The Torrents of Spring is a short parody of Sherwood Anderson’s novel Dark Laughter (1925) and a satire of literary manners and morals in the 1920’s. As such, it is not an extremely important work, but as the second published book—after the stories of In Our Time (1924, 1925)—by a major American writer, the novella has biographical and historical interest. To be enjoyed, however, it must be read first for its nonsense and humor.
For such a short work, The Torrents of Spring is surprisingly complex—an indication of its parodic purpose. Subtitled “A Romantic Novel in Honor of the Passing of a Great Race,” the book is divided into four parts, each with its own grandiose subtitle and each prefaced by an epigraph from the eighteenth century English novelist Henry Fielding. In the tradition of Fielding (who in Joseph Andrews was himself parodying his predecessor Samuel Richardson), Hemingway also conducts a humorous dialogue with his imaginary readers, explaining his novel—or urging them to get their friends to buy the book.
The structure of the work is equally elaborate, and to retell the story is to highlight its nonsense. Part 1 (“Red and Black Laughter”) opens with Yogi Johnson and Scripps O’Neil staring out the window of the pump-factory where they work at the empty yard where snow covers the crated pumps. (Dark Laughter opens with two characters named Bruce Dudley and Sponge Martin looking out a factory window at “a more or less littered factory yard.”)
The narrative now splits, and Hemingway picks up the absurd story of how Scripps got to Petoskey. A year earlier, he lived in the town of Mancelona, with his wife and daughter Lucy—or Lousy, as he calls her. (In Dark Laughter, Sponge Martin’s daughter is named Bugs—and the parody goes on.) One night, Scripps and his wife went out drinking, and he lost her—or, he came home one night and she was gone. It does not matter which is true. (In the same way, Scripps’s mother was either a poor Italian immigrant—or the wife of a Confederate general.)
Scripps wanders into Petoskey, meets Diana in Brown’s Beanery (“The Best by Test”), finds work in the pump-factory, and returns to marry the waitress. Just as quickly, however, he meets Mandy, the junior waitress in the beanery, and falls in love with her...
(The entire section is 979 words.)