Until she won the Nobel Prize, Pearl Buck released very little biographical information about herself, mainly to protect her mentally disabled daughter Carol from prying eyes. Even Pearl's autobiography, My Several Worlds, published when she was 62 years old, revealed relatively little intimate information. In the course of nearly 400 pages, Pearl does not mention either of her husbands or her parents. She does, however, provide a detailed account of her life as the parent of a disabled child. Her candor became a legendary first step towards new tolerance for families caring for children with disabilities.
From the time she was a little girl, Pearl was passionate about classic Chinese fiction. Shortly following the publication of The Good Earth, Pearl Buck completed a five-year project to produce the first English translation of an early Chinese text. Shui Hu Chuan—translated All Men Are Brothers in English—is a famous 1,000-page historical Chinese novel about a legendary band of 12th-century bandits.
Throughout her years as a writer, Pearl Buck was an avid journalist. Writing regularly for such publications as Harper's, Collier's, the Saturday Evening Post, Cosmopolitan, Opportunity, Yale Review, Asia magazine, the New York Times Magazine and Redbook, she wrote about numerous popular topics of the day and was considered a foremost voice on women's rights and relations between East and West.
"David Barnes" was a pseudonym Pearl Buck used when she submitted her master's thesis to Cornell University. Pearl never wrote expressly why she did it, but she was particularly feminist and probably intended to send a subversive message. Many years later, David Barnes appears in Pearl's novel This Proud Heart to give important advice to her feminist character Susan Gaylord. Many critics consider Susan Gaylord to be an allegory not only for Pearl Buck herself, but also for many struggling female writers in the 1930s. Pearl also published some of her most feminist novels under the pseudonym "John Sedges."
Though she gave hundreds of speeches, talks and presentations throughout her life, Pearl Buck never became entirely comfortable with her role as an authority and public personality. In 1931 at a joint meeting of the American Women's Club and the American Association of University Women in Shanghai, she found herself frightened by the crowd, which she called "the greatest mob of women I have ever seen." Despite her nerves, she became a sought-after public speaker.
Towards the end of her life, Pearl Buck's celebrity in America reached a fever pitch rarely achieved today by anyone other than A-list actresses. By her mid-70s, she was not only still a well-known writer, but also had received awards and tributes from a huge array of prestigious American organizations and institutions. In the space of a few months in 1965, she received four major awards honoring her philanthropic work from the likes of the Women's Hall of Fame and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. In a 1966 Gallup poll, Pearl ranked among the top 10 most admired American women and in a similar Good Housekeeping survey the same year, she ranked in importance second only to Rose Kennedy.
How did Pearl meet her second husband? In what is perhaps a writer's dream come true, the 42-year-old Richard Walsh agreed to publish Pearl Buck's first novel. From the day he signed the agreement to publish East Wind, West Wind—for a royalty rate of ten percent—until his death more than 30 years later, Walsh would successfully publish everything Pearl wrote. The two became fast friends, corresponding regularly through the early 1930s. In 1935, they married each other the same day their divorces to their respective spouses were granted. In many respects, theirs was the most successful writing and publishing partnership in American history.
Summoned to Pearl's home to give dance lessons to her younger daughters, Ted Harris became Pearl's scandalous final confident and romantic attachment. More than 40 years her junior, what began as a casual encounter between an old woman and a young man quickly escalated into a partnership that troubled many of Pearl's friends, who felt Ted was an opportunist. Pearl took on Ted as an escort, advisor, collaborator and co-author despite the fact that he had little more than grade school education and no background in any of the causes Pearl found herself deeply attached to later in life. Nevertheless, Ted was at her bedside the day Pearl died and she remained his patron and faithful friend to the end.


Next Story