The genius girl Opal Whiteley

  ”The day has come when the brown leaves fall. They fall from the trees and drift to the ground. I hear their whispers of what happened the day they first came into the world as leaves. Today they tell me when there is no Before they came to this world, they were part of earth and air. Now they’re going back. They’re going back to earth in the gray days of winter. But they’re not dead.”
  Believe it? This poetic text comes from the diary of a 7-year-old girl. She is the American genius girl Opal Whiteley – the most popular girl in Oregon in the early 20th century. She is an elf who has fallen into the mortal world. She grew up in the embrace of nature, deeply integrated into nature, and uses her innocent and romantic style to create a sometimes quiet and sometimes romantic dream place for people , the dwelling place of a soul. She once shocked the American literary world with her genius, and became the biggest mystery of the American literary world in the 1920s because of her excellent diary and legendary life experience.
  Opal Whiteley was born on December 11, 1897, in a lumberjack’s home in Oregon, United States. Oregon is located on the North Pacific coast and is one of the most beautiful places in the United States. There is abundant rainfall, tall and lush trees, numerous rivers and snow-capped mountains. Little Opal grew up in this beautiful “Wonderland”. She is a lonely child living in a logging camp, and her favorite thing to do is play with the plants and animals around her. Pigs, mice, squirrels, butterflies, bees, horses, turkeys, sheep, hens, bats, dogs, cows, deer, crows, toads, and even bugs are her close friends. She communicated with them, talked to them, and gave them all sorts of nice names. In the forest, she uses pine trees as walls, clouds as roofs, and various small animals seem to be participating in church ceremonies. “For me, the outdoors is a cathedral,”
  says Opal, who began keeping a diary at the age of five. Using a colored crayon, she wrote down the stories of the lovely creatures in the forest on scrap paper, then hid the diary in the hollow trees. Unfortunately, at the age of 14, her sister discovered her diary and ripped it to shreds out of jealousy. Opal was so heartbroken that he collected the diary fragments and hid them in a neighbor’s hatbox.
  At the age of 13, Opal began giving lectures on wildlife and geology to local children, often mixing nature and religion in his lectures. Later, the audience gradually expanded to the whole of Oregon, and she also became a director of the “Youth Christian Encouragement Association” in Oregon.
  In 1916, Opal, who was under 19, applied to study at the University of Oregon, and several professors interviewed her. Her knowledge of natural history surprised professors in all three departments and was admitted without a high school diploma. Everyone thought she would be a great scientist, writer and teacher. Some newspaper articles called her a “genius girl”. On college campuses, Opal is a unique sight, often chasing butterflies or insects, with fluttering robes and skirts. One day, the wife of the college president, Prince Campbell, came to Opal and saw her kneeling on the ground, looking at the ground, and singing hymns. When Mrs Campbell asked what she was doing, Opal replied, “I’m singing to one of God’s creatures,” and in front of her was an earthworm.
  In college, Opal made a living by speaking. But unfortunately the proceeds from the speech did not support her graduation. In 1918, she went to Hollywood to try and be an actress, but it didn’t work. She started writing a book about nature for children. At the age of 21, Opal came to Boston with her book, “Wonderland Around Us.” This is an extraordinary children’s book that mixes science and faith. When she was trying to find a publisher who wanted to publish the book, she met Mr. Ellery Sedwick, an editor of The Atlantic Monthly and a very influential figure in the literary world at the time. He wasn’t interested in Opal’s books, but Opal himself caught his attention. He later wrote: “She was so young and passionate, like a bird in the bush, flapping her wings.” He asked her about her experience, and she told him. He was curious and asked if she kept a diary? Opal burst into tears and said he had a box of diary fragments. Sedwick later wrote in an introduction to Opal’s diary: “We immediately telegraphed and had them delivered. They came, hundreds, even millions, of fragments.” Some were half sheets of paper, and more were fragments too small to fit a single letter. For the next eight months, Opal lived at his mother-in-law’s house in Sedwick, Boston, gluing the pieces together like a tangram game. This is very hard work.
  Opal’s diary was serialized in The Atlantic Monthly from March 1920. In August of the same year, a single volume was published under the title “The Story of Opal”. This book has achieved great success. It records the natural pictures in a child’s eyes, and uses divine thoughts and emotions to perceive the subtle emotions of the joys and sorrows of animals and plants, which is full of childlike innocence. “New York Times” commented: “This is a pair of moved eyes”; “Life magazine” commented: “There has never been a book like this”, “may become a classic”. Opal’s book quickly became a world bestseller, her diaries were read by presidents and kings, and mothers named babies based on her books. Opal’s influence extends far beyond Oregon.
  But fickle critics were quick to declare Opal’s diary a hoax, asserting that no six- or seven-year-old child could write such miraculous writing that the diary was actually written by an adult Opal. 10 months after the diary was published, the printing stopped, she was considered a liar, and people asked her to return the book and pay compensation. Opal was forced to leave the United States for Europe and never returned.
  Even more puzzling than the question of Opal and her diary is the mystery of her origins. After the diary was published, she began to declare herself a lost princess from France. She told people she did not belong to the Whiteley family, and she also spoke of abuse growing up. Her real father was Prince Henry D. Orleans, who was adopted by the Whiteleys when Prince Henry died in 1901. Henri D. Orleans was the prince of an outdated royal family of the French Bourbons, a famous scientist and explorer who had traveled to India, Vietnam, China’s Tibet and the banks of the Yangtze. In Opal’s diary, she refers to her real parents as “Angel Dad” and “Angel Mom”. From this time on she took the name Marie de Bourdon Orleans. There was a public outcry about this. Some believed her and supported her claims, while others didn’t, and the Whiteleys were forced to change their surnames and move from their place of residence.
  After the late 1930s, many former friends and supporters lost contact with her. She was also abandoned by her own family and lived in poverty. In 1948, she was found starving to death in a dilapidated house that had been bombed in World War II. At this moment, she was still rummaging through the boxes to find books. There are thousands of books in various disciplines piled up around her. She used all the money that other people funded her to buy food to buy books. Police were called by her neighbours and she was taken to a public psychiatric hospital in St Albans. This gifted teen from Oregon has spent nearly 50 years in a small room in a crowded mental hospital. In 1950, she had a lobotomy. She never wrote a book again, her brilliant brain was broken, like a tree stump cut down by her lumberjack father long ago. She died in a mental hospital in 1992 at the age of 95. Only 10 people attended Opal’s funeral, and no commemorations were held in Oregon.
  For more than 80 years, Opal’s beautiful work on nature and children has been dusted and almost forgotten. However, everything is changing now. There is a new understanding of mental illness, and her work has regained popularity. A memorial has been built for her in her home town of Little Forest, and a life-size statue of her has been erected in the town’s library. On the wall of a small park named after her, there is a mural of her, a huge mural that happens to look down on the main street in the center of the town. Visitors can drive or bike on a self-guided tour around the place where she lived and wrote.
  The University of Oregon has made Opal’s entire diary and historical photographs available online for readers and researchers. Her diary has now been translated into German, Chinese, and French. Opal brought her back to the literary world. People fascinated by Opal and her diary have written hundreds of articles and many books. There are also various radio, plays, and even road musicals about her. A musician, Anne Hills, also produced music CDs of Opal’s work. Two Hollywood studios are planning to make Opal’s life into a movie.
  To this day, the question “What happened to Opal?” is still debated. Is Opal a mystery, or is she crazy? Did she weave a con, or was she a real princess? These secrets still attract people to explore.

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