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The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories

by Leo Tolstoy

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Ivan Ilych’s life revolved around his career; as a high court judge he takes his job very seriously. However after he falls off a ladder, he soon discovers that he is going to die. The Death of Ivan Ilyich is a novella that deals with the meaning of life in the face of death. A masterpiece for Leo Tolstoy written after his religious conversion in the late 1870s.

Something that was fascinating about The Death of Ivan Ilyich is the drastic change in writing style when comparing it to Anna Karenina and War and Peace. I am not just referring to the length, but that does play a big part. I have read somewhere that Tolstoy intentionally made Anna Karenina and War and Peace so long because he wanted to replicate life and the journey the characters face. Allowing the reader to experience every decision and moral dilemma that the character is facing, exploring the growth or evolution of each and every person within the novels.

The Death of Ivan Ilyich takes a more focused approach, dealing with major questions revolving around the meaning of life, death and spirituality. Leo Tolstoy had a major conversion in the late 1870s and the questions in this novel were the questions he was asking himself. Whether or not Ivan Ilyich found the answers he was looking for is up to the reader but it is believed that Leo Tolstoy was still looking for the same answers well after finishing this novella.

There is a lot of pain and torment that appears in this book, which reflects the authors search for answers and that is what really stood out for me. Not only was I reading a spiritual/existential struggle of the protagonist but Tolstoy’s own feeling really came out within the pages. This is what makes this a masterpiece that explores the tortured artist in great detail. I don’t want to say much more, this is the type of book people have to read and make their own mind up about the themes presented, but it is worth reading.

This review originally appeared on my blog; http://literary-exploration.com/2015/01/15/the-death-of-ivan-ilyich-by-leo-tolst... ( )
  knowledge_lost | Jan 17, 2015 |
There are obviously a lot of books called 'The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories.' The volume I read had Ivan, The Cossacks, and Happily Ever After (aka Family Happiness.) There's not too much to say- it seems that if you've read any Tolstoy, you know the general thrust; depressing, but with at least apparently uplifting endings in which characters come to do and feel the right thing. DII and Cossacks are both great (four stars each), but if I was going to read one, it'd be the Cossacks. HEA is pretty dull (two stars), although important for Tolstoy's biography according to the introduction. So if you care about that sort of thing, you'll get something out of it.
As a side note, the translation is a little strange (minus one star). Translation-ese is rarely good prose, but it can be (e.g., the older translations of Proust). Edmonds seems to have gone for transparency here, with no concern for the language. Which is fine, except that having read Pevear & Volokhonsky's War and Peace, I know that it can be done better. So you should read the Cossacks, but maybe in a different translation.

In sum: 4 4 3 - 1 = 10. 10/3 = roughly three. ( )
  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
This particular volume contains three of Tolstoy’s shorter works: The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Happy Ever After, and The Cossacks. A common theme that I found within them was a growing dissatisfaction by the protagonist with living according to the norms of their particular culture. At some point the central character in each story awakened to the fact that they were living a life that, while full of material goods, was empty morally and/or spiritually. The way in which this realization was addressed differed in each story, and each of the protagonists found themselves at a destination that was unique when compared to the others. And while I found this particular theme “connecting” the stories, they were each very unique stories in and of themselves.

I found The Death of Ivan Ilyich to be enthralling from start to finish. As a teaser to encourage you to read the story I’ll share the mindset of Ilyich’s wife after he dies. She laments that his mournful wailing over the final three days of his life was virtually unbearable for her to endure, without displaying even the least amount of compassion for the pain her husband was suffering through. I have not read Tolstoy much, nor for a long time, but taking in this easy-to-read collection is spurring me on to dig into his work anew. ( )
  BradKautz | Jun 18, 2013 |
The Death of Ivan Ilych is notable for many things not the least being its focus on the life of Ivan Ilych; for, after introducing the narrative with the announcement of his death the story continues with his life up to and including his last days. This is the story of a very ordinary man, a Russian equivalent of an American John Smith, who is notable by his coworkers as being likable, but not so important that they do not make their first thoughts upon his death an intense discussion about how each might benefit from his passing -- whether through promotion or increase in salary.

A deceptively simple tale, it is admirable in its brevity, succinctness, and even ordinariness. Reading this short novel reminded me of some of the existentialist works that I have read and studied over the years (think of Camus' The Stranger or The Plague).
Tolstoy's story is a meditation on the death of an every man, a bureaucrat whose life was anything but uncommon. Effortlessly, Tolstoy examines life’s shallow exteriors as well as its inner workings. And in the quotidian details of a life we see pageant of folly. After noting Ivan's rise to apparent success in chapter three, there begins a slow descent into illness and inevitably death. As death approaches there are signs ignored, reality deferred, and only slowly does wisdom emerge not like a dull moral lesson, but heavy, as if from a downpour, with all the weight, shine and freshness of real life. We see, vividly, Ivan Ilych’s errors until one day we realize that someone is looking at us as if we were a character in The Death of Ivan Ilych. This is a small book with a large impact on the reader. It is one that has not lost its power more than a century after its first appearance. In addition to The Death of Ivan Ilych this volume also includes the stories: The Kreutzer Sonata, Hadji Murad, and Family Happiness. ( )
  jwhenderson | Jan 18, 2012 |
Wow... This is such an unpleasant and disturbing read. In the Keutzer Sonata we've come lightyears, it would seem, from the Tolstoy I thought I knew. The Death of Ivan Ilych is as brilliant as anything else, but the Keutzer Sonata is the taint of Tolstoy's entire career in my opinion. Brilliant, in purely aesthetical terms, as always with Tolstoy, but the beliefs espoused in this novella (obviously Tolstoy's own) is so far removed from todays and seem so harsh and unrelenting that it becomes almost unbearable. I don't know what to think of it all. I loved Ivan Ilych so much that I would like to give it something beyond perfection, but felt so repulsed by the sonata that it rocked the entire pedestal upon which I had placed Tolstoy. It might just keel over... ( )
1 vote hampusforev | Jul 20, 2011 |
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» Add other authors (13 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Leo Tolstoyprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Duff, J. D.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Margarshack, DavidAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Maude, AlymerTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McLean, HughAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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FAMILY HAPPINESS: We were in mourning for my mother, who had died in the autumn, and we spent the whole winter in the country- Katya, Sonya, and I.
THE DEATH OF IVAN ILYCH: Inside the great building of the Law Courts, during the interval in the hearing of the Melvinsky case, the members of the judicial council and the public prosecutor were gathered together in the private room of Ivan Yegorovich Shebek, and the conversation turned upon the celebrated Krasovsky case.
THE KREUTZER SONATA: It was early spring.
HADJI MURAD: I was returning home by the fields.
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Book description
Introduction by Anthony Briggs
"The Raid"
"The Woodfelling"
"Three Deaths"
"Polikushka"
"The death of Ivan Ilyich"
"After the ball"
"The forged coupon"
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0451528808, Paperback)

Leo Tolstoy combined detailed physical description with perceptive psychological insight to sweep aside the sham of surface appearances and lay bare man's intimate gestures, acts, and thoughts. Murder and sacrifice...greed and devotion...lust and affection...vanity and love -- one by one, in this volume of great stories, Tolstoy dissects the basic drives, emotions, and motives of ordinary people searching for self-knowledge and spiritual perfection. Chekhov said, "Of authors my favorite is Tolstoy." And Turgenev "marveled at the strength of his huge talent...It sends a cold shudder even down my back...He is a master, a master."

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:48 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

The Death of Ivan Illych and Other Stories, by Elizabeth Gaskell, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:

  • New introductions commissioned from today's top writers and scholars
  • Biographies of the authors
  • Chronologies of contemporary historical, biographical, and cultural events
  • Footnotes and endnotes
  • Selective discussions of imitations, parodies, poems, books, plays, paintings, operas, statuary, and films inspired by the work
  • Comments by other famous authors
  • Study questions to challenge the reader's viewpoints and expectations
  • Bibliographies for further reading
  • Indices & Glossaries, when appropriateAll editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works.

    Chief among Tolstoy's shorter works is The Death of Ivan Ilych, a masterful meditation on the act of dying. The first major fictional work published by Tolstoy after a mid-life psychological crisis, this novella reflects the author's struggle to find meaning in life, a challenge Tolstoy resolved by developing a religious philosophy based on brotherly love, mutual support, and charity. These guiding principles are the dominant moral themes in The Death of Ivan Ilych, an account of the spiritual conversion of a judge—an ordinary, unthinking, vulgar man—in the face of his terrible fear about death.Also included in this volume are Family Happiness, an early work that traces the arc of a marriage; The Kreutzer Sonata, a frank tale of sexual love that shocked readers when it first appeared; and Hadji Murd, Tolstoy's final masterpiece about power politics, intrigue, and colonial conquest.David Goldfarb teaches Polish, Russian, and Comparative Literature at Barnard College and Columbia University. He has written about Witold Gombrowicz, Bruno Schulz, Zbigniew Herbert, Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz, Mikhail Lermontov, and Nikolai Gogol.… (more)

    » see all 7 descriptions

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141023600, 0140449612

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