White's Wilbur and Whiteley's Peter Paul Rubens

  • Juliet McMaster
Keywords: juvenilia, E.B. White, Opal Whiteley, children's literature, animal stories, American literature, child author, child writer, twentieth century


Michael Sims’ book called The Story of Charlotte’s Web makes no mention of Opal Whiteley or her famous diary, published in 1920.  Instead, Sims turns to the well-recognized connection between E.B. White's Charlotte's Web  (1952) and his essay, "Death of a Pig," written some four years earlier. In the essay, White describes the loss of a pig whose life he had tried to save, and his description of the autobiographical origins of Charlotte's Web strongly suggests that his earlier experience with a pig who had died of natural causes is what convinced him that he “needed a way to save a pig’s life.” This essay argues, nevertheless, for another intertext for Charlotte’s Web, namely the diary of Opal Whiteley (1920), a seven-year-old girl who loved and lost a pig called Peter Paul Rubens. 

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