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FBI Delivers Missing Manuscript

Good Earth Unearthed
Buck’s Missing Manuscript Recovered

Pearl S. Buck’s Manuscript for “The Good Earth”
Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth won a Pulitzer Prize and led to a Nobel Prize in Literature for the author in 1938. The original manuscript had been missing for decades.


In a 1966 memoir, author Pearl S. Buck lamented the loss of an original typewritten copy of her Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Good Earth. “The devil has it,” Buck said. “I simply cannot remember what I did with that manuscript.”

Four decades later, mystery solved: we have recovered the priceless manuscript—which was later reported stolen—along with a trove of Buck letters and other materials.

Philadelphia Special Agent Robert K. Wittman, the senior investigator of our Art Crime Team, gave credit to a local auction house. “We’ve worked hard to establish a good relationship with this auction house—one of many we work with in this city and around the country,” Wittman said today during a press conference announcing the recovery. “They call us if they come across something ‘iffy’.”

In this case, that something was a 1950s era straw suitcase full of original Buck documents, including the lost manuscript, one of two copies Buck said she wrote on a typewriter over three months while she lived in China. The person brought the items to the auction house for appraisal and sale. Recognizing their potential historical significance, the auction house contacted us and Buck’s estate.

The anonymous individual, who will not be charged with any federal crime, agreed to release the documents to us. We will retain possession of the documents until the rightful owner has been determined.

The other items recovered include:

  • A 1933 bound edition of The Good Earth with pencil editing for republication in the trilogy House of Earth;
  • A typewritten and edited original forward for House of Earth;
  • The original letter in which Buck indicated her intentions to give her manuscripts to her husband Richard J. Walsh for safekeeping and his acceptance;
  • A typewritten autobiographical sketch with pencil editing;
  • A file folder labeled “Famous Letters” containing approximately 100 letters to Buck from such luminaries as President Harry S. Truman, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, and Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

The story of the disappearance. It goes back to 1952, when the manuscript—typed in 1930 or ’31 and hand-edited—was part of a trove of Buck documents included in a display at the American Academy of Arts and Letters museum in New York.

“The whole shebang disappeared sometime after the exhibit was taken down, but nobody realized it was missing right away,” Wittman said. The recovered items included the museum exhibit card, suggesting that the collection brought to the auction house represents the missing exhibit. “The artifacts are valued at more than $150,000,” he said. Buck’s heirs reported the manuscript stolen in the 1970s.

Buck won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1932 for The Good Earth, a novel of peasant life in pre-Communist China. The book was later adapted for the screen and won two Oscars. Buck was the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, awarded in 1938 for her “epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces,” according to the Nobel Foundation.

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