The Torrents of Spring, 1926
Torrents of Spring is a lesser known work of literary great Ernest Hemingway. This novella was a critical retort against Sherwood Anderson’s Dark Laughter. This novella is set in Michigan where two pump factory workers search for the ideal woman. WWI vet Yogi Johnson and writer Scripps O’Neil engage in a series of entertaining exploits and conversations that outline the fundamental differences between their respective searches. During the course of this satirical novella Hemingway explores the age old themes of pastoral loneliness. The novella begins with the two men looking out over a snow covered landscape, setting the mood for themes of isolation and lost potential. O’Neill’s plight is easy to sympathize with; he is desperate for companionship and left to idealize the perfect feminine counterpart while enduring life alone in a cold climate.
When O’Neil returns home to find his wife and small daughter have left him, what follows is his foray into a multitude of failed quests for a lady of epic qualities. During the course of the story he befriends Diana, a British waitress, at her place of work. O’Neil, in a hopelessly romantic fashion, asks her to marry him immediately. Diana intrigues Scripps with her English history and foreign mannerisms. It is easy for the reader to imagine he has woven a web of romanticism around her as only a writer could. Tales of her idyllic girlhood home in Wordsworth’s England would set the table for a veritable banquet of exotic imagery and experiences that any American writer living in Michigan in the early 1920’s would have found appealing.
However, this literary-like encounter is impotent as infatuation doesn’t last long. The rosy filters of romance start to fade and O’Neil finds himself disenchanted with Diana for several reasons. Suddenly her British accent is undesirable in addition to her strange fashion choices. The dull routine of married life sets in once again and he a familiar dynamic unfolds. Diana, sensing his disinterest, wants to do everything possible to keep Scripps enthralled. She expands her reading list to include titles from The New York Times Book Review and faithfully delves into new well-known and obscure works. Although Diana attempts to match her husband’s ideal vision of a person that “knows a thing or two”, she quickly becomes a fading specter in the mind of O’Neil despite her commitment to him.
He quickly leaves Diana, fulfilling her premonitions from the beginning of the relationship. To make matters much worse he leaves for Mandy, yet another waitress. Many is different from Diana from the outset and seems to possess vast stores of literary knowledge and a charming mercurial nature. During this period the plot arc takes a psychedelic turn as O’Neil goes on a mescaline trip and believes he is the President of Mexico. This drug-induced hallucination causes him to appoint another waitress, Ruby, as the Mexican vice president.
O’Neil looks for a must of sorts with unique attributes, possessing a chatoyant mind and spirit to match despite the post-war climate of the age. The story seems to point out with each new love that here is a man who is after himself, moreso than a domestic relationship. While it is easy to hope for his success, many parallels remind the reader of situations common today; failed marriages and relationships are too often not directly related to the relationship itself; it is possible that O’Neil is only looking for an escape from the post-war pump factory drudgery of existence after a failed domestic situation that he likely never wanted to enter into in the first place.
O’Neil’s experiences run parallel but in contrast to those of Yogi Johnson. Nursing a wound from a Parisian prostitute that leaves him for a British officer, Johnson finds existence truly undesirable. He does not engineer new liasons in the manner of O’Neil. Despite the questionable character of the prostitution, Johnson cannot find fulfillment in the promises of new love. Unlike his friend O’Neil, he turns to a kind of self-imposed melancholy asceticism and believes that he doesn’t want any woman at all. This is emphasized as spring approaches and Yogi dwells upon the irony and sadness of being without a mate in a season which is typically attributed to matchmaking and mating within the natural world. Throughout the novella he often dwells upon the Native Americans surrounding the factory, even following an Indian maiden out into the night in order to solve this existential mystery. Hemingway does not elaborate if Johnson is able to solve it or not. His fascination is a clever foreshadowing of events to come.
This period goes on until he falls in love with a Native American woman. His first impression is a striking one. The woman enters a restaurant in moccasins alone. Yogi finds that he cured of his impotence upon viewing her body. He decides to begin in the trials of love. This woman is not destined to be Yogi’s love as she is the wife of one of the two Indians he befriends in the penultimate chapter of this classic novella. A similar theme is explored in Fellini’s film, Satyricon, in which an impotent and thwarted lover must self-initiate themselves into a new elan for love and lust. The exploration of these two personalities, however, may still amuse long time Hemingway fans.
This novella received a mixed reaction as it was almost satirical of a writing style that was popular at the time. Many conceit that the novella was a reaction to a bad writing contract that had Hemingway committed to penning something in the vein of a popular writing style which he detested. This work is usually seen as less important than other titles such as The Sun Also Rises, which was published in the same year. Many publishers found the satire entertaining, but were unwilling to publish the work. Hemingway’s wife also found the novel’s blatant characterization of Sherwood Anderson unfair. In contrast to the detractors, F. Scott Fitzgerald considered the novella a masterpiece.