Scribner's Magazine
Book Reviews by Eli Siegel 1931-1934

From Scribner's, August 1933

The First Wife and Other Stories, by Pearl S. Buck. John Day. $2.50.

China is met by the mind of a true writer in the stories of Mrs. Buck, and that is the chief reason why thousands of Americans are becoming somewhat China-wise. For Mrs. Buck, willy-nilly, gives every written paragraph a paragraph's worth of mind; and if her subject is China (it might have been something else), why, that dimly and ignobly seen land may be considered literarily fortunate.

The First Wife is made up of stories showing how hearts are revolutionized when a country is; how China, with all its millions of tremendously anonymous people, has emotions to provide for each; and how, in a fashion, every one of these emotions is understandable and right—just as they are in Iowa or Brooklyn. Fathers are put into a great mournfulness by their sons who have been in the West and do not care for the solemn accumulations of family custom in China; serenely suffering Chinese wives kill themselves because of the strangeness and unwilling cruelty of their husbands who have seen trolley-cars and, perhaps, adding-machines; old mothers suffer; and sons suffer at the hands of their slow-proceeding parents. The China that changes is a China that suffers: from love, from floods, from hunger.

Mrs. Buck has no ups and downs, aesthetically. She has been deeply taken by existence; and one part of existence, little understood by the Atlantic, she has made her own; and she knows her territory. She doesn't fumble; she doesn't get vaporish; she goes off into no flamboyant thinnesses, no gorgeous vacancies or intense failures.

Her Chinese have been seen; she has captured her landscapes. But all this is because somewhere she worshipped reality and the word that can have reality in it. And a multitudinous Oriental people got in a writer's way later.

I feel, from The First Wife and Other Stories, that sometimes immense, sensational popularity is explainable and most honorable. In Mrs. Buck's book, China, reality, and the word make a grand private and public combination.

Eli Siegel.

image
More Scribner's Reviews by Eli Siegel

arrowA Calendar of Sin by Evelyn Scott
arrowMark Twain's America by Bernard DeVoto
arrowTragic America by Theodore Dreiser
arrowThe Road Leads On by Knut Hamsun
arrowEva Gay by Evelyn Scott
arrowThe Life of Emerson by Van Wyck Brooks
arrowAdventures in Genius by Will Durant
arrowAnn Vickers by Sinclair Lewis
arrowBreathe Upon These Slain by Evelyn Scott
arrowThe Sheltered Life by Ellen Glasgow
arrowEimi by E.E. Cummings
arrowJohn Dryden by T.S. Eliot

arrowSelected Essays: 1917-1932 by T.S. Eliot
arrowThe First Wife
and Other Stories by Pearl S. Buck
arrowThe Sibyl of the North: The Tale of Christina, Queen of Sweden
by Faith Compton Mackenzie
arrowThe Soul of America by Arthur Hobson Quinn
arrowThree Cities: A Trilogy by Sholom Asch
arrowEdmund Kean by Harold Newcomb Hillebrand
arrowWilliam Carlos Williams: Collected Poems, 1921-1931
arrowA Cultural History of the Modern Age by Egon Friedell, Vol. II
arrowThe Proud and the Meek (Men of Good Will, Part II) by Jules Romains
arrowThe Proud and the Meek (Men of Good Will, vol. III) by Jules Romains

image

Aesthetic Realism Foundation
Definition Press Books
Terrain Gallery of the Aesthetic Realism Foundation
Friends of Aesthetic Realism—Countering the Lies
More about Ellen Reiss
More about Eli Siegel

Events   |  About Us  |  Classes  |  Resources
Teaching Method
  |  Contact