Pearl S. Buck Additional Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Pearl S. Buck was born Pearl Comfort Sydenstricker in West Virginia on June 26, 1892. Her parents, Absalom and Caroline Sydenstricker, were missionaries who took her to China when she was still an infant. China was her home, except during her college undergraduate days, until 1932. When she was ready to go to college, Buck’s parents sent her back to the United States, where she attended Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, in Lynchburg, Virginia, graduating in 1914. While she was an undergraduate, Buck distinguished herself by becoming president of her class and by winning collegiate literary prizes.{$S[A]Sedges, John;Buck, Pearl S.}

In 1917, she married John Lossing Buck, an agricultural expert working for the Presbyterian mission board. Their first five years of marriage were spent in the highly unsettled regions of North China. When her husband accepted a position at Nanking University, Pearl Buck began to teach English at the same institution, serving until 1924. She later taught at National Southeastern University (1925-1927) and at Chung-Yang University (1928-1930). The Bucks took a leave of absence in 1925; they returned to the United States and studied at Cornell University. While working on her master’s degree, Buck learned that her daughter, Carol, was mentally retarded. Even though the doctors recommended that Carol be institutionalized, Buck did not do so until 1929. Another daughter, Janice, was adopted, and she returned to China with the Buck family.

The publication of The Good Earth in 1931 made Pearl S. Buck world-famous as a popular novelist. With that book, she achieved fame, not only as a novelist but also as the foremost interpreter of China to Westerners. She, John, and their two daughters returned to the United States for a year’s leave. On the return trip to China, she requested and received a year’s separation from John. During that year, she traveled extensively through Asia. In 1934, she left for the United States with Janice. Pearl divorced John Buck on June 10, 1935; the next day, she married Richard J. Walsh, the president of John Day, her publishing company. They settled on a farm in Pennsylvania and later adopted nine children. Richard died in 1960 after a lengthy illness.

Honorary degrees were awarded to Buck by several institutions, including Harvard and Yale. She was also one of the first women to be elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The Good Earth won many awards for its author, including the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 and the Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1935. She was made a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1936. Her crowning award was the Nobel Prize in Literature, which she received in 1938 for her portrayal of the Chinese people in her novels.

The Good Earth was the first novel of a trilogy, The House of Earth, which includes Sons and A House Divided. The trilogy presents the history of a Chinese family through several generations, and it has been compared to the Rougon-Macquart series of novels by Émile Zola. Similarities are especially strong between Buck’s The Good Earth and Zola’s La Terre (1887; The Soil, 1888, and also as Earth, 1954), running much deeper than the titles.

The Good Earth was an exceptionally popular novel. With its American sales approximating a million copies, and translations made into twenty or more other languages, the novel topped the best-seller lists in the United States for more than two years. Despite its vast popularity, or perhaps partly because of it, and because her books were concerned with a culture alien to the United States, critics and scholars have been slow to grant Buck’s work a place in literary history. Critical appraisals of The Good Earth and Buck’s later novels have indicated that the greatest merit of the books lies in the truthfulness with which China and its people are portrayed.

Following The Good Earth, which is a point of departure in any discussion of Buck, came other novels which had more modest success, such books as The Young Revolutionist, portraying the Chinese Communist movement, and The Mother, which relates the tribulations of a Chinese peasant woman. During the 1930’s, Buck also turned to writing books other than novels; The First Wife, and Other Stories was her first volume of...

(The entire section is 1817 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Pearl Sydenstricker spent her childhood and young adult years in China with her missionary parents, where she attended mission schools and studied with a Confucian tutor. Then she attended Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Virginia before returning to China, where she married John Lossing Buck, an American agricultural expert. She received her M.A. in English literature from Cornell in 1926, and soon began publishing extensively. She divorced John Lossing Buck in 1935 and later that same year married Richard J. Walsh, president of the John Day publishing firm. Elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1936, she won the Nobel Prize in 1938. She founded the East and West Association, an organization working toward greater international understanding, and the Pearl Buck Foundation, an agency supporting homeless Amerasian children throughout Asia. Proceeds from her publications continued to fund the agency. She died from lung cancer on March 6, 1973. She had published more than one hundred works and had received hundreds of humanitarian awards.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Pearl S. Buck was born Pearl Comfort Sydenstricker on June 26, 1892, in the family home at Hillsboro, West Virginia, to Absalom and Caroline (Stulting) Sydenstricker. Her parents were missionaries in China, home on a furlough, and after five months they returned to China with their baby daughter. Her parents’ marriage was not a particularly happy one because of their disparate natures. Her mother, fun-loving and witty, was torn by her devotion to God; her father, single-minded and zealous, had success with his mission but not with his family. Buck grew up in Chinkiang (Zhenjiang), an inland city on the Yangtze River. In 1900, during the Boxer Rebellion, her family was forced to flee, and she experienced the horrors of racism. Her...

(The entire section is 953 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Pearl Comfort Sydenstricker was born to Absalom and Caroline Sydenstricker. The fourth of seven children, she was one of only three who lived to adulthood. Pearl was born when her Presbyterian parents were in the United States on temporary home leave from their missionary duties in China; when she was three months old they returned to Chinkiang, China. Her father’s work there took him into the countryside for months at a time; her mother remained at home with the children, managing a dispensary for Chinese women.

Educated by her mother and a Chinese tutor, Pearl became proficient in both English and Chinese at an early age. She read the Bible, traditional Chinese tales, and the writings of Charles Dickens, whose...

(The entire section is 799 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Buck’s contribution to American letters is perhaps most obvious in The Good Earth. Her receiving the Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes for literature attests to the quality of her early work. Although some of her later works are considered propagandistic (Dragon Seed [1942], for example), inaccurate in their depiction of Chinese life, or simply not especially good writing, her best works about China have not been surpassed. She was one of the most widely read authors of her time. The Good Earth is the definitive story of Chinese peasant life before the Communist regime came to power. She said whereas her critics wanted China represented by its scholars and intellectuals, she wished to present a true view of the common people who were otherwise ignored.

In her lifetime, Buck produced more than one hundred writings. In them she tried to convey her belief that people, no matter what their culture, were basically alike, with the same hopes, fears, expectations, and desires, and as a consequence, they should be able to coexist in peace and, ideally, harmony.


(Novels for Students)

One of most popular American authors of the mid-twentieth century, Pearl Buck was born on June 26, 1892, in Hillsboro, West Virginia. Her...

(The entire section is 492 words.)