Celebrating the Immense Beauty of Welty’s /The Golden Apples/ (1949)

By Xianfeng Mou, the real one.

I forget to ask. Does some one need some research materials on The Golden Apples? I have a list to share. Take care your research interest might differ from mine, so my list might be helpful or might not.

Drop a line here with an email account you are still using. I cannot give out my email address for I have had many internet attacks launched against my computer already. College freshmen are especially welcome, and if you can post a photo of your campus, you take precedence over others.

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I want to celebrate, to be best of my abilities, the immense beauty of Welty’s astounding artistic accomplishments in The Golden Apples (1949).

I want to tell my love story with The Golden Apples, so that any reader who chances upon this piece of writing will have a rough idea of how I have come to love The Golden Apples so much. With it, I hope some readers with become interested, if they haven’t read the stories already, to search and read the stories.

First off, I am very conservative in my choice of words. I seldom use the word “love.” Therefore, when I say I love The Golden Apples, I really mean it, for this is the first time ever I say I love a book, that I love the stories. In my personal codes, that is the highest honor I give to The Golden Apples. I also happen to have read some novels and stories, not a lot though.

It is funny today, when I look back, that I did not have the good luck to study The Golden Apples with the Professor formally in class. It just slipped through cracks between syllabuses, I guess. When I told my American Literature professor I was going to do some research on modern American women writers for my dissertation, he recommended The Golden Apples to me. I was preparing for my prelim then.

“Well, you have to read all the important writers of modern American Literature, not only the women writers,” he said. I think that was what he meant, if not his exact words. It might be the prelim’s requirement.

At first he listed eight women writers, including the early ones, such as Fanny Fern and Ruth Hall. I read them all, diligently. I had taken two classes with him, Late 19th Century American Literature and American Historical Genres from 1865 to 1945. The format of the first class was traditional, including lectures, discussion, exams, and papers. The format of the second class was flexible, including lectures, exams, papers, as well as independent reading on myself.

After finishing the eight women writers, if I remember correctly, he gave me another list, perhaps still including eight authors, but this time more into the modern period. I remembered I read contemporary women writers’ works such as Hungry Hearts, by Anzia Yezierskaa, a Jewish immigration writer, as well as Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior. I have even read a novel written by a minor’s daughter. I think so. I do not even know whether many American grad students in the field have read or known that work. Today I can’t remember the title.

Welty’s The Golden Apples is at the end of the list. I think the professor’s focused period is from 1865 to 1945. That is why The Golden Apples is at the end of his list. This professor does not focus on contemporary American lit, which I had studied with another professor.

Of course, for my prelim, after I had finished these women writers, I got another much longer list, consisting of twenty authors and forty works. I do not remember this detail that accurately. The list might consist of forty authors forty works. For each author the professor had listed the most representative work. Might be. It has been five years, so I could not fault my memory.

I am a diligent student, so I read whatever I could. In addition to the primary texts, for some I went and searched one or two books of criticism. Some novels and stories were not that easy to understand. And I had kept detailed reading notes for many of the works. You cannot remember everything in your brain. I saved my reading notes. When I read criticisms, I also took notes, because some day when I write, I might find those ideas useful. If I do not write them down when they were fresh, I would forget lots of them.

Now it doesn’t hurt to make a little confession. That long list, I could not finish it all. There were still five or six books listed that I did not finish, such as Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. I only had time to flip through it quickly before I braved the prelim.

Academic work was never easy.

As to Welty’s The Golden Apples, I did not have a striking impression when I first read them. These stories are not like other novels or stories, for instance Melville’s Moby-Dick or Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! (1936), which differ so distinctly from works and novels that come before them so that the reader marvel at their freshness, their uniqueness, their heavy-weight, and whatever distinguishes them from the rest of the crowd.

Allow me to insert one note on how I read Absalom, Absalom! Everybody reader knows in order to sift through Faulkner’s Modernist, complex narration, one has to find a way of getting the storyline correct. I think the literary term for it is the fabula, of what actually happened. The fabula is one thing, the narration of the fabula is where all the writers and authors display their skills and creativity.

To understand that novel, after finishing each chapter, I would write down what actually happened. I clarified the storyline as I went along, for each chapter, no exception. After finishing the entire novel, I basically had the entire novel’s framework set down. At the same time, I also found a book, whose author was trying to do the same thing I did, getting the storyline right. Today I only remembered the book’s title, Sutpen’s Design. But I forgot the author’s name. I tend to remember books’ titles, but not very good at remembering the authors.

For Absalom, Absalom!, I remembered two key images from it. I think those two key images are key to understanding the novel. I am not going to tell what the two images are, because every reader clicks with the same text differently. Besides, today my hero is Welty, not the famous Faulkner. Faulkner has more than enough readers to sing for him. So Welty’s song I am singing.

Though The Golden Apples does not strike me as being too distinctive, strangely, for reasons unknown to me, I included it in my dissertation.

I forgot what I replied when the professors questioned me about my prospectus. I have the file with me for sure, but for this informal piece, I do not have the desire to read my prospectus again. I just want to tell my love story with The Golden Apples.

Oh, yes, now I remembered why I included it in the dissertation. I included The Golden Apples from the angle of the narrating subject. I believe Welty has absented her authorial self from her stories, and as a result, she was able to look at the world from as many perspectives as possible. As a result, she might gain the degree of success society would like to allow her.

The narrating position of the narrating subject was my organizing principle. I wanted to look at how the narrating subject positions herself and makes meanings about the worlds they find themselves in.

After the extreme experience of writing the dissertation over three years, almost every professor and every advanced grad student knows you no longer wish to look at the stories again. Once you finish writing it, the only desire you have is to throw all your authors and their works out of your window.

Everybody knows this. I have even heard of male student being driven so hard by their professors that they even had the desire to jump out of their window, of female students calling their female professors late at night asking for moral support and assurance. Everybody has their own story. The process was a crucible.

To transform yourself from a grad student into an assistant professor feels much more like a phoenix rising up from its own ashes.

Another way to put it is, you have to die in order to live again. Personally I felt as if I was put into hot fire and burned seven times, hammered seven times, then plunged into cold water seven times, than taken out and hammered seven times again. For each small step, it is always seven times. Seven indicates perfection in Western culture. So I guess no matter how imperfect I am today, I at least had one spot of perfection within me. I hope I not scaring other phd students with this story. But they will understand.

Fortunately I have never had desires to hurt myself, or others, unless I find they have been stealing from my dissertation and other properties from me. I just put myself to work, writing and tying up of what I perceived as possible loopholes in my argument whenever new materials popped up or whenever my ideas changed.

For every change I would go back and tie up possible changes in my argument. Since I changed many chapters at least seven times, that meant a lot of revision and tying up, again and again.

To be continued.

A note for other female students that come after. Some unscrupulous professors might suggest amorous favors, even direct physical favors, as a precondition to pass their dissertation. If female students do not mind it, it is fine. But if some of them do mind, they need to think of a way out before they decide to embark on this road, before they decide which professor to include and which to exclude. At your late stage, it is not that important how much a professor knows but it is extremely important if he or she treats you well. If the professor treats you well, you can do lots of other things on yourself.

My love story with The Golden Apples is both long and short.

I have never had that much difficulty with my chapter on The Golden Apples. What is in that  chapter is basically what I had set down in the first draft regarding main ideas. Since my focus was the speaking position of the narrating subject, I basically got it right in the first draft. It was mainly organization that later I continued to work on. What I could find, I had put it down there. What remained to be discovered later, I could not have known back then. I always give all that I have found. I am not like certain smart people that they would keep their findings first and gauge how much they are allowed to tell, and how much they should. Perhaps such people exist, but I am not one of the smart group.

If I know 40%, I would tell 40%; if I know 70%, I would tell 70%; If I understand 80%, I would write 80%. I do not horde my findings like certain people grab and horde gold coins.

What I do not know, all these years, is the stories in The Golden Apples have been quietly growing inside of me. I do not know how they are growing. But I know they are growing. That is the strangest thing about The Golden Apples. I can’t even explain their strange existence in me. Somehow I feel they exist in my subconscious.

They are alive in your deepest being. You can feel them there, but they are not registering on the front screen of your mental landscape. They live on the back screen, somewhere back there.

Until this summer, the summer of 2010. Suddenly everything changed. The stories suddenly burst open, as if all these years they have been doing nothing but trying their best to guard their secrets.

What is the secret The Golden Apples is hiding and telling? I cannot tell it here. I have written an article, trying my best to explain what Welty’s secret is. But I can tell it here that it is extremely beautiful. It is unbelievably, impossibly beautiful.

When the stories burst open to me, on September 1, 2010, I could not help but exclaiming out loud, “That’s impossible! Welty, that’s impossible!” I was by myself in the room. I wasn’t disturbing anybody. I did not even remember it happened in the morning, in the afternoon, or late at night.

I highly recommend every one who chances upon this piece of writing to go and read The Golden Apples, to see whether you can find its immense beauty and vitality. Please do not take me to be arrogant. I am not. I hope everyone can see how utterly beautiful The Golden Apples is, and love it as much as I do. If you just read them as some short stories, that might still be ok. Welty is not that kind of person who likes to beat everybody up if they do not understand her.

But to be able to see their great beauty, we need to read the stories together, treating them as an organic whole, treating them as being alive.

Oh, yes, maybe I can put this down as a secret clue for other readers. The stories in The Golden Apples are alive, and they will always remain alive. So The Golden Apples will be always be alive and fresh and vital.

Immense beauty and vitality!

Does anyone happen to know the myth of The Golden Apples? A quick google search has yielded four or five different myths and fairytales, Greek and Norse, about The Golden Apples. Personally I would like to regard Welty’s The Golden Apples as the source of the God’s immortality and perpetual youth.

Wish everybody would read and love The Golden Apples, as much as I do.

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