Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Death of Ivan Ilyich

I found  Leo Tolstoy's novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich  a simple but thought provoking read, giving an insight into what might be going through the minds of those suffering from chronic, painful and/or terminal conditions. 

A seemingly simple accident - falling while hanging curtains - leads to an undiagnosed but painful condition, and eventually the death of Ivan Ilyich.  He is not a stoic, uncomplaining patient, but rather one who struggles to deal with his physical and emotional distress. He lived what would be considered a good life (sensible, although not happy, marriage; plus a respectable career in which he managed to advance through the ranks), so doesn't believe he deserves the suffering he endures. Ilyich eventually finds relief, both physical and spiritual,with a servant named Gerasim. Gerasim doesn't fear death and shows Ilyich the compassion and tenderness which his wife does not. Through discussions with Gerasim, Ilych comes to believe that he has not led an authentic life, filled with compassion and sympathy, but rather an artificial one filled with self-interest. His belief that he has found the true meaning of life allows him to die peacefully, filled with live for his family.

The copy which I read was bound with  A Confession, a short autobiographical work covering Tolstoy's depression, his failed search for the meaning of life through the works on major philosophers, and his eventual acceptance of religious faith. Tolstoy's beliefs as outlined in A Confession, clearly influenced his subsequent work such as The Death of Ivan Ilyich. As such A Confession was an interesting read but it was too didactic for my tastes.

1 comment:

  1. I've read several books about death and dying this past few years and this book keeps getting referenced. I finally bought a copy earlier this year and hope to read it soon.

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