This Day In Literary History
On June 26th, 1892, the famous American writer Pearl S. Buck was born. She was born Pearl Sydenstricker in Hillsboro, West Virgina. Her parents, Absalom and Caroline Sydenstricker, were missionaries for the Southern Presbyterian Church. After they married, they went to China and set up a mission.
Since three out of their four previous children, who were born in China, died from cholera and other ailments shortly after their birth, the Sydenstrickers returned to the United States so Pearl's mother could give birth to her there.
The family returned to their mission in China when Pearl was three months old. She was given a Chinese name - Sai Zhen Zhu - and Chinese was her primary language.
She was tutored in Chinese language and history by a Confucian scholar, Mr. Kung. Her mother later taught her English. Pearl came to love China and the Chinese people.
When she was eight years old, the Boxer Rebellion took place. It was a revolt against foreign imperialists and the Christian missionaries who were interfering with Chinese culture in their pursuit of converting and Westernizing the Chinese.
Pearl and her family were evacuated to Shanghai, where they spent almost a whole year living as refugees. The family then left China for San Francisco, only to return a year later, when the Boxer Rebellion had ended.
In 1911, Pearl left China again, this time to attend a women's college in America. After graduating in 1914, she returned to China and served as a missionary until 1933. In 1917, she married fellow missionary John Buck.
She later became a major figure in the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy of the 1920s and 30s - a schism within the Presbyterian church that pitted liberal (modernist) against conservative (fundamentalist) factions.
In a 1932 article published in The Christian Century magazine, Pearl Buck voiced her support for Re-Thinking Missions, a controversial study by a Presbyterian lay group that argued for the scrapping of traditional missions.
Instead of trying to convert all the peoples of the world to Christianity, the study stated, a Christian mission's main function should be to help those in need through humanitarian efforts.
The study also stated that Christian missionaries should ally themselves with all religions instead of trying to win converts. In her article, Buck mocked the biblical literalism of the fundamentalists.
She said that the study was "the only book I have ever read that seems to me literally true in its every observation and right in its every conclusion."
Later that year, Buck gave a speech before a large audience at the Astor Hotel, where she elaborated on the views expressed in her article, describing the typical Christian missionary as "narrow, uncharitable, unappreciative, [and] ignorant."
Pearl also rejected the concept of original sin and the need to believe in the divinity of Christ in order to live a Christian life. She wrote another article that was published in Cosmopolitan, and established herself as a leading liberal voice in the Presbyterian Church.
The Re-Thinking Missions study, along with the efforts of Buck and other liberals outraged the conservative, evangelical faction in the church, and a schism resulted that saw most conservatives bolt from the Presbyterian Church. The few that stayed were willing to compromise and accept modernist ideas.
At the time of her participation in the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy, Pearl Buck had also established herself as a bestselling writer. Her first novel, East Wind:West Wind was published in 1930.
A year later, she would publish her most famous novel, The Good Earth (1931), which was the first in a classic trilogy of novels called The House of Earth.
The Good Earth told the epic story of Wang Lung, a poor Chinese peasant farmer who marries a slave girl named O-Lan, lives a hard life, then unexpectedly rises to prominence, only to encounter more hardships.
The second book in the trilogy, Sons (1933), follows Wang Lung's sons, and the third book, A House Divided (1935), follows the third generation of Wang Lung's family.
The Good Earth won Pearl Buck the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. It was adapted as an acclaimed feature film in 1937, starring Paul Muni as Wang Lung and Luise Rainer as O-Lan.
I was thirteen years old when I first read this great novel as a social studies class assignment back in the early 1980s. It remains one of my all-time favorite novels.
Pearl Buck used her experiences in China as the basis for her novels, and in doing so, helped introduce Chinese culture to the West. No stranger to controversy, she would later write China Sky (1941), a tale of the horrors of the Japanese invasion of China during World War II.
She also wrote Peony (1948), the haunting, riveting story of a Chinese servant girl, Peony, who is sold to a wealthy Jewish family and embarks on a forbidden romance with the family's only son.
During her amazing literary career, Pearl Buck wrote over 40 novels (four of them under the pseudonym John Sedges) and many short stories, including children's stories. Her last novel, The Rainbow, was completed before she died in 1973 at the age of 80. It was published posthumously the following year.
Quote Of The Day
"The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: a human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To him, a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create — so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating." - Pearl S. Buck
Today's video features Pearl S. Buck being interviewed on The Merv Griffin Show in 1966. Enjoy!