Pearl Buck

Banquet speech

Pearl Buck’s speech at the Nobel Banquet at the City Hall in Stockholm, December 10, 1938

It is not possible for me to express all that I feel of appreciation for what has been said and given to me. I accept, for myself, with the conviction of having received far beyond what I have been able to give in my books. I can only hope that the many books which I have yet to write will be in some measure a worthier acknowledgment than I can make tonight. And, indeed, I can accept only in the same spirit in which I think this gift was originally given – that it is a prize not so much for what has been done, as for the future. Whatever I write in the future must, I think, be always benefited and strengthened when I remember this day.

I accept, too, for my country, the United States of America. We are a people still young and we know that we have not yet come to the fullest of our powers. This award, given to an American, strengthens not only one, but the whole body of American writers, who are encouraged and heartened by such generous recognition. And I should like to say, too, that in my country it is important that this award has been given to a woman. You who have already so recognized your own Selma Lagerlöf, and have long recognized women in other fields, cannot perhaps wholly understand what it means in many countries that it is a woman who stands here at this moment. But I speak not only for writers and for women, but for all Americans, for we all share in this.

I should not be truly myself if I did not, in my own wholly unofficial way, speak also of the people of China, whose life has for so many years been my life also, whose life, indeed, must always be a part of my life. The minds of my own country and of China, my foster country, are alike in many ways, but above all, alike in our common love of freedom. And today more than ever, this is true, now when China’s whole being is engaged in the greatest of all struggles, the struggle for freedom. I have never admired China more than I do now, when I see her uniting as she has never before, against the enemy who threatens her freedom. With this determination for freedom, which is in so profound a sense the essential quality in her nature, I know that she is unconquerable. Freedom – it is today more than ever the most precious human possession. We – Sweden and the United States – we have it still. My country is young – but it greets you with a peculiar fellowship, you whose earth is ancient and free.

Prior to the speech, Bertil Lindblad, Director of the Stockholm Observatory at Saltsjöbaden, made the following remarks: «Mrs. Pearl Buck, you have in your literary works, which are of the highest artistic quality, advanced the understanding and the appreciation in the Western world of a great and important part of mankind, the people of China. You have taught us by your works to see the individuals in that great mass of people. You have shown us the rise and fall of families, and the land as the foundation upon which families are built. In this you have taught us to see those qualities of thought and feeling which bind us all together as human beings on this earth, and you have given us Westerners something of China’s soul. When by the development oftechnical inventions the peoples of the earth are drawn closer to each other, the surface of the earth shrinks, so that East and West are no longer separated by almost insurmountable voids of distance, and when on the other hand, partly as a natural effect of this phenomenon, the differences of national character and ambitions clash to form dangerous discontinuities, it is of the greatest importance that the peoples of the earth learn to understand each other as individuals across distances and frontiers. When works of literature succeed in this respect they are certainly in a very direct way idealistic in the sense in which this word was meant by Alfred Nobel.»

From Nobel Lectures, Literature 1901-1967, Editor Horst Frenz, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1969

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1938

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