Death of Ivan Ilych

Death of Ivan Ilych

by Leo Tolstoy


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The Death of Ivan Ilyich (Russian: Смерть Ивана Ильича, Smert' Ivána Ilyichá), first published in 1886, is a novella by Leo Tolstoy, considered one of the masterpieces of his late fiction, written shortly after his religious conversion of the late 1870s.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780146001451
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Publication date: 08/28/1996
Series: Classic Series
Pages: 64
Product dimensions: 1.00(w) x 1.00(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Leo Tolstoy was born into the upper levels of the Russian aristocracy (his mother was a princess) in 1828. After a licentious youth, he joined the army to fight in the Crimean War, and published his first novel, Childhood, while serving in an artillery unit. After participating in some of the deadliest battles of the century, such as the Siege of Sebastopol, he quit the military in disgust. But the experience proved the inspiration for some of his greatest writing, including Sebastopol Sketches and War and Peace. After the war, he traveled throughout Europe but was disillusioned by Western materialism and returned to his family estate, Yasnaya Polyana. There, he married, fathered 13 children, founded a school for young peasants, and wrote Anna Karenina. But in 1879 Tolstoy underwent a spiritual crisis, and denounced the Orthodox church, private property, and the demands of the flesh. His extreme asceticism inspired a widespread, cult-like worship, but it also exacerbated a decades-long tension with his wife, Sofia. In 1910, after an argument with her, he fled the estate, only to die shortly thereafter at the nearby railroad station.

Ian Dreiblatt translates from the Russian, Latin, Yiddish, and Amharic. His previous work includes translations of Mandelstam, Dragomoshchenko, and Catullus.

Date of Birth:

September 9, 1828

Date of Death:

November 20, 1910

Place of Birth:

Tula Province, Russia

Place of Death:

Astapovo, Russia


Privately educated by French and German tutors; attended the University of Kazan, 1844-47

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The Death Of Ivan Ilych 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
JohnCouke on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Powerful, powerful book about the range of emotions the main character goes through as he learns that his time on earth is dwindling quickly.
AndrewBlackman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A man dies slowly and in great agony. He ponders the meaning of life, and this increases his anguish: even worse than the physical pain of a slow, lingering death is the spiritual anguish of realising he has wasted his life.Tolstoy's main target here is dishonesty and hypocrisy. This is established from the opening scene, when Ivan Ilyich's death is announced, and the reaction of his colleagues is to think about how this will affect their promotion chances, while speaking the usual lines about it being a "sad business" and so on. Even his widow, Praskovya Fiodorovna, is more concerned about herself than her dead husband: after telling a mourner about his three days and nights of incessant screaming, she says "Oh, what I have gone through!" Then she tries to find out how she can increase the government pension money due to her from her husband's death.Then Tolstoy takes us on a quick tour back through Ivan Ilyich's life, showing us that he also participated fully in this dishonesty, concerning himself with appearances and advancement. In every decision, even marriage, he is heavily influenced by what other people will think. With each promotion in his career as a judge, he attains more power and money, but it's never enough. At each stage he simply spends more money imitating people higher in the social scale than he is, and wanting to attain that next level. It's not coincidental that he sustains his fatal injury while climbing a ladder to show a workman exactly how he wants a new curtain to be hung. The novel is saturated with vanity, pettiness and materialism, and they cause Ivan Ilyich's spiritual and physical death.Long before Kubler-Ross, Tolstoy hit on the stages of grief in the character Ivan Ilyich. He goes through denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, although not always in that order. He often swings violently between the different emotions, depending on his own state of mind and on outside events like a doctor getting his hopes up.The only examples of honesty in the book are in children (both Ivan Ilyich's own childhood and his young son Vassya) and in the character of Gerassim, the butler's assistant. Vassya and Gerassim don't lie to him or see him as an inconvenience - they display simple human affection and love for him.Indeed, love seems to be what Tolstoy is saying life is all about - not romantic love necessarily, but a broader kind of love for your fellow human beings and for God. This is what was missing from Ivan Ilyich's life as he immersed himself in petty advancement and the acquisition of meaningless accoutrements. This deathbed revelation at first causes him great agony as he rages against all the lost time, but in the end it's what allows him to find peace.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I blew though this after reading war and peace
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Death of Ivan Ilych may be short, but not simple. Immense imagery describing morality and our place in this world is ever present and somewhat haunting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago