Pearl S. Buck
26 is the birthday of writer Pearl Buck. She was born in Hillsboro,
West Virginia (1892) of missionary parents, who took her to the Chinese city
of Chinkiang on the Yangtse River when she was 3 months old. She spoke
Chinese before she learned English.
Buck's father, Absalom Sydenstricker, was a humorless, scholarly man who
spent much of his life translating the Bible from Greek into Chinese.
Her mother, the former Caroline Stulting, had traveled widely in her youth
and had developed a passion for literature. But the family's life in
China was not always pleasant. When Pearl was still a child, the
family had to flee from rebel forces during the Boxer Rebellion. They
returned once the fighting died down.
After being educated by her mother and a Confucian Chinese tutor, Buck
was sent to a boarding school in Shanghai (1907-09) at the age of fifteen.
She worked for the Door of Hope, a shelter for Chinese slave girls and
prostitutes, which gave her tremendous insight into the minds of Oriental
women--something that would come in handy in her future writing.
Buck continued her education in the United States at Randolph-Macon
Woman's College in Virginia, where she studied psychology. She planned
on spending the rest of her life in the United States, but her mother's
serious illness interrupted those plans. After being
graduated in 1914, Buck returned to China to care for her mother and work
for the Presbyterian
Board of Missions. When her mother recovered, they resettled in a village in
northern China, and Buck married a missionary man she met there.
She went to work as a teacher and interpreter for her husband, traveling
throughout the countryside to deliver the word of God. During this period, China took steps toward
liberal reform under the May 4th Movement of 1917 - 1921. In the
1920s, the Bucks moved to Nanking, where Pearl taught English and American
literature at the university. In 1922, she
wrote a description of Chinese daily life and sent it to The Atlantic
Monthly, which began publishing her articles regularly. Two years
later, the family returned to the United
States to seek medical care for her first daughter, who was mentally
retarded. In 1926, she received her M.A. in literature from Cornell
The Bucks returned to China in 1927. During the civil war, they
were evacuated to Japan and never returned.
in the Orient, Buck published stories in the weekly children's edition of the
Shanghai Mercury. Her
first book was East Wind: West Wind (1930), and she followed it with
the book that won the Pulitzer Prize and made her famous worldwide,
The Good Earth (1931). It's about a Chinese farmer, his wife, and their
struggle to make a good life for themselves. The novel's style--a
combination of biblical prose and Chinese narrative saga--increased the
dignity of its characters. Buck was only the third American to
win the Nobel Prize in Literature, following Sinclair Lewis and Eugene
O'Neill. The book gained a wide audience and was made into a motion
Buck wrote two sequels to her blockbuster novel, Sons (1932) and
A House Divided (1935), and published them all together in 1935 as a
trilogy called House of Earth. She went on to write over 85
books, sometimes two or three a year, but that early novel,
The Good Earth, has always been regarded as her best. At the core of her
novels is the recurring theme of relationships between men and women of
Pearl S. Buck died at the age of eighty in Danby, Vermont, on March 6, 1973.
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