published the first of a series of articles describing the day to day adventures and misadventures of a young girl growing up in the woods and farming community of western Oregon. This young girl was Opal Whiteley, and the diary had been recently recreated from fragments, written in crayon on cast off pieces of paper and old bags, only to be torn apart by a jealous sister when Opal was about 13. The reconstructed pages of Opal's diary described a world as a child of 6 and 7 sees it, alive with creatures, fairies, talking trees, and singing creeks. They also describe the love and care Opal administered to everything in her world: an enormous cadre of pets (for which she created colorful names), the surrounding plants and trees, wild animals in the woods, the farm animals kept by her grandparents, and the kindly neighbors she interacted with. The diary was a pure pleasure to read and provided escape into another world for people struggling to recover from World War I. With each monthly installment sales for the Atlantic Monthly grew and so did Opal's popularity.

In the fall of 1920, the entire diary was published as a book entitled The Story of Opal: The Journal of an Understanding Heart. It was an immediate sensation, becoming the nation's second best seller of the year. Concerns soon emerged, however, about the diary's authenticity and the actual age of the author when writing the diary. There were also questions about the diary's unusual content (for example, Opal's knowledge of French words and Catholic ritual), and Opal's purported belief that she was an adopted child, with clues to royal parentage hidden in the diary's pages. The enigma that began shortly after publication of Opal's diary continues to surround the author even today, with ardent supporters holding vastly different views of the truth concerning Opal's background and the diary's authorship.

We have chosen to include the Diary of Opal Whiteley in the INTERSECT digital library because of its enduring qualities as piece of literature, an American classic unlike any other ever produced. As a journal, the Diary of Opal Whiteley is an excellent example of how a daily chronicle can be much more than a recounting of events. It provides us with insight into another era and a world that is all but unknown today. It also provides us with a glimpse of the world as a child experiences it, a child who is observant beyond her years and in touch with the vibrancy of all living things around her. And finally, it provides us with a sense of joy, just to be alive. As Opal says, "This is a very wonderful world to live in."



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Copyright 1999 Center for Electronic Studying, University of Oregon.
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Last updated: November 16, 1999.