Ask A Librarian

Pearl S. Buck and Her Several Worlds

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
November 10th, 2014

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Rare Book Librarian.


The works of Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winning author Pearl S. Buck have found a permanent home at WVU in the West Virginia & Regional History Center, thanks to a partnership with West Virginia Wesleyan College, which housed Buck’s manuscripts for many years, and the Pearl Buck Birthplace Foundation, the manuscripts’ original home.


Pearl Buck books in front of a window

WVU Libraries’ Dean Cawthorne’s collection of the works of Pearl Buck, as displayed in his office.


Born in Hillsboro, West Virginia, Buck moved to China with her parents within a few months after her birth.  Growing up in China, she learned to speak both English and Chinese fluently.  In her memoir, My Several Worlds, Buck described a yin and yang existence between the orderly, well-kept home of her American missionary parents and the disorderly, overcrowded world of the Chinese in which she lived.

As a young woman, Buck traveled back and forth between her two worlds, returning to the United States to attend Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, where she excelled, graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1914.  After graduation Buck returned to China with her new husband, John Lossing Buck, to teach English Literature at the University of Nanking.


Pearl Buck portrait

From “About Pearl S. Buck,” Pearl S. Buck International, (accessed Nov. 7, 2014)


Though the marriage was short lived, Buck produced her Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning novel, The Good Earth, during its brief duration.  Buck’s dual life, her grounding in the American-style home provided by her parents in conjunction with her outward life in China, gave Buck the perspective to accurately depict the plight of the Chinese people, weaving their difficulties and challenges into The Good Earth, and in doing so, bringing Buck worldwide recognition for herself and the book, which was her second novel.

Buck’s life of parallels can be explored in the book and manuscript collection available in the West Virginia & Regional History Center.  Books that reveal her American life include My Several Worlds, What America Means to Me, Once Upon a Christmas, and For Spacious Skies.  These books share the shelves with her many Chinese novels, such as Letter from Peking, The Hidden Flower, and The Imperial Woman.   Buck also wrote under the pen name of John Sedges, and these novels, The Townsman, The Angry Wife, The Long Love, and Voices in the House, are also part of the collection, as well as a Gothic mystery novel, Death in the Castle.


Pearl Buck

From “A Life of Pearl Buck: The Good Woman of China,” The Economist  (accessed Nov. 7, 2014)


The Pearl Buck Papers hold two original book manuscripts, among many other items, based on her parents’ lives:  The Fighting Angel, about her mother, and The Exile, focusing on her father.  A copy of each of these books is also part of the collection, providing researchers with an invaluable resource for examining an author’s working drafts alongside the published work.

Pearl Buck’s literary legacy is vast and wide, including over 150 books, plays, children’s stories, essays, articles, and much, much more.  Now many of the books written by the first woman to earn the Nobel Prize for Literature are available to researchers at WVU and are currently on display in the West Virginia & Regional History Center.

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