Pavilion of Women

by Pearl S. Buck

Hardcover, 1946




New York, The John Day Company [1946]


The exhilarating novel of an elegant woman's subversive new chapter in life. At forty, Madame Wu is beautiful and much respected as the wife of one of China's oldest upper-class houses. Her birthday wish is to find a young concubine for her husband and to move to separate quarters, starting a new chapter of her life. When her wish is granted, she finds herself at leisure, no longer consumed by running a sixty-person household. Now she's free to read books previously forbidden her, to learn English, and to discover her own mind. The family in the compound is shocked at the results, especially when she begins learning from a progressive, excommunicated Catholic priest. In its depiction of life in the compound, Pavilion of Women includes some of Buck's most enchanting writing about the seasons, daily rhythms, and customs of women in China. It is a delightful parable about the sexes, and of the profound and transformative effects of free thought. This ebook features an illustrated biography of Pearl S. Buck, including rare images from the author's estate.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member MrsLee
Pavilion of Women takes place in the early part of the 1900s, somewhere in inland China. Most of the story takes place within the private rooms of the mother of the household, Madame Wu. She is a woman who is indubitably in charge, and so we see her dealing with the characters of her children and
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their spouses, but the best parts are when she is learning of her own character and dealing with that. Its insights into middle age and a woman's soul were profound and I loved it for that, as well as for the exposure to an old world Chinese home.

Narrated by Adam Verner, this is a narrator to look for. I very much enjoyed his reading to the extent that I was not aware of it, only of the story unfolding. I don't think he ever hit a false note.
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LibraryThing member CaptainsGirl
On her 40th birthday, Madam Wu sets in motion changes which she thinks will bring her freedom. By bringing a concubine into her household she sets in motion changes which upset the carefully crafted order. This is a commentary on the role of women in turn of the century China, but it more universal
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than the chosed time or geographic setting. it also raises many questions about freedom, duty, love and happiness.
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LibraryThing member JanaKrause
Wonderful story of a middle aged Chinese woman who, after years of devotion and duty to her family, discovers a higher kind of love.
LibraryThing member ex_ottoyuhr
If you enjoy a side order of screaming at the author with your strong characterization (as with the last third or so of _The Good Earth_), you'll love this book. A gem, as undeservedly obscure as anything else by Buck.
LibraryThing member debnance
Madame Wu decides on her fortieth birthday to move into her own bedroom and find her husband a concubine. A fascinating look at a strong woman, Madame Wu’s decision has unexpected consequences. Excellent novel.
LibraryThing member reads4pleasure
Imagine awakening on your fortieth birthday and deciding that you were through performing for others. Their concerns were no longer yours and from that point on you were going to live the life you always envisioned. That's exactly what Madame Wu, the lead character of Pavilion of Women does. How
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I can't count the number of times I've said, "As soon as the kid leaves home, I'm starting life over." Like Madame Wu, I'll be 40 when that happens. Somehow I don't think my decision will have the same consequences.

As a mother of four, Madame Wu has been responsible for tending to her elderly mother-in-law, her simple husband, arranging quality marriages for her eldest sons and overseeing the House of Wu, one of the oldest and most respected families in China. Realizing that she has never really loved her husband and has given to those around without realizing any of her dreams, she makes the decision to step aside.

When a handsome, foreign priest enters Madame Wu's world, she's pleasantly surprised to find that he may be the perfect person to show her what she's been missing for the first forty years.

I'm a big fan of This Good Earth by Pearl Buck, but hadn't ventured any further into her catalog. I'm mad at myself for waiting so long to do so. I loved this story. Madame Wu is a walking contradiction, but her intentions are good. If you're looking for something out of the norm, this is the book for you.
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LibraryThing member Liciasings
Well, this was deep and meaningful literature... There was story (that moved slowly, characters ( just one developed very deeply), and under and through everything, philosophy. Lots of deep thinking and powerful prose...but it often felt heavy-handed & a bit preachy for me. It was not what I
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expected, and I am glad I read it, but it's not likely to be one I re-read or recommend much. There were quite a few little gems of wisdom and expression. She is obviously a very good writer with a lot of thoughtful things to say. I am glad that I have finally discovered Pearl S. Buck.
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LibraryThing member aryadeschain
The beginning of the book was very promising. It is about an elegant Chinese woman educated in the old traditional way. Since she was young, she was taught that women are no more than the ones responsible for making the family grow, thus they must play their roles as the perfect housewives. Madame
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Wu, the main character, when reaching the 40th year of her life, feels that her role as a "baby generator" is over. However, she still has one thing in her mind: considering that her husband is still young and perfectly able to make more children, she decides to find him a suitable concubine. It's war time and with all the modernities taking place of ancient habits, the decision is imediately considered dreadful. In any other family, it would be unacceptable. Alas, Madame Wu is the supreme wisdom of the house and her words are the decisive ones.

At first, I thought that the story had all the requirements to be great. The main character is a strong women, full of attitude. Even if she's not the head of the house, the Wu family's perfect harmony was due to her decisions. And no one dares to disobey her. All the power is in her hands and, at the same time that she tries to cut her flesh relations with her husband, she keeps the order in the house in such a way that she always have everything under control, including the family members' happiness. Until the day she met a preacherman with whom she becomes quite interested. That's when the story starts to decay. Not because Madame Wu starts to contradict herself. On the very opposite, she keeps the same opinions from the beginning until the end of the book. What changed was the way she got to those conclusions. And that's exactly what didn't please me. I spent more than half of the book trying to understand why the heck did she stop to think in her charming selfish way. I even dare to say that her behavior changes happened from one page to the next one.

This is the kind of book that I read more because I was curious to know how it was going to end rather than because it was actually good. The conflicts are far from exciting, limiting themselves to regular family disagreements. Reading this book was like walking through a regular plain road: you only walk through it to get to the end. It is great when you think of cultural elements and chinese habits. But I've read better books.
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LibraryThing member margaretfield
Woman decides to get her husband a second wife; China. Leaves a lot to think about male-female relationships and female-female. Pearl S Buck is flawed by our standards but we miss a lot if we don't listen to her at all
LibraryThing member burritapal
This book starts out on Madame Wu turning 40. She's sick and tired of having intimate relations with her husband, so she forestalls his objections by buying him a concubine.

She was smarter than her husband, and from the time she came to live with her husband's family, she was close to her
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father-in-law, a widely-read, intelligent man.
Madame Wu's father-in-law:
" 'This matter of intelligence - it is so great a gift, so heavy a burden. Intelligence, more than poverty and riches, divides human beings and make them friends or enemies. The stupid person fears and hates the intelligent person. Whatever the goodness of the intelligent man, he must also know that it will not win him love from one whose mind is less than his.' " P.61

On Madame Wu's 40th birthday, a huge party took place. During the party, something happens, that gives an example of why, at first, I didn't like the characters' culture:
"The court was lit with red - paper lanterns, and these drew the moths out of the darkness. Many of them were only small gray creatures, Dusty wisps. But now and again a great moth would flutter forth with pale green - tailed wings, or wings of black and gold. Then all the women cried out, and none could rest until it was imprisoned and impaled upon the door by a pin where all could exclaim at its beauty while they sat in comfort and ate their sweetmeats. Old lady [Madame Wu's mother-in-law] especially enjoyed the sport and clapped her hands with pleasure.
"Now, as they were all looking at the new moth, she, too [Second Wife], went to look at it. It was a creamy yellow color, like the yellow of the lemon called Buddha's hand, and it had long black antenna. These quivered as it felt itself impaled. The wide wings was flattered and dark spots upon them should green and gold for a moment. Then the moth was still." P.131

A foreign Anglo missionary, Little Sister Hsia, makes her rounds frequently, preaching her religion. She talks bad about an Italian priest who takes in Little girl-babies, who are thrown over the city wall because they're girls, and runaway girl slaves, and cares for them. He pays no mind to Little sister Hsia, and this irks her.
"Little sister Hsia's fingers were knotting themselves. 'I do not know how we came to talk about all this,' she said. 'I came here to ask you something - really, I forgot what it was, now.'
'You have forgotten because it was not what was really in your mind,' Madame Wu said kindly. 'I will answer you. No, little sister Hsia, you must leave brother Andre alone. I assure you he is like a great high rock, hard because it is high. You must not beat yourself against that Cliff. You will be wounded, your flesh will be torn, your heart will bleed, and your brains will be spilled like curds, but he will not know it. Occupy yourself with your own God - I advise it.' " P.162

Madame Wu asks the priest, Brother Andre, to teach her son Fengmo some English, so that he can get along better with his wife, who was educated in Shanghai. She sits alongside them during their lessons, and eventually comes to regard Brother Andre as her own teacher. Here she explores her feelings of guilt about turning away from her husband with Brother Andre:
"She was angry at this in her fashion. A gust of sharp temper flew like a sudden small Whirlwind out of her heart.
'Now you speak like a priest,' she said maliciously. 'You can have no understanding of what it is to be compelled to yield your body to a man year after year, without your will.' She felt in herself a strange desire to make him share her unhappiness, and she went on, sparing him nothing. 'To give one's delicate body to indelicate hands, to see lust grow hot and feel one's own flesh grow cold--to feel the heart grow faint and the mind sick, and yet to be compelled, for the sake of Peace in the house.' " P.205

Brother Andre was killed in the street by a gang of hooligans, as he was leaving Madame Wu's compound, after they had spent time together in conversation. His loss of life made her realize her true feelings about him:
" 'I should like to have seen him when he was a young Giant,' Madame Wu thought. She sat at perfect peace, and complete stillness, her hands folded one upon the other, and her rings gleaming softly on her fingers. Yes, Andre as a young man must have been a good sight for a woman. He was handsome even in his middle age, but young he must have been himself a god. Then she felt sorry for that woman whom he had rejected. Now she was married doubtless and perhaps she had many children, for women do not die because a man will not have them, but somewhere in her heart she still thought of Andre, with love or with hate. If she were a woman of little heart she would hate him, and if she were a great heart she had not blamed him and so she loved him still. Or perhaps she thought of him no more. It might be perhaps she was simply tired and past any feeling, as women can grow to be when their hearts and bodies have been too much used. It was the weakness of a woman that heart and body were in it together, warp and woof, and when the body was too much used the heart, too, became barren, unless it had love, such as she now felt toward Andre. Death had relieved her of his body. Had he lived they might have lost their souls in the snare of the flesh. She was surprised to feel at this moment a sudden Rich flesh of the blood into her vitals." P.215

Brother Andre carried his Bible with him when he came for their talks, and he would at times read her a passage. She distrusted this book:
" 'Love thy neighbor as thyself,' he read slowly.
'Love!' she had exclaimed. 'The word is too strong.'
'You are right,' he had said. 'Love is not the word. No one can love his neighbor. Say, rather, "know thy neighbor as thyself." That is, comprehend his hardships and understand his position, deal with his faults as gently as with your own. Do not judge him where you do not judge yourself. Madame, this is the meaning of the word love.' " P.270-1

This book makes you grow to love it, at first disliking the characters for their strange (to this reader) culture and ways, and seeming coldness. But the protagonist grows with the reader, in understanding, until at the end, you are loath to say goodbye.
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