The Death of Ivan Ilych – Leo Tolstoy

DThe Death of Ivan Ilych
by Leo Tolstoy

(about 22,000 words)




Ivan Ilych is, by all accounts, a very successful man. He’s had a decent upbringing, a good education, has landed himself a respectable job in the law courts and has an attractive, clever, brilliant and affluent wife whom he strives to please, as he meticulously strives for success in every aspect of his life. Unfortunately, shortly after marrying his wife begins to show just how quarrelsome and ill-tempered she is, and in general makes Ivan’s home life miserable. He takes this all with a grain of salt as a natural consequence of marriage, and pushes himself even harder into his work to make an appropriate life for himself and his growing family. When Ivan transfers his job and forces a move on his family, things get even worse in his married life, and aren’t improved much by a lack of money, either. Eventually things get so bad that Ivan is forced to send his family to live with his wife’s brother while he pursues his career in the city. This plan actually meets with success, and when he returns to his wife it is in a much more stable financial situation, and he finds her in more pleasant spirits as well. With the weight of accumulated stresses off his shoulders he begins to feel years younger and buys a new house for his family to move into. He is full of plans for his future and, before his family moves in with him, begins remodeling the house. Unfortunately, the fates are not kind to Ivan, and while up on a step ladder, he takes a fall and lands on his back. It isn’t a very great fall and he thinks nothing of it. His health, however, soon declines, and the doctors seem unable to diagnose a problem. They wave it off as a trick of Ivan’s nervous imagination, and refuse to hear about any of his phantom ailments. But Ivan is legitimately sick, and the more he stresses about his illness, the worse his married life becomes yet again. As Ivan wastes away, soon even the doctors have to admit there’s something wrong, but none of them can pinpoint what it is. In growing frustration, Ivan sees everything he has worked for in his life being stripped away by the cold fingers of the looming specter of Death. Worse yet, none of the people in his life, from his wife to his children to his co-workers seem to give a damn about his plight. In fact, they all seem to want him gone quickly, as if he were some sort of burden they have to unwillingly shoulder.

leo-tolstoyLeo Tolstoy was born on September 9, 1828 in Tula Province, Russia. He was the son of noble parents, however he and his siblings were soon orphaned and passed along through a chain of relations as each one likewise passed away. In 1843 he enrolled in the University of Kazan, however his partying lifestyle and inattention to his studies produced poor grades and eventually after failing at farming as well, he joined the army with his elder brother, Nikolay. While fighting in the Crimean war, Tolstoy wrote many stories and story beginnings, including his autobiographical trilogy. He returned to Russia after the war as a literary superstar, however he rebuffed the literary scene and declared himself an anarchist. He married the daughter of a doctor and continued writing and publishing his most famous novels, War and Peace and Anna Karenina during this time. Despite his literary success, Tolstoy was spiritually unhappy and after deciding that Christianity was too corrupt for him, he founded his own religion. Unfortunately, this included giving away vast sums of his money which understandably put some stress on his marriage. In the end, Tolstoy conceded publication rights to his wife and continued his philanthropist ways. Tolstoy died on November 20, 1910 while on a pilgrimage with his youngest daughter.


9 thoughts on “The Death of Ivan Ilych – Leo Tolstoy

    • I had been hearing a lot about this story before I actually read it, and then it appeared in one of the anthologies I was reading. I was impressed to say the least.

    • The Death of Ivan Ilych, I think, is a testament to the fact that we all die alone, and how painful and isolating illness can be. At the end of the story, the only people who can stomach being around Ivan in his dying moments are his son and his man servant. Imagine that? This guy had so many friends and family and coworkers and they all turned their backs on him right when he needed them the most.

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