Opal: A Life of Enchantment, Mystery, and Madness

by Kathrine Beck

Paperback, 2004




Penguin Books (2004), 288 pages

User reviews

LibraryThing member fiddlersgreen
I'm giving this a half a star for one reason only: the pictures. If there were negative stars, I'd give Beck all of them. I've been interested in Opal Whiteley's story for several years now, and when I heard this book was coming out, I was excited. Then I got it and read it and was disgusted. Opal Whiteley very obviously suffered from mental illness and Catherine Beck spends the entire book bashing her for it. She didn't cite any references for anything she wrote, which I found awfully strange. She sucks. That's all I can say. And hopefully someday someone will write a more compassionate book about this poor girl.… (more)
LibraryThing member IreneF
As a biography, "Opal" doesn't meet scholarly standards, and the writing isn't really top-notch. Yet Opal Whitely herself was a fascinating character and continues to be controversial. Born in 1897, Opal grew up in a logging camp in Oregon. She claimed her real parents were members of the d'Orleans family, pretenders to the French crown. Her diary, which she claimed to have written as a child, was a sensation when published in 1920, then pronounced a hoax. After republication in 1976 the diary, with its back-to-nature spirituality, gained new fans, some of whom are passionate about its authenticity.

Beck believes the diary to have been a literary hoax, and Opal to have been mentally ill. (Opal entered a mental hospital in 1948 and lived there until her death in 1992, and she had had "breakdowns" and exhibited erratic behavior earlier in life.) What Beck doesn't explore is the character of Opal's illness and how it may have affected her culpability in perpetrating a literary hoax. Was she deliberate and calculating, delusional, or a bit of both? Sometimes Beck just about blames Opal for being sick.

"Opal" is an interesting read but not worth seeking out unless you have a special interest in Opal herself or literary hoaxes.
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LibraryThing member piemouth
In 1920, The Story of Opal was published, supposedly the childhood diary of Opal Whitely, who'd grown up in a small town in Oregon. She describes nature and animals in a way people either find endearing or twee (I'm in the latter group) and it became a best seller. It was soon dismissed as a hoax, written by Opal as an adult and tailored to sell to readers who were looking for a return to childhood innocence in the wake of WWI. In the 70s, Ms. published some of the diary in the "Stories for Free Children" section and it found a new audience. It's been rediscovered by New Age people and poetic environmentalists, and interest in Opal continues. This book attempts to discover the truth about Opal, and to tell what became of her later.

The diary contained hints that she was related to European royalty. For the rest of her life she insisted this was true. She got further and further from reality, and ended her life in a British asylum. From this account, it sounds as though she was schizophrenic.

It has a lively style that I enjoyed and involves many odd people (LA faith healers, New England theosophists, New Age writers). I really enjoyed this.
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LibraryThing member bongo_x
This is a mixed bag. It’s a fascinating story, that I knew nothing of, and while this seems to be one of the only critical examinations you’ll find of the story it’s definitely flawed.

There seems to be a fair amount of research made into the facts, but many of them aren’t backed up with sources and it’s not impartial, although I don’t think it’s totally unfair either. The writer seems to be trying hard to counteract all the woo out there and does a pretty good job.

I really could use better editing, but I’m starting to thing that’s just how non-fiction is now. Thoughts and events repeat and are strewn about in a strange order that make it a little hard to follow at times.

I still enjoyed quite a bit and it’s worth reading if you’re interested in the subject.
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