Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Dimitry Pavlovich Sanin

Dimitry Pavlovich Sanin (DMIH-tree PAHV-loh-vihch SAH-nihn), a young Russian nobleman and the novel’s aging narrator. The novel, presented as a reminiscence, gives two distinct visions of Sanin: the weak-willed, twenty-one-year-old idealist and the soul-sickened, fifty-two-year-old narrator. The youthful Sanin is a careless nobleman who is accosted by Gemma Rosselli while walking down a street in Frankfurt. She believes that her brother Emilio has stopped breathing, and when Sanin restores the young man, she and her family consider him their savior. Sanin stays on in Frankfurt and discovers that he is infatuated with Gemma. After winning her affection by fighting a duel in her honor, he meets the predatory Maria Nikolayevna and falls under her sexual spell. Sanin’s betrayal of Gemma is worsened by his inability to confess his perfidy to her. After a time in Maria Nikolayevna’s retinue, Sanin is cast aside. It is only as a life-sickened, aging man of the world that Sanin seeks out Gemma and is relieved of his guilt when he hears of her happy married state in the United States. The news fills him with a new sense of life, and he begins to make plans to immigrate.

Gemma Rosselli

Gemma Rosselli (GEH-mah roh-SEH-lee), a beautiful Italian girl...

(The entire section is 591 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Throughout his career, Turgenev protested that his lack of imagination forced him to model his characters after people he had met, and The Torrents of Spring is, in part, based on an autobiographical incident. As a young man traveling in Germany, Turgenev, like the protagonist in the novella, was approached by a beautiful young confectioner who thought her brother was dying. This historical beauty, however, was Jewish rather than Italian, and Turgenev, unlike Sanin, returned to Russia after the incident. It is also possible that through his story of the weak-willed Sanin’s obsession with the self-centered Maria Nikolayevna Polozov, Turgenev was expressing dissatisfaction with his own compulsive attraction for Pauline Viardot.

Because the novella is cast as a reminiscence, the story portrays two distinct versions of Dimitry Pavlovich Sanin: the youthful idealist who is willing to sell his inheritance for the love of Gemma and the aging man overwhelmed with taedium vitae, a disgust with life. Although the novella focuses on the middle-aged Sanin in only the opening and closing chapters, the image of the soul-sickened man who discovers Gemma’s garnet cross at the start of the book, darkens the remainder of the narrative by providing the reader with a grim vision of the state toward which the youthful protagonist is progressing. Young Sanin is well-intentioned but shallow. The thoughtlessness of his infatuation prepares the reader for his inability to resist the sexual advances of Maria, his cowardly letter to Gemma, and his humiliating life with the Polozovs.

Like most of Turgenev’s beautiful virgins, Gemma is two-dimensional, an idealized portrait of youthful energy and innocence. Yet she is also an...

(The entire section is 711 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Mirsky, Dmitry S. A History of Russian Literature, 1949.

Pritchett, V.S. The Gentle Barbarian: The Life and Work of Turgenev, 1977.

Schapiro, Leonard. Turgenev: His Life and Times, 1979.

Schefski, Harold K. “Novelle Structure in Turgenev’s Spring Torrents,” in Studies in Short Fiction. XXII (Fall, 1985), pp. 431-435.

Yarmolinsky, A. Turgenev: The Man, His Art, and His Age, 1926, 1959 (revised edition).