September 18th, 2008

The Good Earth

We read The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck, for book club. I found it strangely compelling.  It's the tale of a farming couple's struggle and rise in pre-Communist China.  A fellow member of the club praises the book here.

While preparing to lead the discussion, I read this in a book about Buck:
William Lyon Phelps once remarked that, if The Good Earth's author was unknown, a reader could not detect whether the writer was male or female, a radical or a conservative, a follower of a religious creed or an atheist.
But can an author really hide that well?

We decided that you could tell Buck wasn't a radical, because the poor farmers ended up successful. Radicals always crush the poor farmers, portraying them as helpless victims of social forces and greed.

On the religion front, I think you could at least guess that she was less than zealous.  The Chinese religious impulse seems to be respected, but it's never explored in theological detail.  And at one point a Christian pamphlet is used to patch a character's shoe, which seems, in context, to be poking fun at orthodox solemnity.

But we puzzled over whether you could tell the author was male or female.  The story is told from a man's point of view.  I do have a vague feeling that the portrayal of sex and birth was somehow female.  But I can't quite put my finger on it.

It's hard to hide what you really believe,
but perhaps good authors can deceive
as to whether they're Adam or Eve.