Buck, Pearl S.: The Good Earth
(researched by Gwen Rogers)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description
1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)
Published by The John Day Company, New York, March 2 1931 Source 1: examination of first edition, located in Special Collections of Alderman Library, Call Number ìTaylor 1931. B83 G6î Source 2: Pearl S. Buck by Paul A. Doyle, p.29 (March 2 info)
2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?
The first edition was published in cloth. The John Day Company did not publish books in paper. Usually the only books published in paper at this time were works of lesser quality by relatively unknown authors. Source: Blue Whale Books, Charlottesville, VA (804) 296-4646
3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available
4 Pagination
i. half title ii. blank iii. title page iv. copyright information v. author biography vi. blank [1]: half title [2]: introductory material 3-175: text; [376]: colophon Source: examination of first edition
5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?
Introductory Material: Swannís Way, by Marcel Proust The first edition is not edited. Source: examination of first edition
6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?
The inside front and back cover are illustrated with a depiction of the Chinese peasants in white against a green background. No credit is given to an illustrator. Source: examination of first edition
7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available
8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)
The text is a size that is clear and easy to read; there are large margins of approximately one inch on the top and both sides of the page and slightly more than an inch on the bottom of the page. The text is att
ractively presented. The book is very well printed on heavyweight paper. Source: examination of first edition
9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available
10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)
The paper is slightly yellowed, but has held up well over time. The pages are not ripped or thin. Source: examination of first edition
11 Description of binding(s)
The first edition is bound in brown cloth with blind and gold stamping on the cover and the spine. It is stitched. Source: examination of first edition
12 Transcription of title page
[in decorative border] PEARL S. BUCK / THE / GOOD / EARTH / NEW YORK / THE JOHN DAY COMPANY / (slashes have been used to denote vertical lines) Source: examination of first edition
13 JPEG image of title page, if available
14 Manuscript Holdings
The specific manuscript of The Good Earth has been lost. Source: Harold Ober Associates Incorporated New York City: (212) 759-8600
15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)
The top edges of the pages in the first issue of the first edition were stained brown. The top edges of the pages in later issues was stained green. Source: Blue Whale Books, Charlottesville VA (804) 296-4646
The first edition of The Good Earth has a typographical error on page 100, line 17. The word reads "flees" instead of the correct "fleas." Source: Blue Whale Books, Charlottesville VA (804) 296-4646
Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History
1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A
The 1932 edition of The Good Earth, published by the John Day Company, is a green hard bound copy with no cover art. The inside front and back cover are un
illustrated, unlike the first edition. The paper is of good quality and heavy weight. The pagination is the same as in the first edition. Source: first hand examination of this edition in Alderman Library- call PS 3503. U198 G6 1932. Other editions are listed in Virgo Worldcat as being published in 1934, 1958, and 1949. The standard edition of 1931 was reprinted in 1965. A physical description of these copies could not be found in Bibliofind or in Virgo.
2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available
3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available
4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?
1st printing- 55,000 Source: ìPublisherís Weekly,î Vol. 119, Pt. 1, January- March 1931, p. 1110
5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A
Editions from other publishers and date of publication: *date given is earliest publication of The Good Earth B. Tauchnitz, 1935 American Printing House for the Blind, 1994 (braille) Franklin Library, 1977 Globe Fearon, 1995 Washington Square Press, 1963 Globe Book Company, 1968 Pocket Books, 1938 Simon and Schuster, 1968 World Publishing Company, 1963 1958 Mandarin, 1994 1931 Mayflower, 1966 University of London Press, 1964 Penguin Books, 1960 Transworld Publishers, 1957 Oxford: ISIS, 1944 1931 G.K. Hal, 1993 1931 Random, 1931 Buccaneer Books, 1992 1931 Readerís Digest Association, 1992 1931 Longman, 1963 Books, Inc., 1945 1931 Albatross, 1947 Eyre Methuen, 1976 1931 Grosset and Dunlap, 1936, c1931 Thomas Y. Crowell, 1977 Demco Media, 1994 Amereon Ltd- 1990 Source: Virgo, Worldcat Search, Virgo, Catalog Search, Amazon.com
6 Last date in print?
The book is currently in print. Source: Books in Print 1996-1997, Vol. 1, Authors A-D, New Providence, NJ: R.R. Bowker, p. 1109.
7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)
This information was not found up to date. I am in the process of writing to the publisher to obtain it. In 1968 the John Day Company was acquired by Intext, Inc. It was sold to Thomas Y. Crowell in 1974. Crowell was acquired by Dun and Bradstreet Incorporated in 1968. Source: Kurian, George Thomas. Directory of American Book Publishing. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1975. pp. 99, 155.
8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)
This information was not found. I am writing to the publisher. However, cumulatively The Good Earth had sold $4,635,500 by 1975. Source: Hackett and Burke. 80 Years of Best Sellers 1895-1975, New York, London: R.R. Bowker Company, 1977.
9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)
Ad placed in New York Times Book Review, Jan- June 1931, week of March 8, p.22: ìThe Book of the Month for March... Mysterious. Electrical... A great book has arrived. A great novelist has emerged.î ìA rare, fine, sterling piece of work...î Dorothy Canfield ìThe Good Earth is a superb example of intuition.... a unique bookî Book of the Month Club News ìA work of genius... I predict a popular and distinguished success...î Mitchell Kennedy (Week of March 15) Ad is illustrated with a picture of the first edition in its dust jacket.
Ad placed in ìPublisherís Weekly,î week of March 7, p. 1110: ì...One of the finest books of our generation. To be ranked with Of Human Bondage, Forsyte Saga and other books of such caliber.î M.G. Michaels of Brentanoís, NY ìBest Novel This Year.î George W. Jacobs and Co. of Philadelphia Full page advertisement.
10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available
11 Other promotion
Information regarding other forms of promotion was not found.
12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A
The Good Earth was filmed by Metro Goldwyn Mayer in 1937. (Source: Virgo- Alphabetical Listing of Databases- Contemporary Authors- Pearl S. Buck)
In addition, a play was written by Owen Davis and Donald Davis and produced in the Theatre Guild in New York City on October 17, 1932. There is a copy in the Theatre Collection of the NYC Public Library. (Source: Zinn, Lucille S. ìThe Works of Pearl S. Buck: A Bibliography.î Bulletin of Bibliography 36 (Oct-Dec 1979): 205.)
The screenplay was written by Talbot Jennings, Tess Slesinger, Claudine West. In John Gassner, ed., Twenty Best Film Plays, N.Y., 1943, pp. 875-959 (Source: Zinn 205)
(Probably these were performed under the title "The Good Earth," although no definitive information was found on this point.)
Audio cassette recordings: High Mountain Press: Nov. 1995 Paramus, NJ: Globe Fearon, 1995 Videocassette recording: Calver City, CA: MGM/UA 1964 1937 Dir. Sidney Rainer Associate Producer: Albert Lewin
Source: Virgo: Amazon.com, Worldcat
13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A
The following translations have been done of The Good Earth:
Indian: Mati Parla Bakacya Guda artha ya kadambarica sankshepa. tr. Vyankate*sa *Sankara Vakila. Mumbai: Abhinava Praka*sana, 1946. (one translation)
Russian: Chuzhie kraia. tr. Boris Gilenson. Moscow: Panorama, 1997. (one translation)
Chinese: Ta ti. tr. Yu-mei Tíang. Tíai-pei shih: Wen kuo shu chu, 1987. (fifteen translations) (also published under title "Da di")
Korean: Taeji. tr. Tong-byok Kwak. Soul Tíukpyolsi: Samsongdang, 1988. (fifteen translations)
German: Die gute Erde: Roman des chinesischen Menschen. (no translator given) Olten: Fackelverlag, 1961. (five translations)
Japanese: Daichi. tr. Itaru Nii. Tokyo: Daiichishobo, 1936. (nine translations) (also published under title "Paru bakku")
Spanish: La buena tierra. (no translator given) Barcelona: Juventud, 1993. (seven translations)
Finnish: Hyva maa: romaani. (no translator given) Porvoo: Soederstroem, 1951. (one translation)
French: La terre chinoise. (no translator given) Paris: Payot, 1932. (two translations) Romanian: Ogorul: roman. (no translator given) Bucharest: Editura Venus, 1992. (one translation)
Arabic: al-Ard al-tayibbah. tr. Baílabaki, Munir. Bayrut: Dar al- Ilm lil- Malayin, 1988. (three translations)
Panjabi: Dharti mata. tr. Harbous Singh. Ludhiana, Lahaur buk shap 1941. (one translation)
Italian: La buona terra: romanzo. (no translator given) [Milan?] : Arnoldo Mondadori, 1954. (two translations)
Thai: Sap nai din. (no translator given) [Phranakh*on] : Ongkan Kha kh*ong Khurusapha, 1963. (one translation)
Source: Virgo, Worldcat.
14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A
No information indicates that the book was serialized.
15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A
The book had two sequels. Buck, Pearl S. Sons. NY: John Day Company, 1932. Buck, Pearl S. A House Divided. NY: Reynal and Hitchcock, 1935. The three novels were also published together: Buck, Pearl S. House Of Earth. NY: John Day, 1935. Source: Virgo: Contemporary Authors, Catalog Search.
Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author
1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)
Pearl Sydenstricker was born on June 26, 1892 in Hillsboro, West Virginia. Her parents, Absalom and Caroline Sydenstricker, were Presbyterian missionaries on a furlough from China. When Pearl was just three months old, she was taken back to China, where she learned to speak Chinese before English. Pearl's primary education was addressed by her mother and a Chinese tutor, Mr. Kung. In 1914 she received her Bachelor's Degree in philosophy from Randolph-Macon Woman's College, where she was active in Kappa Delta sorority, having returned to the states with her parents on another furlough. She later received her Master's Degree from Cornell University in 1926. After graduating from Randolph-Macon, she returned to China after hearing that her mother was not well. Upon her return she met John Lossing Buck, an agricultural instructor, and they married in 1917. They had one daughter, Carol, who was found to be retarded several years later, and adopted another daughter, Janice. Pearl was only six years old when her first published work appeared in the form of a letter to the editor of The Christian Observer in Louisville, Kentucky. At age seven she published a short work in the children's supplement of The Shanghai Mercury. Her first professionally published work appeared in The Atlantic in January of 1924, an essay entitled "In China, Too," written in 1923. The main character of her later best selling novel, The Good Earth, was born in a serialization in Asia magazine called "The Revolutionist," published in September of 1928. In that same year Pearl hired David Lloyd as her agent, selecting his name at random from a Writer's Guide that she found in an English language bookstore in Shanghai. The manuscript of her first novel was lost in a fire during the Nanking uprising of 1927. Her first published novel, East Wind: West Wind, which she sent to David Lloyd in 1928, appeared in 1930. Her second novel, The Good Earth, was published in 1931 and achieved best seller status in both 1931 and 1932, selling nearly two million copies. She received $50,000 from MGM for the film rights to the novel. The Good Earth won a Pulitzer Prize in 1932. In addition to these first novels, Pearl published over a hundred works of fiction and nonfiction, six plays, and wrote a television drama entitled "The Big Wave." In 1935 Pearl divorced John Lossing Buck and in that same year married Richard Walsh, her publisher and president of The John Day Company. They adopted eight children. In 1938 Pearl became the first American woman, and the third woman, to win the Nobel Prize. Her agent David Lloyd died in 1956, at which point she took on a new agency, the Harold Ober office. Ivan von Aux handled her books and Dorothy Olding was responsible for magazines. Her husband Richard Walsh died in May of 1960. In addition to being a life member of the NAACP, Pearl established Welcome House, an adoption agency for Amerasian children, in 1949, and the Pearl S. Buck Foundation, which assisted half American children in Asia, in 1964. In 1970, she moved to Danby, Vermont with Theodore Harris, the chairman of the PSB Foundation. They settled at Danby House, where she died of lung cancer on March 6, 1973. She was buried at Green Hills Farm in Perkasie, Pennsylvania. Her manuscripts are located at Princeton University Library, Randolph-Macon Woman's College, and West Virginia Wesleyan College.
Assignment 4: Reception History
1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
The Good Earth was an immediate success upon publication. A wire from M.G. Michaels of Brentano's in New York City printed in the March 7, 1931 issue of "Publisher's Weekly" raved, "One of the finest books of our generation, to be ranked with Of Human Bondage, Forsyte Saga, and other books of such caliber," and the contemporary reviews overwhelmingly echoed this opinion. The book seemed to be most praised for its realistic portrayal of Chinese culture in a time when most people knew little or nothing of this mysterious country. Nancy Evans wrote in Bookman in May of 1931, "The strange power of a western woman to make an alien civilization seem as casual, as close, as the happenings of the morning is surprising, but it is less amazing than her power to illuminate the destiny of man as it is in all countries and at all times by quietly telling the story of Wang Lung." The book seemed almost regarded as a historical, nonfictional account so entertaining as to be deemed fiction. A 1931 Living Church review claimed, "A strong, absorbing book. A recent lecturer on China, remarking that no Westerner has yet produced an authoritative work on that ancient civilization, added, ?But there's one book that is not only a fine product of the artistic imagination, but is the absolute truth about Chinese life.'" Critics praised Buck for portraying the inhabitants of a very foreign country not as exotic curiosities, but as people. As critic Malcolm Cowley wrote in 1935, "[Mrs. Buck] has a truly extraordinary gift for presenting the Chinese, not as quaint and illogical, yellow skinned devil-dolls, but as human beings..." Indeed, Phyllis Bentley added, "[She] has lived in China so long that she really knows the landscape, and she never once... forgets it and goes into raptures as over an alien scene." The few negative reviews published on The Good Earth found fault, interestingly, with this same aspect of the novel. Younghill Kang wrote, in the July 1, 1931 issue of New Republic, "Mrs. Buck does not understand the meaning of the Confucian separation of man's kingdom from that of woman... None of her major descriptions is correct... Its [the novel's] implied comparison between Western and Eastern ways is unjust to the latter." Despite this apparent disagreement over a "true" representation of Chinese culture, the vast majority of contemporary reviewers praised Buck's portrayal of the family of Wang Lung.
(see supplementary materials for a list of all reviews)
2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
The Good Earth was an immediate success upon publication. A wire from M.G. Michaels of Brentano's in New York City printed in the March 7, 1931 issue of "Publisher's Weekly" raved, "One of the finest books of our generation, to be ranked with Of Human Bondage, Forsyte Saga, and other books of such caliber," and the contemporary reviews overwhelmingly echoed this opinion. The book seemed to be most praised for its realistic portrayal of Chinese culture in a time when most people knew little or nothing of this mysterious country. Nancy Evans wrote in Bookman in May of 1931, "The strange power of a western woman to make an alien civilization seem as casual, as close, as the happenings of the morning is surprising, but it is less amazing than her power to illuminate the destiny of man as it is in all countries and at all times by quietly telling the story of Wang Lung." The book seemed almost regarded as a historical, nonfictional account so entertaining as to be deemed fiction. A 1931 Living Church review claimed, "A strong, absorbing book. A recent lecturer on China, remarking that no Westerner has yet produced an authoritative work on that ancient civilization, added, ?But there's one book that is not only a fine product of the artistic imagination, but is the absolute truth about Chinese life.'" Critics praised Buck for portraying the inhabitants of a very foreign country not as exotic curiosities, but as people. As critic Malcolm Cowley wrote in 1935, "[Mrs. Buck] has a truly extraordinary gift for presenting the Chinese, not as quaint and illogical, yellow skinned devil-dolls, but as human beings..." Indeed, Phyllis Bentley added, "[She] has lived in China so long that she really knows the landscape, and she never once... forgets it and goes into raptures as over an alien scene." The few negative reviews published on The Good Earth found fault, interestingly, with this same aspect of the novel. Younghill Kang wrote, in the July 1, 1931 issue of New Republic, "Mrs. Buck does not understand the meaning of the Confucian separation of man's kingdom from that of woman... None of her major descriptions is correct... Its [the novel's] implied comparison between Western and Eastern ways is unjust to the latter." Despite this apparent disagreement over a "true" representation of Chinese culture, the vast majority of contemporary reviewers praised Buck's portrayal of the family of Wang Lung.
(see supplementary materials for a list of all reviews)
Assignment 5: Critical Analysis
1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)
Published on March 2, 1931, Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth won her immediate fame. It became the best seller of 1931 and 1932 and won the Pulitzer Prize and the Howells Medal in 1935. It took Buck only three months to write. Critics praised the novel for its realistic portrayal of Chinese life and its avoidance of the stereotypes usually present in works about China. Enthusiastic reviews were immediately published in Bookman, Books, Catholic World, Christian Century, Forum, Living Church, New Statesman and Nation, the New York Times, Outlook, Saturday Review of Literature, the Spectator, the Yale Review, and Springfield Republican. As Chuang Hsin-Tsai explained in his 1933 article, "Mrs. Buck and Her Works," most Western writers tended to describe Chinese characters as "men with long pigtails and women with bound feet, all skinny with running noses and dirty, ugly faces. Their deeds are always connected with theft, burglary, raping, plotting, and assassinations. For centuries, this has been the image the Western mind has had of the Chinese." (Conn, 130) Western critics were impressed most by Buck's ability to portray a very foreign culture as ordinary and everyday. As critic Malcolm Cowley wrote in 1933, "[Mrs. Buck] has a truly extraordinary gift for presenting the Chinese, not as quaint and illogical, yellow-skinned devil-dolls, but as human beings..." (Book Review Digest 27, p. 143) Nancy Evans elaborated on this idea in Bookman in May of 1931: "The strange power of a Western woman to make an alien civilization seem as casual, as close, as the happenings of the morning is surprising, but it is less amazing than her power to illuminate the destiny of man as it is in all countries and all times by quietly telling the story of Wang Lung." (Ibid) E.L. Walton wrote in the May 13, 1931 issue of Nation: "Her complete familiarity with her material allows her to present her characters as very human and very real..." and the New York Times raved in the same year, "The Good Earth is an excellent novel. It has style, power, coherence, and a pervasive sense of dramatic reality." Contemporary critics were almost unanimous in their appreciation of the novel and their praise of Buck's portrayal of the Chinese. Their reaction is perhaps well summarized in the following review published in the Saturday Review of Literature in 1931: "A beautiful, beautiful book. At last we read, in the pages of a novel, of the real people of China." Buck had gathered the material of the novel from first hand experience. Her parents were missionaries stationed in China, and Pearl spent most of the first forty years of her life in China. (Conn- Pearl Buck website) She learned to speak Chinese before English. After she married John Lossing Buck, an agricultural economist, in 1917, the couple moved to Anhwei province, a rural area which Buck later used as the setting for The Good Earth. Readers were intrigued by the detailed descriptions of Chinese culture. The book was an immediate success, and sales were so strong that Richard Walsh of the John Day Publishing Company had to borrow copies from the Book of the Month Club in order to meet the demand in bookstores. (Conn, 124) Pearl Buck eventually won the Nobel Prize in 1938, due in part to her highly successful second novel The Good Earth. The popularity of The Good Earth was largely due to the effects of the Great Depression of the 1930s. As Peter Conn explains in his cultural biography of Buck: "the formula that depicts the struggle of farmers on their soil had a particular appeal to Americans in the depression decade." During the 1930s, he describes, "...millions of farm families were pushed off their homesteads, victims of economic collapse and the natural disasters of drought and dust bowl." (Conn, 131) Although The Good Earth was set in a very foreign and not well understood country, Americans hard hit by the depression could relate to the struggle of Chinese peasants in the face of floods, famine, and locusts which destroyed crops. It was this universality of plot which made The Good Earth appealing. It can be usefully compared to Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind and John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, both published during the 1930s in that "the suffering and endurance of farmers would become a special subject of fiction." Readers also understood the emotions accompanying a wedding day and the birth of a first child, the suffering from poverty and sickness, the tragedy of death, and, in the wake of World War I, the difficulties caused by war. (Doyle, 38) In addition, readers enjoyed the "engaging and often exciting" plot (Conn, 131) as well as detailed description of the life of Chinese peasants which often included shocking and appalling events. For example, due to their extreme poverty and the widespread famine, Wang Lung's wife O-lan kills her infant daughter immediately after birth, and he wraps it and carries it outside where a hungry dog lurks nearby. He is so exhausted by his own hunger that he does not have the strength to drive the dog away, and after he goes inside, the dog eats the corpse. This incident has a definitive shock factor that draws readers further into the story. Finally, the simplicity of the style made the book widely accessible. The Good Earth continues to be widely read today. Pearl Buck is the most widely translated American author (Doyle, preface). The Good Earth was translated into Indian, Russian, Chinese, Korean, German, Japanese, Spanish, Finnish, French, Romanian, Arabic, Panjabi, Italian, and Thai. (Virgo, World Cat) Although Buck's work has been virtually ignored by literary critics since its publication, "her work continues to be widely read by the general public, and it is particularly popular with students." (Ibid) The fact that The Good Earth was written while China was still developing adds historical significance to the novel (Ibid), which further ensures that it will continue to be read. Pearl Buck was a strong supporter of humanitarian interests during her lifetime, a fact which led critics to say that she was distracted by these interests from devoting more attention to her writing. Many critics felt that she wrote too much too quickly, and felt that Buck's over sixty books, two hundred articles, short stories, and nonfiction works were compromising quality for quantity. Buck was, however, admirably devoted to her humanitarian pursuits throughout her lifetime. She was active in the American Civil Rights movement and the women's rights movement. She published essays in Crisis, the journal of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The daughter of missionary parents, she spent her lifetime divided between living in China and the United States. She knew first hand of the abuse that Chinese peasants suffered at the hands of government officials and landlords and was sympathetic to their struggles against floods and famine. (Doyle, 36) Further, she was very sympathetic to the predicament of Amerasian children, who were often not considered eligible for adoption. In 1942, she and Richard Walsh founded the East and West Association to promote cultural exchange and understanding between Asia and the West. In 1949, she established Welcome House, the first interracial and international adoption agency. She instituted the Pearl S. Buck Foundation in 1964, the purpose of which was to aid the illegitimate Asian children of American servicemen after World War II. In 1967, she donated most of her earnings to the foundation, which came to more than seven million dollars, part of which had been generated both by the publication of The Good Earth and the production of the Metro Goldwyn Mayer motion picture based on the novel. The motion picture version of The Good Earth came out in January of 1937, made by MGM and directed by George Hill, Victor Fleming, and Sidney Franklin. The film was a success and earned several Academy Award nominations. Luise Rainer won an Oscar for her portrayal of O-lan. Frank Nogent wrote in the New York Times that MGM had "once again... enriched the screen with a superb translation of a literary classic" (Conn, p.191). Ticket sales are estimated to have exceeded twenty-five million in American and Europe. (Ibid) Buck had received fifty thousand dollars from MGM for the film rights to her novel, and the success and presence of the film did much to make the novel more well known. The play performed in 1932 was, however, not nearly the success that the film was. It was performed by The Theater Guild in New York and opened on October 17, 1932 in Guild's Nixon Theater in New York. The adaptation was written by Owen Davis and directed by Phillip Moeller. Critical reaction to the play was harsh and highly negative. As John Mason Brown wrote in the New York Evening Post, "Dragged indoors; played by white actors with English accents and Occidental hearts... The Good Earth does little more than demonstrate the limitations of the theater as a medium." (Conn, pp. 146-7) The very qualities that readers and critics alike praised in the novel were absent in the play; the accurate and realistic portrayal of the Chinese people was lost in the dramatic adaptation. Western actors were incapable of expressing what readers loved about the novel, its ability to draw them into Chinese life. The play closed after fifty-six performances. However, the failure of the play did not harm the reputation of the novel itself. As Peter Conn explains, "Almost unanimously, the critics who skewered the play lavished praise on the novel." (Ibid) Only two American writers had won the Nobel Prize in Literature before Pearl Buck in 1938: Sinclair Lewis and Eugene O'Neill. Only two other women had ever won the Prize: Selma Lagerloef and Sigrid Undset. In addition to the Nobel Prize, Buck's celebrated second novel The Good Earth won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 and the Howells Medal for Distinguished Fiction. The Good Earth has been translated into over fourteen languages and made into a major MGM motion picture and a play, and Buck's collective works have been translated into African languages, Arabian, Armenian, Bengali, Burmese, languages of Ceylon, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Malayalam, Indonesian, Norwegian, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Serbo Croat, Slovak, Slovene, Spanish, Swedish, and Vietnamese. A reviewer for Living Church wrote in August of 1931, "A strong, absorbing book. A recent lecturer on China, remarking that no Westerner has yet produced an authoritative work on that ancient civilization, added, ?But [The Good Earth] is not only a fine product of the artistic imagination, but is the absolute truth about Chinese life.'" Readers of the 1930s, many of them American farmers hard hit by the Depression, could relate to the struggle of any farmer to survive in the face of poverty and natural disaster whether that farmer was from Oklahoma or China. As William Cowper wrote in his poem "The Castaway," "...misery still delights to trace/ Its semblance in another's case." Readers liked The Good Earth because of the universality of its themes, and critics praised Buck for her ability to incorporate these themes into a narrative of a foreign and highly misrepresented culture. Although it has been said of Buck that her humanitarian interests distracted her from producing more novels of quality, she was able to use the profits of her writing to fund charitable institutions to aid the very people she describes in her novel. The universality of the novel and its commonplace, simplistic style have made it still popular today.
Supplemental Material
Contemporary Reviews: Booklist, Vol 27, April 1931; Bookman, Vol 73, May 1931; Books, March 1 1931; Boston Transcript, April 8 1931; Catholic World, Vol 133, S 1931; Christian Century, Vol 48, May 20 1931; Cleveland Open Shelf, D 1931; Forum and Century, Vol 85, June 1931; Living Church, Vol 85, August 8 1931; Nation, 132, May 13 1931; New Republic, Vol 67, July 1 1931; New Statesman and Nation, Vol 1, May 16 1931; New York Times Book Review, March 15 1931; Outlook and Independent, Vol 157, March 18, 1931; Pittsburgh Monthly Bulletin, Vol 36, May 1931; Pratt, p. 37, Summer 1931; Saturday Review, Vol 151, May 16 1931; Saturday Review of Literature, Vol 7, March 21 1931; Spectator, Vol 146, May 2 1931; Springfield Republican, p. 7e, March 15 1931; Times [London] Literary Supplement, April 30 1931; Yale Review, Vol 20, summer 1931.
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