Sunday, August 07, 2005

Pearl S. Buck, Pocahontas County's own Nobel Laureate

Back from Clifftop, tired, overstimulated, and grateful to be enjoying Pocahontas County fare again.

I recently finished my foray into Pearl S. Buck and her writings. I started reading because she was a native of Pocahontas County and her birthplace is a local historical landmark. (Check my Recent Reading page for the other books I've commented on, and Literary Pocahontas County for links to Pearl Buck materials.) Although I remembered her as a living public figure (she died in 1973), I had only a vague recollection of her and her books. I hoped to reacquaint myself with her style, and to learn what she had to say about her birthplace and her parents, West Virginia natives who lived through the Civil War, grew up, and became Christian missionaries to China.

Fighting Angel is a fictionalized biography of her father, Absalom Sydenstricker. For some reason, Buck changed his name to Andrew for this book. (Perhaps it was to keep the readers from wondering what sort of Oedipal conflicts would cause a man who read the Bible through yearly to name his son Absalom.) Unlike Buck's book about her mother, The Exile, Fighting Angel is a little short on empathy and understanding. It is a fascinating account of a difficult, complex man. Unfortunately for my purposes, Sydenstricker shared few details about himself, his family, or his Civil War childhood, so Buck had little to pass on.

My Several Worlds: A Personal Record gave me a better sense of Pearl Buck's voice, and reminded me how much my mother admired her. In my memory, Buck is linked with Eleanor Roosevelt (personal style, age, and those strange fur stoles). Both women were concerned with the plight of the less fortunate. Strong, outspoken women at a time when feminism was in eclipse, they spoke authoritatively about what should be done and how it should be done. Buck felt ambivalent about her missionary parents and their need to impose their beliefs on other people, yet when she voiced her opinions, it was often with a missionary's fervor and unquestioning certainty. I react to some of her pronouncements (laudable though they are) with the unease she expressed about her father's missionary certainty.

1 comment:

Valerie MacEwan said...

hey there... thanks for commenting on Mental Kudzu. Your thoughts here are quite compelling.

One of my closest friends teaches GED classes at the Women's Prison in Raleigh. Interesting stuff ya'll do. You have my admiration -- I suck at teaching. Got fired after 4 months.