Book Review: The Torrents of Spring by Ivan Turgenev

I picked up The Torrents of Spring by mistake in my local bookshop. It is quite an old edition, with a beautiful cover, illustrations inside, and kept in a protective sleeve and upon the first view, I thought it was The Torrents of Spring by Ernest Hemingway. I quickly realised that I was wrong when I sat on the promenade to begin my new book. Ivan Turgenev was an author that I hadn’t heard of before, so when I started to read it, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. It could have been any genre, from horror to wild western or both! Luckily, it was of a more romantic nature and I enjoyed every moment of reading it.

I love this book. For me, it read like a wise father, fortunate enough to have had a life full of experiences, but unfortunate enough to hold regrets, telling you a story from his past, filled with numerous valuable life lessons in love, decision making, pride and hope. The Torrents of Spring, sometimes known as Spring Torrents, was written during 1870 and 1871 by Russian author Ivan Turgenev (1818-1883). Although Fathers and Sons remains Turgenev’s most famous novel, The Torrents of Spring is his most unique as it is was void of his usual political and social themes. Despite its highly autobiographical nature, the book is fictional and easy to read, intelligently witty, rewarding, and will leave you feeling a little wiser. The novel does not read like it was written over 150 years ago, Turgenev’s style of writing is still refreshing and hasn’t dated in the slightest. His ability to tell his readers the feelings and personality traits of his characters by describing their facial expressions is pure genius and a skill I haven’t seen another author hone as brilliantly before, so prepare to be hooked onto Turgenev’s style of writing from the moment you start reading.

“A novel of haunting beauty, ‘Spring Torrents’ (1870-1) is a fascinating, partly autobiographical account of one of Turgenev’s favourite themes – a man’s inability to love without losing his innocence and becoming enslaved to obsessive passions.”

The Plot

The Torrents of Spring is set in Frankfurt, Germany, around the late 1830s and early 1840s. When Turgenev introduces Dmitry Pavlovich Sanin (the main character), he is a middle-aged man enveloped in pessimism and cynicism.

“Something inescapably hateful, something horribly wearisome encompassed him on all sides like a dark autumn night; and he did not know how to get rid of that darkness, that bitterness.”

This version of Sanin is brief as the story flows onto a memory from his past and it is written so beautifully that it is easy to forget the solemness of the character we first came to know. Turgenev takes us back to a young Sanin in his early twenties, travelling from his home in Russia around Europe. He stops off at Germany where he sees “a young woman of extraordinary beauty” running out of a confectionary shop crying out for somebody to help save her brother. Sanin stops to help and successfully helps save her brother from his fainting fit and to show their gratitude, the family insists that he doesn’t get the train he intended to catch, but instead stays in Frankfurt longer and has dinner with them. Sanin obliges after much deliberation, his reason, we are led to believe, as a result of the beauty of the Italian girl, Gemma Roselli. Similarly, during 1838 and 1841, Turgenev toured the German States and he also met a beautiful girl running out of a tea room calling out for somebody to help save her brother; the differences were that the girl was Jewish rather than Italian and Turgenev left Frankfurt that same night without getting to know her further. This is the story of Sanin’s memories from Frankfurt and the product of Turgenev’s creative hindsight.

My Favourite Characters

The characters are interesting because we all know someone who possesses the same traits that each character has. Making it easy to bring the story into our own lives.

Dmitry Pavlovich Sanin, a sometimes naive and foolish man still young enough to be ignorant of the importance and rarity of love, but someone who obviously has a good heart.

Gemma Roselli comes across genuine, kind and intelligent and is a very likeable character. She appeared to have a good sense of humour and I could occasionally relate to her.

Leonora Roselli reminded me so much of Mrs Bennett from Pride and Prejudice. She is the mother of Gemma Roselli and only wants what is best for her children, however, she has the tendency to overreact in many situations. The things that would make her an irritating person to live with are also what make her an amusing and likeable character.

Maria Nikolaevnka Polozov is another character who is inspired by people Turgenev knew personally in his life. According to Leonard Schapiro, Turgenev’s biographer, Maria is said to have two models. The first being Turgenev’s mother, Varvara Petrovna Turgenev, who subjected her son to physical and emotional abuse, which permanently scarred him. The second was the wife of poet Fyodor Tyutchev, who Turgenev “conceived some kind of romantic attachment ” during his 1838 voyage from St Petersburg to Lubeck. Maria was possibly my favourite character in the novel, the most complex and mysterious.

The Torrents of Spring was originally intended to be a short story, however, by the time Turgenev had let his incredible imagination take him away, it had expanded to novel length. Because of this, it is only a short novel, so it is the perfect book to read over a relaxing weekend and one that is sure to send your imagination into overdrive as you picture the wonderfully worded scenic views of Frankfurt and detailed descriptions of characters.

“Tout ce roman-là est vrai. Je l’ai vécu et senti personnellement. C’est ma propre histoire.”

English: “This whole novel is true, I have lived and felt it personally, it is my own story.”

Ivan Turgenev

Rating: 4 out of 5.

5 thoughts on “Book Review: The Torrents of Spring by Ivan Turgenev

  1. Doesn’t sound like my kind of book, but isn’t it wonderful when you pick up the “wrong book” and find a real gem of a story. Quite often I’ll browse the 2nd hand bookshops and pick out an author I haven’t read before, simply because I liked the picture on the cover…..or the font used on the book title….just something that catches my eye. It’s like opening an unexpected birthday gift when you sit down and turn that first page….wondering what you’ll find inside.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Couldn’t agree with you more. I am also guilty of that. You discover new stories that you never would have usually picked up. Some of my favourite reads have come from doing this!

      Liked by 1 person

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