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Pavilion of Women Paperback – May 1, 1995

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On her fortieth birthday, Madame Wu carries out a decision she has been planning for a long time: she tells her husband that after twenty-four years their physical life together is now over and she wishes him to take a second wife. The House of Wu, one of the oldest and most revered in China, is thrown into an uproar by her decision, but Madame Wu will not be dissuaded and arranges for a young country girl to come take her place in bed. Elegant and detached, Madame Wu orchestrates this change as she manages everything in the extended household of more than sixty relatives and servants. Alone in her own quarters, she relishes her freedom and reads books she has never been allowed to touch. When her son begins English lessons, she listens, and is soon learning from the "foreigner," a free-thinking priest named Brother Andre, who will change her life. The Pavilion of Women is a thought-provoking combination of Old China, unorthodox Christianity, and liberation, written by Pearl S. Buck, a Nobel Prize winner born and raised in China. Few books raise so many questions about the nature and roles of men and women, about self-discipline and happiness. At the center is the amazing Madame Wu - brilliant, beautiful, full of contradictions and authority. -- For great reviews of books for girls, check out Let's Hear It for the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14. -- From 500 Great Books by Women; review by Erica Bauermeister --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Publisher

Madame Wu was to retire from married life and had planned to select a concubine for her husband. When the revered House of Wu is upturned by her decision, Madame Wu elegantly manages the situation and is granted private time she never had before. Yet, with all this new freedom, and the arrival of her son's English teacher, how will Madame Wu change?

"Pavilion of Women is Miss Buck at her best, the dedicated storyteller. Beneath the deceptive simplicity of the narrative flows the clear, swift tide of human life--the small commonplaces of daily living, the clashes of personality, the episodes mean and magnificent."

--Saturday Review of Literature


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 316 pages
  • Publisher: Moyer Bell and its subsidiaries; 1 edition (May 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 155921287X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1559212878
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (460 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #207,403 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Pearl Comfort Sydenstricker was born on June 26, 1892, in Hillsboro, West Virginia. Her parents were Southern Presbyterian missionaries, most often stationed in China, and from childhood, Pearl spoke both English and Chinese. She returned to China shortly after graduation from Randolph-Macon Woman's College in Lynchburg, Virginia, in 1914, and the following year, she met a young agricultural economist named John Lossing Buck. They married in 1917, and immediately moved to Nanhsuchou in rural Anhwei province. In this impoverished community, Pearl Buck gathered the material that she would later use in The Good Earth and other stories of China.
Pearl began to publish stories and essays in the 1920s, in magazines such as The Nation, The Chinese Recorder, Asia, and The Atlantic Monthly. Her first novel, East Wind, West Wind, was published by the John Day Company in 1930. John Day's publisher, Richard Walsh, would eventually become Pearl's second husband, in 1935, after both received divorces.

In 1931, John Day published Pearl's second novel, The Good Earth. This became the bestselling book of both 1931 and 1932, won the Pulitzer Prize and the Howells Medal in 1935, and would be adapted as a major MGM film in 1937. Other novels and books of nonfiction quickly followed. In 1938, less than a decade after her first book had appeared, Pearl won the Nobel Prize in literature, the first American woman to do so. By the time of her death in 1973, Pearl had published more than seventy books: novels, collections of stories, biography and autobiography, poetry, drama, children's literature, and translations from the Chinese. She is buried at Green Hills Farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

Customer Reviews

This was a beautifully written story.
J. Schmid
I really enjoyed the book and the insights to Chinese culture and also into human nature and the different theories of the relationship between men and women.
It was nice to read a well thought out story line that didn't drag out the beginning and rush the end.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

132 of 133 people found the following review helpful By S. Becker on June 11, 2004
Format: Paperback
Pearl S. Buck's novel tells the story of the Wu family in pre-communist China. Nobel and respected, they have lived for generations in the same tradition. Madame Wu is the mistress of this household, her whole life spent fulfilling the duties of her sex - ministering to her husband, bearing sons, dealing with servants, maintaining a smooth order in the house. But she is intelligent and deeply emotional, and has felt caged by an existence where everyone else come first.
So on her fortieth birthday, Madame Wu decides to "retire" from her duties, to find time for herself. She arranges matters in the house like pieces on a chess board - procuring a concubine for her husband, and marrying off her children, hoping they will no longer demand her attention. But her retreat brings only emptiness, until a foreign priest enters the house to tutor her son.
What follows is not a typical "forbidden love" story. Instead, "Pavillion of Women" uses the plot to explore themes of identity, self-love and what our connections with other people really mean. Madame Wu finds that freedom doesn't mean running away from duty. It involves learning to love herself first, setting her spirit free. It is then that she is able to return to her duties with a new sense of content.
The conflict between responsibility to the group and personal freedom is played out in the family, as a microcosm of China as a whole at the time. But the issues here transcend time and culture - most of us will be able to relate to them. The book is beautifully written, and I recommend it if you want a story that makes you think.
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81 of 85 people found the following review helpful By Marion VINE VOICE on June 24, 2003
Format: Paperback
I love and treasure this book immeasurably. Every time I find a copy at a used book sale, I buy it and send it to my one of my women friends. Women everywhere should read this spectacular, beautifully written story of the independent, sassy Madame Wu. I thought Ms. Buck could never top "The Good Earth" but this one did it for me. I won't give a book report, just my humble opinion that this book should be on the reading list of every woman on earth....even my 20-something daughters loved the story.
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43 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Diana Faillace Von Behren TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 21, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
After reading and thoroughly enjoying her novel, "Pavilion of Women" (written in 1948), it was not difficult for me to understand why Pearl S. Buck earned the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature in 1938. As a natural storyteller, Buck allows one to enter the heart and mind of her main character, the beautiful and accomplished Madame Wu, so fully and painlessly by using simple explanations that seem so effortlessly illumined that they transcend the cultural differences of a mid 20th century China and allow this magnificent multi-dimensional creation to speak as a fully flesh and blood universal woman.

As the title suggests, the plot revolves around the day to day happenstances of the oppressed `pavilion of women' that provides a wealthy Chinese gentleman's `happiness' in the form of siring future generations and keeping him pleasured as befits his rank as lord and master. Madame Wu, the one and only wife, on the day of her fortieth birthday decides quite calculatingly to acquire a concubine for this husband whom she has never loved, allowing her to rid herself within the complicated etiquette of the Chinese upper class of the burden of servicing her husband conjugally. As the mother of four sons, in her eyes and in the eyes of society, she fulfilled her duty as a wife. Fully knowing that she will continue to oversee the management of all who live under her domain, she nevertheless anticipates her retirement with relish, planning to read and self-educate herself within the confines of her father-in-law's well-stocked library.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By JLind555 on March 14, 2004
Format: Paperback
"Pavilion of Women" was Pearl S. Buck's first novel about an upper-class Chinese family. It's the story of Madame Wu, beautiful and intelligent, who decides on her 40th birthday that her physical duty to her husband is over and, against his will, finds him a concubine. She is as deep as he is shallow, a good wife and mother, who prides herself on having raised four sons and married off the three oldest, but she doesn't realize she has never loved her husband, until she meets her real soulmate in the person of Brother Andre, a renegade Catholic priest whom she engages to teach her son foreign languages. Madame Wu also becomes Brother Andre's pupil and learns more from him than he ever set out to teach; what Brother Andre gives Madame Wu is the priceless gift of self-knowledge. Madame Wu has been the heart and soul of her large household, totally in control in her quiet way, but she realizes that running her large household is one thing; running her family's lives is something else again, and the best thing she can do for them is help them be who they were meant to be. In Madame Wu, Pearl Buck created a remarkable character who after 40 years finally learns what it is to love.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful A Kid's Review on July 12, 2004
Format: Paperback
The Pavilion of Women by Pearl S. Buck is a true gem of literature. It follows the story of Madame Wu, a respectable and beautiful Chinese noble, who, on her fortieth birthday, decides that she has fufilled her physical needs to her husband. Her decision causes an uproar in the household, making everyone, including herself, restless. When she hires a foreign priest, Brother Andre, to come teach her son, he introduces a new world to her through his thought-provoking preaching and words of wisdom. Through him, Madame Wu learns to make peace with herself by helping others. This book really made me think about my morals and outlook on life. That is very rare in a book. It is simply wonderful.
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