Thoughts on Ernest Hemingway’s ‘The Torrents of spring’

the torrents of spring

Erm… right… hmm. To begin this post, I will say that I don’t think that this was perhaps the best book I could have read to introduce myself to Hemingway’s oeuvre. However, this isn’t to say that it is a bad work, because it isn’t. I just think that this doesn’t do justice to his reputation. 

‘The Torrents of Spring’ is a novella published in 1926 that- according to the introduction to the edition shown above- was written as a parody of Sherwood Anderson’s 1925 novel ‘Dark Laughter’ and can be seen as a rejection of the authors that made up Hemingway’s social circuit, and acted as his teachers and his literary advisors. I don’t know the aforementioned novel, but was still able to see where the author was at least parodying something. For example, the redundancy of rhetorical questions is laughable even for a parody, but they do manage to show the particular pointlessness of the characters’ lives and reduce serious thoughts and situations to scenes of comedic patheticness:

They were a hardy race, those Scots, deep in their mountain fastnesses. Harry Lauder and his pipe. The Highlanders in the Great War. Why had not he, Scripps, been in the war? That was where that chap Yogi Johnson had it on him. The war would have meant much to him, Scripps. Why hadn’t he been in it? Why hadn’t he heard of it in time. Perhaps he was too old.

This is perhaps best summed up by quoting the last few lines of the book:

Mandy talking on. Telling literary reminiscences. Authentic incidents. They had the ring of truth. But were they enough? Scripps wondered. She was his woman. But for how long? Scripps wondered. Mandy talking on in the beanery. Scripps listening. But his mind straying away. Straying away. Straying away. Where was it straying? Out into the night. Out into the night.

Similarly, the repetition of the line ‘She would never hold him’ in relation to Diana and Scripp’s relationship adds a note of futility and shows the pathetic nature again of their lives and her defeatist attitude towards both herself and her husband. If it was indeed Hemingway’s intention to create characters that the reader does not believe in or care about, then he succeeded brilliantly.

The plot of the novella is a simple and yet vaguely absurd one, with the protagonist Scripps O’Neil embarking on a journey by foot to Chicago following the end of his marriage, and then finding work in the town of Petoskey at a pump factory. On the way here, he picks up an injured bird and decides to keep it under his coat, and later marries a waitress named Diana who works in the town’s beanery. She attempts to learn about literature in order to please her new husband, but he gradually looses interest in her in favour of another waitress named Mandy. In the penultimate chapter, the character of Yogi Johnson gets over his impotence when he sees a naked squaw, and decides to follow her into the night- gradually disrobing as he does so, and leading the reader to the conclusion that he is going to rape her. Despite the seriousness of this scene and the commentary that it makes upon the treatment of Native, First-Nation Peoples in the US, it cannot come across initially as anything but farcical. Indeed, the plot is somewhat generic, and is highlighted to a great degree by the several ‘Author’s note to the reader’ sections that reinforce the fact that this is only a story, and not to be seen as anything more.

One point that I did find interesting about this book was that despite parodying the literature of over 80 years ago, its style is remarkably prescient now, and does remarkably pastiche the ‘chick-lit’ novels of recent years that seem to reproduce like bacteria on the shelves of supermarkets, airport bookshops and W.H.Smith. For this reason, I think that the novella still works now, even if the aim of its sarcasm is different and imposed by the reader and not the author.

It may seem from the start of this post that I don’t like this book, but this is not strictly true. It is something that I would read again (in part due to its brevity), and which gave me a certain sense of delight once I got into it a bit, but I don’t think that it is something that should be read without having familiarised yourself with some of Hemingway’s more famous works first, as it doesn’t display his style or provide anything that says his other works would be worth reading. I will try some of his other works, but with some interest and trepidation.

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2 thoughts on “Thoughts on Ernest Hemingway’s ‘The Torrents of spring’

  1. Sorry for commenting so much, but I too am currently reading a Hemingway novel (alongside balancing Kafka, Dostoyevsky and Auster!). In my case it is ‘A Farewell To Arms’ and, having read ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ and ‘The Old Man and the Sea’, I can safely say I actually feel a little bit let down. I haven’t completed ‘Farewell’ just yet but I am not far off, and it is not the novel I thought it was going to be. In particular, apart from the main character, the others feel as afterthoughts and are not very well fleshed out. I hope this opinion changes as I loved the other two works of his I have read. We shall see! Keep up the reviews, quite enjoying reading your views! Cheers.

  2. You don’t need to apologise- I love getting comments on here! I hope to read more Hemingway in order to give be a better feel for him; as I said here, I don’t feel that this one I have read was perhaps the best introduction. I will take your advice, and perhaps avoid ‘Farewell…’ until I have read some of his other works- or perhaps I should read it next, so as I can then build up to his better volumes. Thank you for sharing!

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