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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 824

The Torrents of Spring is cast as a remembrance of the past. Its brief introduction, which functions as a frame for the narrative, introduces the reader to Dimitry Pavlovich Sanin at age fifty-two. The middle-aged Sanin, who has just returned to his rooms after an evening spent with “attractive women...

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The Torrents of Spring is cast as a remembrance of the past. Its brief introduction, which functions as a frame for the narrative, introduces the reader to Dimitry Pavlovich Sanin at age fifty-two. The middle-aged Sanin, who has just returned to his rooms after an evening spent with “attractive women and cultured men,” is tormented by “the thought of the vanity, the uselessness, the vulgar falsity of all things human” and beset by a growing fear of age, sickness, and death. He imagines himself sitting in a small boat as horrifying monsters rise slowly toward him. While searching aimlessly through old papers in an effort “to rid himself by some kind of external occupation of the thoughts that troubled him,” Sanin discovers a small garnet cross. This chance discovery starts a process of remembrance through which Sanin reconstructs a romantic incident that occurred when he was a twenty-one-year-old, an occurrence that soured the remainder of his life.

The youthful Sanin, as recalled by himself in middle age, is a weak-willed Russian nobleman who is traveling about Germany before returning home to take a civil service position. As he walks along a street in Frankfurt, he is accosted by Gemma Roselli, a beautiful young woman who runs from a pastry shop, seeking assistance for her brother, Emilio. She is convinced that he has stopped breathing and is dying. Sanin helps restore Emilio and is applauded by Gemma and her family as the boy’s savior. Sanin is easily convinced by the Rosellis to stay longer in Frankfurt, and he soon discovers that he is infatuated with Gemma.

Gemma, however, is engaged to Karl Kluber, a repulsively businesslike German, and this engagement is encouraged by Gemma’s mother. Leonora Roselli is the widow of an Italian confectioner who has continued the family business after her husband’s death, but she believes that Gemma’s successful marriage to the wealthy Kluber is the only guarantee of the family’s financial future. This awkward situation continues until a climactic outing at a country inn near Frankfurt, during which Gemma is insulted by an intoxicated German officer named von Donhof. Kluber attempts to ignore the incident, but Sanin reprimands Donhof and accepts his challenge to a duel. Although neither Sanin nor Donhof is eager for blood and the duel ends harmlessly, Sanin’s romantic action gives Gemma the courage to break her engagement with Kluber and openly express her love for Sanin.

In an effort to assure Leonora that his intentions are honorable and that the financial future of the family is secured, Sanin impetuously decides to sell his Russian estate and use the proceeds to establish a home in Frankfurt. A chance encounter with Ippolit Sidorych Polozov, an old schoolmate, provides Sanin with the opportunity to sell his estate to Polozov’s wife, Maria Nikolayevna Polozov, if he will immediately travel to Wiesbaden.

With some misgivings, Gemma agrees to the arrangement, and Sanin accompanies the gluttonous Polozov to Wiesbaden. Maria proves to be a carnivorous creature, a beautiful devourer of men who has an arrangement with her impotent husband that allows her to lead an independent romantic life. To his horror, Sanin finds himself irresistibly attracted to this temptress, who slowly transforms his wholesome love for Gemma into lust for her. Finally, after a vigorous horseback ride, Maria leads Sanin to a secluded gamekeeper’s hut, where he succumbs to her seductive charms. From that point on, he is completely in Maria’s power, and as she gloats in her victory, he despairingly pledges his intention to follow her “till you drive me away.”

Confused by guilt and passion, Sanin cannot bring himself to confront Gemma with his infidelity, so he ends their relationship with a “wretched, tearful, lying, shabby letter” that is never answered. He is so ashamed of his behavior and fearful of a confrontation that he sends the Polozovs’ footman to retrieve secretly his possessions from Frankfurt. He then follows the Polozovs to Paris. For a time, he serves as an obsequious member of Maria’s retinue of admirers, enduring an escalating series of humiliations until he is eventually “cast aside like a worn-out garment.”

The concluding chapters of The Torrents of Spring return the reader to the present, in which the middle-aged Sanin decides to track down Gemma. He travels to Frankfurt and, with the help of Donhof, discovers that Gemma is married and living with her husband in New York City. He writes to her, begging her “not to let him carry to the grave the bitter sense of his guilt.” Gemma’s polite and sympathetic response, in which she details the happiness and fulfillment of her married life, releases Sanin’s lifelong burden of guilt and fills him with a sense of new life. In the novella’s final sentence, Ivan Turgenev tells his readers that “it is rumoured that he is selling his estates and is about to leave for America.”

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