Welcome back to Thomas Lauderdale’s Summer Reading List! We hope you’ve been enjoying Thomas’ selections so far. This week’s pick is from another Oregon author – Opal Whiteley. The Story of Opal is a beautifully written, highly controversial diary of a young girl from Cottage Grove, Oregon, who escapes her tedious life of poverty and abuse by befriending the plants and animals in the forests surrounding her home.
Take it away, Thomas!
“This is an incredible story of a woman who grew up in Cottage Grove, Oregon, who was clearly a genius and was very much involved in nature, and kind of had a crazy life. I think that there’s been renewed interest, because at the Multnomah County Library, an author by the name of Benjamin Hoff, who wrote The Tao of Pooh, found The Story of Opal on the shelves of the library and the whole thing was republished.
It’s basically the diary of a very advanced girl – I guess she was seven when she wrote it. It was declared a hoax at a certain point in the 1920s. It became a bestseller and then was declared a hoax. But it’s just incredible. She’s the original flower child of Oregon. She had this whole imaginary world. And even if she was in her teens when she wrote it, it’s still remarkable. The whole thing is just amazing. She has this whole secret world of flowers and animals and creatures, and all in Cottage Grove, Oregon, in 1920.
She died in a mental institution in 1992. Benjamin Hoff went twice to Napsbury, where she was, and failed to see her both times. What kind of idiot does that? You go all the way to England and you actually don’t see her? It’s so frustrating to read of his attempts.
Here’s a passage from Chapter III:
‘All those trees are my friends. I call them by names I have given to them. I call them Hugh Capet and Saint Louis and Good King Edward I; and the tallest one of all is Charlemagne, and the one around where the little flowers talk most is William Wordsworth, and there are Byron and Keats and Shelley. When I go straight for the milk, I do so like to come around this way by the lane and talk to these tree friends. I stopped to-night to give to each a word of greeting. When I got to the end of the lane, I climbed the gate and thought I had better hurry straight on to get the milk.
I don’ think I’ll print more to-night. I printed this sitting on the wood-box, where the mamma put me after she spanked me after I got home with the milk. Now I think I shall go out the bedroom window and talk to the stars. They always smile so friendly. This is a very wonderful world to live in.’
Isn’t that fantastic? So talented. Read this book!”
You can pick up a copy of The Story of Opal at Portland’s Powell’s Books. We hope to see you next week for another installment of Thomas Lauderdale’s Summer Reading List. See you then!