The Death of Ivan Ilych
by Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy
Translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude
Distributed by the Tolstoy Library
During an interval in the Melvinski trial in the large building of the
Law Courts the members and public prosecutor met in Ivan Egorovich
Shebek's private room, where the conversation turned on the celebrated
Krasovski case. Fedor Vasilievich warmly maintained that it was not
subject to their jurisdiction, Ivan Egorovich maintained the contrary,
while Peter Ivanovich, not having entered into the discussion at the
start, took no part in it but looked through the Gazette which had just
been handed in.
"Gentlemen," he said, "Ivan Ilych has died!"
"You don't say so!"
"Here, read it yourself," replied Peter Ivanovich, handing Fedor
Vasilievich the paper still damp from the press. Surrounded by a black
border were the words: "Praskovya Fedorovna Golovina, with profound
sorrow, informs relatives and friends of the demise of her beloved
husband Ivan Ilych Golovin, Member of the Court of Justice, which
occurred on February the 4th of this year 1882. The funeral will take
place on Friday at one o'clock in the afternoon."
Ivan Ilych had been a colleague of the gentlemen present and was liked
by them all. He had been ill for some weeks with an illness said to be
incurable. His post had been kept open for him, but there had been
conjectures that in case of his death Alexeev might receive his
appointment, and that either Vinnikov or Shtabel would succeed Alexeev.
So on receiving the news of Ivan Ilych's death the first thought of
each of the gentlemen in that private room was of the changes and
promotions it might occasion among themselves or their acquaintances.
"I shall be sure to get Shtabel's place or Vinnikov's," thought Fedor
Vasilievich. "I was promised that long ago, and the promotion means an
extra eight hundred rubles a year for me besides the allowance."
"Now I must apply for my brother-in-law's transfer from Kaluga,"
thought Peter Ivanovich. "My wife will be very glad, and then she won't
be able to say that I never do anything for her relations."
"I thought he would never leave his bed again," said Peter Ivanovich
aloud. "It's very sad."
"But what really was the matter with him?"
"The doctors couldn't say -- at least they could, but each of them said
something different. When last I saw him I thought he was getting
"And I haven't been to see him since the holidays. I always meant to go."
"Had he any property?"
"I think his wife had a little -- but something quiet trifling."
"We shall have to go to see her, but they live so terribly far away."
"Far away from you, you mean. Everything's far away from your place."
"You see, he never can forgive my living on the other side of the
river," said Peter Ivanovich, smiling at Shebek. Then, still talking of
the distances between different parts of the city, they returned to the
Besides considerations as to the possible transfers and promotions
likely to result from Ivan Ilych's death, the mere fact of the death of
a near acquaintance aroused, as usual, in all who heard of it the
complacent feeling that, "It is he who is dead and not I."
Each one thought or felt, "Well, he's dead but I'm alive!" But the more
intimate of Ivan Ilych's acquaintances, his so-called friends, could
not help thinking also that they would now have to fulfil the very
tiresome demands of propriety by attending the funeral service and
paying a visit of condolence to the widow.
Fedor Vasilievich and Peter
Ivanovich had been closest to him.
considered himself to be under obligations to him.
Having told his wife at dinner-time of Ivan Ilych's death, and of his
conjecture that it might be possible to get her brother transferred to
their circuit, Peter Ivanovich sacrificed his usual nap, put on his
evening clothes and drove to Ivan Ilych's house.
At the entrance stood a carriage and two cabs. Leaning against the wall
in the hall downstairs near the cloakstand was a coffin-lid covered
with cloth of gold, ornamented with gold cord and tassels, that had
been polished up with metal powder. Two ladies in black were taking off
their fur cloaks. Peter Ivanovich recognized one of them as Ivan
Ilych's sister, but the other was a stranger to him. His colleague
Schwartz was just coming downstairs, but on seeing Peter Ivanovich
enter he stopped and winked at him, as if to say: "Ivan Ilych has made
a mess of things -- not like you and me."
Schwartz's face with his Piccadilly whiskers, and his slim figure in
evening dress, had as usual an air of elegant solemnity which
contrasted with the playfulness of his character and had a special
piquancy here, or so it seemed to Peter Ivanovich.
Peter Ivanovich allowed the ladies to precede him and slowly followed
them upstairs. Schwartz did not come down but remained where he was,
and Peter Ivanovich understood that he wanted to arrange where they
should play whist that evening. The ladies went upstairs to the
widow's room, and Schwartz with seriously compressed lips but a playful
look in his eyes, indicated by a twist of his eyebrows the room to the
right where the body lay.
Peter Ivanovich, like everyone else on such occasions, entered feeling
uncertain what he would have to do. All he knew was that at such times
it is always safe to cross oneself. But he was not quite sure whether
one should make obeisances while doing so. He therefore adopted a
middle course. On entering the room he began crossing himself and made
a slight movement resembling a bow. At the same time, as far as the
motion of his head and arm allowed, he surveyed the room. Two young men
-- apparently nephews, one of whom was a high-school pupil -- were
leaving the room, crossing themselves as they did so. An old woman was
standing motionless, and a lady with strangely arched eyebrows was
saying something to her in a whisper. A vigorous, resolute Church
Reader, in a frock-coat, was reading something in a loud voice with an
expression that precluded any contradiction. The butler's assistant,
Gerasim, stepping lightly in front of Peter Ivanovich, was strewing
something on the floor. Noticing this, Peter Ivanovich was immediately
aware of a faint odour of a decomposing body.
The last time he had called on Ivan Ilych, Peter Ivanovich had seen
Gerasim in the study. Ivan Ilych had been particularly fond of him and
he was performing the duty of a sick nurse.
Peter Ivanovich continued to make the sign of the cross slightly
inclining his head in an intermediate direction between the coffin, the
Reader, and the icons on the table in a corner of the room. Afterwards,
when it seemed to him that this movement of his arm in crossing himself
had gone on too long, he stopped and began to look at the body.
The dead man lay, as dead men always lie, in a specially heavy way, his
rigid limbs sunk in the soft cushions of the coffin, with the head
forever bowed on the pillow. His yellow waxen brow with bald patches
over his sunken temples was thrust up in the way peculiar to the dead,
the protruding nose seeming to press on the upper lip. He was much
changed and grown even thinner since Peter Ivanovich had last seen him,
but, as is always the case with the dead, his face had
acquired an expression
The expression on
the face said that what was necessary had been
expression a reproach and a warning to the living. This
warning seemed to
certain discomfort and so he hurriedly crossed himself once more and
turned and went out of the door -- too hurriedly and too regardless of
propriety, as he himself was aware.
Schwartz was waiting for him in the adjoining room with legs spread
wide apart and both hands toying with his top-hat behind his back. The
mere sight of that playful, well-groomed, and elegant figure refreshed
Peter Ivanovich. He felt that Schwartz was above all these happenings
and would not surrender to any depressing influences. His very look
said that this incident of a church service for Ivan Ilyich could not be
a sufficient reason for infringing the order of the session -- in other
words, that it would certainly not prevent his unwrapping a new pack of
cards and shuffling them that evening while a footman placed fresh
candles on the table: in fact, that there was no reason for supposing
that this incident would hinder their spending the evening agreeably.
Indeed he said this in a whisper as Peter Ivanovich passed him,
proposing that they should meet for a game at Fedor Vasilievich's.
But apparently Peter Ivanovich was not destined to play whist that
evening. Praskovya Fedorovna (a short, fat woman who despite all
efforts to the contrary had continued to broaden steadily from her
shoulders downwards and who had the same extraordinarily arched
eyebrows as the lady who had been standing by the coffin), dressed all
in black, her head covered with lace, came out of her own room with
some other ladies, conducted them to the room where the dead body lay,
"The service will begin immediately. Please go in."
Schwartz, making an indefinite bow, stood still, evidently neither
accepting nor declining this invitation. Praskovya Fedorovna
recognizing Peter Ivanovich, sighed, went close up to him, took his
hand, and said: "I know you were a true friend to Ivan Ilych . . . "
and looked at him awaiting some suitable response. And Peter Ivanovich
knew that, just as it had been the right thing to cross himself in that
room, so what he had to do here was to press her hand, sigh, and say,
"Believe me . . . " So he did all this and as he did it felt that the
desired result had been achieved: that both he and she were touched.
"Come with me. I want to speak to you before it begins," said the
widow. "Give me your arm."
Peter Ivanovich gave her his arm and they went to the inner rooms,
passing Schwartz who winked at Peter Ivanovich compassionately.
"That does for our whist! Don't object if we find another player.
Perhaps you can cut in when you do escape," said his playful look.
Peter Ivanovich sighed still more deeply and despondently, and
Praskovya Fedorovna pressed his arm gratefully. When they reached the
drawing-room, upholstered in pink cretonne and lighted by a dim lamp,
they sat down at the table -- she on a sofa and Peter Ivanovich on a
low pouffe, the springs of which yielded spasmodically under his
weight. Praskovya Fedorovna had been on the point of warning him to
take another seat, but felt that such a warning was out of keeping with
her present condition and so changed her mind.
As he sat down on
the pouffe Peter Ivanovich recalled how Ivan Ilych had
the table. Peter Ivanovich rose to detach it, and the springs of the
pouffe, relieved of his weight, rose also and gave him a push. The
widow began detaching her shawl herself, and Peter Ivanovich again sat
down, suppressing the rebellious springs of the pouffe under him. But
the widow had not quite freed herself and Peter Ivanovich got up again,
and again the pouffe rebelled and even creaked. When this was all over
she took out a clean cambric handkerchief and began to weep. The
episode with the shawl and the struggle with the pouffe had cooled
Peter Ivanovich's emotions and he sat there with a sullen look on his
face. This awkward situation was interrupted by Sokolov, Ivan Ilych's
butler, who came to report that the plot in the cemetery that Praskovya
Fedorovna had chosen would cost two hundred rubles. She stopped weeping
and, looking at Peter Ivanovich with the air of a victim, remarked in
French that it was very hard for her. Peter Ivanovich made a silent
gesture signifying his full conviction that it must indeed be so.
"Please smoke," she said in a magnanimous yet crushed voice, and turned
to discuss with Sokolov the price of the plot for the grave.
Peter Ivanovich while lighting his cigarette heard her inquiring very
circumstantially into the prices of different plots in the cemetery and
finally decide which she would take. When that was done she gave
instructions about engaging the choir. Sokolov then left the room.
"I look after everything myself," she told Peter Ivanovich, shifting
the albums that lay on the table; and noticing that the table was
endangered by his cigarette-ash, she immediately passed him an
ash-tray, saying as she did so: "I consider it an affectation to say
that my grief prevents my attending to practical affairs. On the
contrary, if anything can -- I won't say console me, but -- distract
me, it is seeing to everything concerning him." She again took out her
handkerchief as if preparing to cry, but suddenly, as if mastering her
feeling, she shook herself and began to speak calmly. "But there is
something I want to talk to you about."
Peter Ivanovich bowed, keeping control of the springs of the pouffe,
which immediately began quivering under him.
"He suffered terribly the last few days."
"Did he?" said Peter Ivanovich.
"Oh, terribly! He screamed unceasingly, not for minutes but for hours.
For the last three days he screamed incessantly. It was unendurable. I
cannot understand how I bore it; you could hear him three rooms off.
Oh, what I have suffered!"
"Is it possible that he was conscious all that time?" asked Peter
"Yes," she whispered. "To the last moment. He took leave of us a
quarter of an hour before he died, and asked us to take Volodya away."
The thought of the suffering of this man he had known so intimately,
first as a merry little boy, then as a schoolmate, and later as a
grown-up colleague, suddenly struck Peter Ivanovich with horror,
despite an unpleasant consciousness of his own and this woman's
dissimulation. He again saw that brow, and that nose pressing down on
the lip, and felt afraid for himself.
"Three days of frightful suffering and the death! Why, that might
suddenly, at any time, happen to me," he thought, and for a moment felt
terrified. But -- he did not himself know how -- the customary
reflection at once occurred to him that this had happened to Ivan Ilych
and not to him, and that it should not and could not happen to him, and
that to think that it could would be yielding to depressing which he
ought not to do, as Schwartz's expression plainly showed. After which
reflection Peter Ivanovich felt reassured, and began to ask with
interest about the details of Ivan Ilych's death, as though death was
an accident natural to Ivan Ilych but certainly not to himself.
After many details of the really dreadful physical sufferings Ivan
Ilych had endured (which details he learnt only from the effect those
sufferings had produced on Praskovya Fedorovna's nerves) the widow
apparently found it necessary to get to business.
"Oh, Peter Ivanovich, how hard it is! How terribly, terribly hard!" and
she again began to weep.
Peter Ivanovich sighed and waited for her to finish blowing her nose.
When she had done so he said, "Believe me . . . " and she again began
talking and brought out what was evidently her chief concern with him
-- namely, to question him as to how she could obtain a grant of money
from the government on the occasion of her husband's death. She made it
appear that she was asking Peter Ivanovich's advice about her pension,
but he soon saw that she already knew about that to the minutest
detail, more even than he did himself. She knew how much could be got
out of the government in consequence of her husband's death, but wanted
to find out whether she could not possibly extract something more.
Peter Ivanovich tried to think of some means of doing so, but after
reflecting for a while and, out of propriety, condemning the government
for its niggardliness, he said he thought that nothing more could be
got. Then she sighed and evidently began to devise means of getting rid
of her visitor. Noticing this, he put out his cigarette, rose, pressed
her hand, and went out into the hall.
In the dining-room where the clock stood that Ivan Ilych had liked so
much and had bought at an antique shop, Peter Ivanovich met a priest
and a few acquaintances who had come to attend the service, and he
recognized Ivan Ilych's daughter, a handsome young woman. She was in
black and her slim figure appeared slimmer than ever. She had a gloomy,
determined, almost angry expression, and bowed to Peter Ivanovich as
though he were in some way to blame. Behind her, with the same offended
look, stood a wealthy young man, an examining magistrate, whom Peter
Ivanovich also knew and who was her fiancée, as he had heard. He bowed
mournfully to them and was about to pass into the death-chamber, when
from under the stairs appeared the figure of Ivan Ilych's schoolboy
son, who was extremely like his father. He seemed a little Ivan Ilych,
such as Peter Ivanovich remembered when they studied law together. His
tear-stained eyes had in them the look that is seen in the eyes of boys
of thirteen or fourteen who are not pure-minded. When he saw Peter
Ivanovich he scowled morosely and shamefacedly. Peter Ivanovich nodded
to him and entered the death-chamber. The service began: candles,
groans, incense, tears, and sobs. Peter Ivanovich stood looking
gloomily down at his feet. He did not look once at the dead man, did
not yield to any depressing influence, and was one of the first to
leave the room. There was no one in the anteroom, but Gerasim darted
out of the dead man's room, rummaged with his strong hands among the
fur coats to find Peter Ivanovich's and helped him on with it.
"Well, friend Gerasim," said Peter Ivanovich, so as to say something.
"It's a sad affair, isn't it?"
"It's God's will. We shall all come to it someday," said Gerasim,
displaying his teeth -- the even white teeth of a healthy peasant --
and, like a man in the thick of urgent work, he briskly opened the
front door, called the coachman, helped Peter Ivanovich into the
sledge, and sprang back to the porch as if in readiness for what he had
to do next.
Peter Ivanovich found the fresh air particularly pleasant after the
smell of incense, the dead body, and carbolic acid.
"Where to sir?" asked the coachman.
"It's not too late even now. . . . I'll call round on Fedor
He accordingly drove there and found them just finishing the first
rubber, so that it was quite convenient for him to cut in.
Ivan Ilych's life had been most simple and most ordinary-- and
He had been a member of the Court of Justice, and died at the age of
forty-five. His father had been an official who after serving in
various ministries and departments in Petersburg had made the sort of
career which brings men to positions from which by reason of their long
service they cannot be dismissed, though they are obviously unfit to
hold any responsible position, and for whom therefore posts are
specially created, which though fictitious carry salaries of from six
to ten thousand rubles that are not fictitious, and in receipt of which
they live on to a ripe old age.
Such was the Privy Councillor and superfluous member of various
superfluous institutions, Ilya Epimovich Golovin.
He had three sons, of whom Ivan Ilych was the second. The eldest son
was following in his father's footsteps only in another department, and
was already approaching that stage in the service at which a similar
sinecure would be reached. The third son was a failure. He had ruined
his prospects in a number of positions and was not serving in the
railway department. His father and brothers, and still more their
wives, not merely disliked meeting him, but avoided remembering his
existence unless compelled to do so. His sister had married Baron
Greff, a Petersburg official of her father's type. Ivan Ilych was le
phenix de la famille as people said. He was neither as cold and punctilious
as his elder brother nor as reckless as the younger, but was a happy mean
between the two -- an intelligent, polished, lively and agreeable man. He
had studied with his younger brother at the School of Law, but the
latter had failed to complete the course and was expelled when he was
in the fifth class. Ivan Ilych finished the course creditably. Even when he
was at the School of Law he was just what he remained for the rest of
his life: a capable, cheerful, good-natured, and sociable man, though
strict in the fulfillment of what he considered to be his duty: and he
considered his duty all things so designated by those in authority.
Neither as a boy nor as a man had he been a toady, but from early youth was
by nature attracted to people of high station as a moth is drawn to the
light, assimilating their ways and views of life and establishing
friendly relations with them. All the enthusiasms of childhood and
youth passed without leaving much trace on him; he succumbed to
sensuality, to vanity, and in his last years at school to liberalism,
As a student he had done things which had formerly seemed to him very
horrid and made him feel disgusted with himself when he did them; but
when later on he saw that such actions were done by people of good
position and that they did not regard them as wrong, he was not quite able
to regard them as right, but managed to forget about them entirely and
not feel the least perturbed when he recalled them.
Having graduated from the School of Law and qualified for the tenth
rank of the civil service, and having received money from his father
for his equipment, Ivan Ilych ordered himself clothes at Scharmer's,
the fashionable tailor, hung a medallion inscribed respice finem on his
watch-chain, took leave of his professor and the prince who was patron
of the school, had a farewell dinner with his comrades at Donon's
first-class restaurant, and with his new and fashionable luggage,
linen, clothes, shaving and other toilet articles, and a traveling
rug, all ordered and purchased at the finest shops, he set off for one of the
provinces where through his father's influence, he had been attached to
the governor as an official for special service.
Ivan Ilych immediately arranged as easy and agreeable as it
In official matters, despite his youth and taste for frivolous gaiety,
he was exceedingly reserved, punctilious, and even severe; but in
society he was often playful and witty, and always good-natured,
correct in his manner, a bon enfant, as the governor and his wife --
with whom he was like one of the family -- used to say of him.
In the province
he had an affair with one of the ladies who threw themselves
drinking bouts with visiting aides-de-camps, and after-supper
trips to a
certain street on the outskirts of town; and there were also attempts
So Ivan Ilych served for five years and then came a change in his
official life. The new and reformed judicial institutions were
introduced, and new men were needed.
Ivan Ilych became such a new man.
He was offered the post of examining magistrate, and he accepted it
though the post was in another province and obliged him to give up the
connexions he had formed and establish new ones. His friends met to give
him a send-off; they had a group photograph taken and presented him
with a silver cigarette-case, and he set off to his new post.
As examining magistrate Ivan Ilych was just as comme il faut and
respectable a man, inspiring general respect and capable of separating his
official duties from his private life, as he had been when acting as an
official on special service. His duties now as examining magistrate
were fare more interesting and attractive than before. In his former
position it had been pleasant to wear an undress uniform made by
Scharmer, and to pass through the crowd of petitioners and officials
who were timorously awaiting an audience with the governor, and who
envied him as with free and easy gait he went straight into his chief's
private room to have a cup of tea and a cigarette with him. But not
many people had then been directly dependent on him -- only police
officials and the
religious sectarians when he went on special missions --
them feel that he who had the power to crush them was treating them in
this simple, friendly way. There were then but few such people. But
now, as an examining magistrate, Ivan Ilych felt that everyone without
exception, even the most important and self-satisfied, was in his
power, and that he need only write a few words on a sheet of paper with
a certain heading, and this or that important, self-satisfied person
would be brought before him in the role of an accused person or a
witness, and if he did not choose to allow him to sit down, would have
to stand before him and answer his questions. Ivan Ilych never abused
his power; he tried on the contrary to soften its expression, but the
consciousness of it and the possibility of softening its effect,
supplied the chief interest and attraction of his office. In his work
itself, especially in his examinations, he very soon acquired a method
of eliminating all considerations irrelevant to the legal aspect of the
case, and reducing even the most complicated case to a form in which it
would be presented on paper only in its externals, completely excluding
his personal opinion of the matter, while above all observing every
prescribed formality. The work was new and Ivan Ilych was one of the
first men to apply the new Code of 1864.
On taking up the post of examining magistrate in a new town, he made
new acquaintances and connexions, placed himself on a new footing and
assumed a somewhat different tone. He took up an attitude of rather
dignified aloofness towards the provincial authorities, but picked out
the best circle of legal gentlemen and wealthy gentry living in the
town and assumed a tone of mild dissatisfaction with the government,
of moderate liberalism, and of enlightened citizenship. At the same
time, without at all altering the elegance of his toilet, he ceased
shaving his chin and allowed his beard to grow as it pleased.
Ivan Ilych settled down very pleasantly in this new town. The society
there, which inclined towards opposition to the governor was friendly,
his salary was larger, and he began to play whist, which
he found added
After had worked
there for two years, Ivan Ilych met his future
relaxations from his labours as examining magistrate, Ivan
Ilych began a light
As an official on special comissions he had been accustomed
to dance, but now as an examining magistrate it was exceptional for him
to do so. If he danced now, he did it as if to show that though he
served under the reformed order of things, and had reached the fifth
official rank, yet when it came to dancing he could do it better than
most people. So at the end of an evening he sometimes danced with
Praskovya Fedorovna, and it was chiefly during these dances that he
captivated her. She fell in love with him. Ivan Ilych had at first no
definite intention of marrying, but when the girl fell in love with him
he said to himself: "Really, why shouldn't I marry?"
Praskovya Fedorovna came of a good family, was not bad looking, and had
a little money. Ivan Ilych might have aspired to a more brilliant
match, but even this was good. He had his salary, and she, he hoped,
would have an equal income. She was well connected, and was a sweet,
pretty, and thoroughly correct young woman. To say that Ivan Ilych
married because he fell in love with Praskovya Fedorovna and found that
she sympathized with his views of life would be as incorrect as to say
that he married because his social circle approved of the match. He was
swayed by both these considerations: the marriage gave him personal
satisfaction, and at the same time it was considered the right thing by
the most highly placed of his associates.
So Ivan Ilych got married.
The preparations for marriage and the beginning of married life, with
its conjugal caresses, new furniture, new crockery, and new linen,
were very pleasant until his wife became pregnant -- so that Ivan Ilych
had begun to think that marriage would not impair the easy, agreeable,
gay and always decorous character of his life, approved of by society
and regarded by himself as natural, but would even improve it. But from
the first months of his wife's pregnancy, something new, unpleasant,
depressing, and unseemly, and from which there was no way of escape,
unexpectedly showed itself.
His wife, without any reason -- de gaiete de coeur as Ivan Ilych
expressed it to himself -- began to disturb the pleasure and propriety
of their life. She began to be jealous without any cause, expected him
to devote his whole attention to her, found fault with everything, and
made coarse and ill-mannered scenes.
At first Ivan Ilych hoped to escape from the unpleasantness of this
state of affairs by the same easy and decorous relation to life that
had served him heretofore: he tried to ignore his wife's disagreeable
moods, continued to live in his usual easy and pleasant way, invited
friends to his house for a game of cards, and also tried going out to
his club or spending his evenings with friends. But one day his wife
began upbraiding him so vigorously, using such coarse words, and
continued to abuse him every time he did not satisfy her demands, so
resolutely and with such evident determination not to give way till he
submitted -- that is, till he stayed at home and was bored just as she
was -- that Ivan Ilych was
horrified. He now realized that matrimony --
pleasures and amenities of life, but on the contrary often infringed
both comfort and propriety, and that he must therefore entrench himself
against such disruptions. And Ivan Ilych began to seek for means of
doing so. His official duties were the one thing that imposed upon
Praskovya Fedorovna, and by means of his official work and the duties
attached to it he began struggling with his wife to secure his own
With the birth of the baby, the attempts to feed it and the various
failures in doing so, and with the real and imaginary illnesses of
mother and child,
in which Ivan Ilych's sympathy was demanded but
world for himself outside his family life became still more imperative.
As his wife grew more irritable and exacting and Ivan Ilych transferred
the center of gravity of his life more and more to his official work,
so did he grow to like his work better and became more ambitious than
Very soon, within a year of his wedding, Ivan Ilych had realized that
marriage, though it may add some comforts to life, is in fact a very
intricate and difficult affair , and that to do one's duty
to it, that is,
And Ivan Ilych evolved such an attitude towards married life. He only
required of it those conveniences -- dinner at home, housewife, and bed
-- which it could give him, and above all that propriety of external
forms required by public opinion. For the rest he looked for
lighthearted pleasure and propriety, and was very thankful when he
found them, but if he met with antagonism and querulousness he at once
retired into his separate fenced-off world of official duties, where he
Ivan Ilych was esteemed for his diligent service, and after
three years was
possibility of indicting and imprisoning anyone he chose, the publicity
his speeches received, and the success he had in all these things, made
his work still more attractive.
More children came. His wife became more and more petulant and
irascible, but the attitude Ivan Ilych had adopted towards his home
life rendered him almost impervious to her grumbling.
After seven years' service in that town he was transferred to another
province as Public Prosecutor. They moved, but were short of money and
his wife did not like the new town. Though the salary was higher
Praskovya Fedorovna blamed her husband for every inconvenience they
encountered in their new home. Most of the conversations between
husband and wife, especially as to the children's education, led to
topics which recalled former quarrels, and these quarrels were apt to
flare up again at any moment. There remained only those rare periods of
amorousness which still came to them at times but did not last long.
These were islets at which they anchored for a while and then again set
out upon a sea of veiled hostility which showed itself in their
aloofness from one another. This aloofness might have grieved Ivan
Ilych had he considered that it ought not to exist, but he now regarded
the position as normal, and even made it the goal at which he aimed in
family life. His aim was to free himself more and more from those
disturbances and to give them a semblance of harmlessness and
propriety. He attained this by spending less and less time with his
family, and when obliged to be at home he tried to safeguard his
position by the presence of outsiders. The chief thing however was that
he had his official duties. The whole interest of his life now centered
in the official world and that interest absorbed him. The consciousness
of his power, being able to ruin anybody he wished to ruin, the
importance, even the external dignity of his entry into court, or
meetings with his subordinates, his success with superiors and
inferiors, and above all his masterly handling of cases, of which he
was conscious -- all this gave him pleasure and filled his life,
together with chats with his colleagues, dinners, and bridge. So that
on the whole Ivan Ilych's life continued to flow as he considered it
should do -- pleasantly and properly.
So things continued for another seven years. His eldest daughter was
then sixteen, another child had died, and only one son was left, a
schoolboy and a subject of dissension. Ivan Ilych wanted to put him in
the School of Law, but to spite him Praskovya Fedorovna entered him at
the High School. The daughter had been educated at home and had turned
out well: the boy did not learn badly either.
Ivan Ilych spent seventeen years of his married life this way. He was
already a Public Prosecutor of long standing, and had declined several
proposed transfers while awaiting a more desirable post, when an
unanticipated and unpleasant occurrence quite upset the peaceful course
of his life. He was expecting to be offered the post of presiding judge
in a University town, but Hoppe somehow came to the front and obtained
the appointment instead. Ivan Ilych was infuriated, reproached Hoppe,
and quarrelled both him and with his immediate superiors -- who became
colder to him and again passed him over when other appointments were
This was in 1880, the hardest year of Ivan Ilych's life. It was then
that it became evident on the one hand that his salary was insufficient
for them to live on, and on the other that he had been forgotten, and
not only this, but that what was for him the most outrageous, heartless
injustice appeared to others a quite ordinary occurrence. Even his
father did not consider it his duty to help him. Ivan Ilych felt
himself abandoned by everyone, and that they regarded his position with
a salary of 3,500 rubles as quite normal and even fortunate. He alone
knew that with the consciousness of the injustices done him, with his
wife's incessant nagging, and with the debts he had contracted by
living beyond his means, his position was far from normal.
In order to save money that summer he obtained leave of absence and
went with his wife to live in the country at her brother's place.
In the country,
without his work, he experienced not only boredom
decided that it was impossible to go on living like that, and that it
was necessary to take energetic measures.
Having passed a sleepless night pacing up and down the veranda, he
decided to go to Petersburg and bestir himself, in order to punish
those who had failed to appreciate him and to get transferred to
Next day, despite many protests from his wife and her brother, he
started for Petersburg with the sole object of obtaining a post with a
salary of five thousand rubles a year. He was no longer bent on any
particular department, or tendency, or kind of activity. All he now
wanted was an appointment to another post with a salary of five
thousand rubles, either in the administration, in the banks, with the
railways in one of the Dowager Empress Marya's
And this quest of Ivan Ilych's was crowned with amazing and
unexpected success. At Kursk an acquaintance of his, F. I. Ilyin, got
into the first-class carriage, sat down beside Ivan Ilych, and told him
of a telegram just received by the governor of Kursk announcing that a
change was about to take place in the ministry: Peter Ivanovich was to
be superseded by Ivan Semonovich.
The proposed change, apart from its significance for Russia, had a
special significance for Ivan Ilych, because by bringing forward a new
man, Peter Petrovich, and consequently his friend Zachar Ivanovich, it
was highly favourable for Ivan Ilych, since Sachar Ivanovich was a
friend and colleague of his.
In Moscow this news was confirmed, and on reaching Petersburg Ivan
Ilych looked up Zachar Ivanovich and received a definite promise of an
appointment in his former Department of Justice.
A week later he telegraphed to his wife: "Zachar in Miller's place. I
shall receive appointment on presentation of report."
Thanks to this change of personnel, Ivan Ilych had unexpectedly
obtained an appointment in his former ministry which placed him two
states above his former colleagues besides giving him five thousand
rubles salary and three thousand five hundred rubles for expenses
connected with his removal. All his ill humour towards his former
enemies and the whole department vanished, and Ivan Ilych was
He returned to the country more cheerful and contented than he had been
for a long time. Praskovya Fedorovna also cheered up and a truce was
arranged between them. Ivan Ilych told of how he had been feted by
everybody in Petersburg, how all those who had been his enemies were
put to shame and now fawned on him, how envious they were of his
appointment, and how much everybody in Petersburg had liked him.
Praskovya Fedorovna listened to all this and appeared to believe it.
She did not
contradict anything, but devoted herself exclusively to
Ivan Ilych had come back for a short time only, for he had to take up
his new duties on the 10th of September. Moreover, he needed time to
settle into the new place, to move all his belongings from the
province, and to buy and order many additional things: in a word, to
make such arrangements as he had resolved on, which were almost exactly
what Praskovya Fedorovna too had decided on.
Now that everything had happened so fortunately, and that he and his
wife were at one in their aims and moreover saw so little of one
another, they got on together better than they had done since the first
years of marriage. Ivan Ilych had thought of taking his family away
with him at once, but the insistence of his wife's brother and her
sister-in-law, who had suddenly become particularly amiable and
friendly to him and his family, induced him to depart alone.
So he departed, and the cheerful state of mind induced by his success
and by the harmony between his wife and himself, the one intensifying
the other, did not leave him. He found a delightful apartment, just the
thing both he and his wife had dreamt of. Spacious, lofty reception
rooms in the old style, a convenient and dignified study, rooms for his
wife and daughter, a study for his son -- it might have been specially
built for them. Ivan Ilych himself superintended the arrangements,
chose the wallpapers, supplemented the furniture (preferably with
antiques which he considered particularly comme il faut), and
supervised the upholstering. Everything progressed until it
approached the ideal he had set himself: even when things were only
half completed they exceeded his expectations. He saw what a refined
and elegant character, free from vulgarity, it would all have when it
was ready. On falling asleep he pictured to himself how the reception
room would look. Looking at the yet unfinished drawing room he could
see the fireplace, the screen, the what-not, the little chairs dotted
here and there, the dishes and plates on the walls, and the bronzes, as
they would be when everything was in place. He was pleased by the
thought of how his wife and daughter, who shared his taste in this
matter, would be impressed by it. They were certainly not expecting as
much. He had been particularly successful in finding, and buying
cheaply, antiques which gave a decidedly aristocratic character to
the whole place. But in his letters he intentionally understated
everything in order to be able to surprise them. All this so engrossed
him that his new duties -- though he liked his official work --
interested him less than he had expected. Sometimes he even had moments
of absent-mindedness during the court sessions and would consider
whether he should have straight or curved cornices for his curtains. He
was so interested in it all that he often did things himself,
rearranging the furniture, or rehanging the curtains. Once when
mounting a step-ladder to show the upholsterer, who did not understand,
how he wanted the hangings draped, he made a false step and slipped, but
being a strong and agile man he clung on and merely banged his side
against the knob of the window frame. The bruised place was painful but
the pain soon passed, and he felt particularly bright and well just
then. He wrote: "I feel fifteen years younger." He thought he would
have everything ready by September, but it dragged on till mid-October.
But the result was charming not only in his eyes but to everyone who
In reality it was just what is usually seen in the houses of people of
moderate means who want to appear rich, and therefore succeed only in
resembling others like themselves: there are damasks, dark wood,
plants, rugs, and dull and polished bronzes -- all the things people of
a certain class have in order to resemble other people of that class.
His house was so like the others that it would never have been noticed,
but to him it all seemed to be quite exceptional. He was very happy
when he met his family at the station and brought them to the newly
furnished apartment all lit up, where a footman in a white tie opened the
door into the hall decorated with plants, and when they went on into
the drawing-room and the study uttering exclamations of delight. He
conducted them everywhere, drank in their praises eagerly, and beamed
with pleasure. At tea that evening, when Praskovya Fedorovna among
others things asked him about his fall, he laughed, and showed them how
he had gone flying off the stepladder and had frightened the upholsterer.
"It's a good thing I'm a bit of an athlete. Another man might have been
killed, but I merely knocked myself, just here; it hurts when it's
touched, but it's passing off already -- it's only a bruise."
So they began living in their new quarters -- in which, as always happens,
when they got thoroughly settled in they found they were just one room
short -- and with the increased income, which as always was just a
little (some five hundred rubles) too little, but it was all very nice.
Things went particularly well at first, before everything was finally
arranged and while something had still to be done: this thing bought,
that thing ordered, another thing moved, and something else adjusted.
Though there were some disputes between husband and wife, they were
both so well satisfied and had so much to do that it all passed off
without any serious quarrels. When nothing was left to arrange it
became rather dull and something seemed to be lacking, but they were
then making acquaintances, forming habits, and life was growing fuller.
Ivan Ilych spent his mornings at the law court and came home to diner,
and at first he was generally in a good spirits, though he occasionally
became irritable just on account of his house. (Every spot on the
tablecloth or the upholstery, and every broken window-blind string,
irritated him. He had devoted so much trouble to arranging it all that
every disturbance of it distressed him.) But on the whole his life ran
its course as he believed life should do: easily, pleasantly, and
He got up at nine, drank his coffee, read the paper, and then put on
his uniform and went to the law courts. there the harness in
which he worked had already been stretched to fit him and he donned it
without a hitch: petitioners, inquiries at the chancery, the chancery
itself, and the sittings public and administrative. In all this the
thing was to exclude everything fresh and vital, which always disturbs
the regular course of official business, and to admit only official
relations with people, and then only on official grounds. A man would
come, for instance, wanting some information. Ivan Ilych, as one in
whose sphere the matter did not lie, would have nothing to do with him:
but if the man had some business with him in his official capacity,
something that could be expressed on officially stamped paper, he would
do everything, positively everything he could within the limits of such
relations, and in doing so would maintain the semblance of friendly
human relations, that is, would observe the courtesies of life. As soon
as the official relations ended, so did everything else. Ivan Ilych
possessed this capacity to separate his real life from the official
side of affairs and not mix the two, in the highest degree, and by long
practice and natural aptitude had brought it to such a pitch that
sometimes, like a virtuoso, he would even allow himself to
let the human and official relations mingle. He let himself do this
just because he felt that he could at any time he chose resume the
strictly official attitude again and drop the human relation. and he
did it all easily, pleasantly, correctly, and even artistically. In the
intervals between the sessions he smoked, drank tea, chatted a little
about politics, a little about general topics, a little about cards,
but most of all about official appointments. Tired, but with the
feelings of a virtuoso -- one of the first violins who has played his
part in an orchestra with precision -- he would return home to find
that his wife and daughter had been out paying calls, or had a visitor,
and that his son had been to school, had done his homework with his
tutor, and was surely learning what is taught at High Schools.
Everything was as it should be. After dinner, if they had no visitors,
Ivan Ilych sometimes read a book that was being much discussed at the
time, and in the evening settled down to work, that is, read official
papers, compared the depositions of witnesses, and noted paragraphs of
the Code applying to them. This was neither dull nor amusing. It was
dull when he might have been playing whist, but if no whist was
available it was at any rate better than doing nothing or sitting with
his wife. Ivan Ilych's chief pleasure was giving little dinners to
which he invited men and women of good social position, and just as his
drawing-room resembled all other drawing-rooms so did his enjoyable
little parties resemble all other such parties.
Once they even had
en evening party with dancing. Ivan Ilych enjoyed
confectioner and ordered too many cakes, and the quarrel occurred
because some of those cakes were left over and the confectioner's bill
came to forty-five rubles. It was a great and disagreeable quarrel.
Praskovya Fedorovna called him "a fool and an imbecile," and he
clutched at his head and made angry allusions to divorce.
But the party itself had been enjoyable. The best people were there,
and Ivan Ilych had danced with Princess Trufonova, a sister of the
distinguished founder of the Society "Bear My Burden".
The pleasures connected with his work were those of pride; his
social pleasures were those of vanity; but Ivan Ilych's greatest
pleasure was playing whist. He acknowledged that whatever disagreeable
in his life, the pleasure that beamed like a bright candle
players, not noisy partners, and of course to a four-handed game (with
five players it was annoying to have to stand out, though one pretended
not to mind), to play a clever and serious game (when the cards allowed
it) and then to have supper and drink a glass of wine. after a game of
whist, especially if he had won a little (to win a large sum was
unpleasant), Ivan Ilych went to bed in a particularly good mood.
So they lived. They formed a circle of acquaintances among the best
people and were visited by people of importance and by young folk. In
their views as to their acquaintances, husband, wife and daughter were
entirely agreed, and tacitly and unanimously kept at arm's length and
shook off the various shabby friends and relations who, with much show
of affection, gushed into the drawing-room with its Japanese plates on
the walls. Soon these shabby friends ceased to obtrude themselves and
only the best people remained in the Golovins' set.
Young men made up to Lisa, and Petrishchev, an examining magistrate and
Dmitri Ivanovich Petrishchev's son and sole heir, began to be so
attentive to her that Ivan Ilych had already spoken to Praskovya
Fedorovna about it, and considered whether they should not arrange a
party for them, or get up some private theatricals.
So they lived, and all went well, without change, and life flowed
They were all in good health. It could not be called ill health if Ivan
Ilych sometimes said that he had a queer taste in his mouth and felt
some discomfort in his left side.
But this discomfort increased and, though not exactly painful, grew
into a sense of pressure in his side made him ill tempered. And his
irritability became worse and worse and began to mar the agreeable,
easy, and correct life that had established itself in the Golovin
family. Quarrels between husband and wife became more and more
frequent, and soon the ease and amenity disappeared and even the
propriety was barely maintained. Scenes again became frequent, and very
few of those islets remained on which husband and wife could meet
without an explosion. Praskovya Fedorovna now had good reason to say
that her husband's temper was trying. With characteristic exaggeration
she said he had always had a dreadful temper, and that it had needed
all her good nature to put up with it for twenty years. It was true
that now the quarrels were started by him. His bursts of temper always
came just before dinner, often just as he began to eat his soup.
Sometimes he noticed that a plate or dish was chipped, or the food was
not right, or his son put his elbow on the table, or his daughter's
hair was not done as he liked it, and for all this he blamed Praskovya
Fedorovna. At first she retorted and said disagreeable things to him,
but once or twice he fell into such a rage at the beginning of dinner
that she realized it was due to some physical derangement brought on by
taking food, and so she restrained herself and did not answer, but only
hurried to get the dinner over. She regarded this self-restraint as
highly praiseworthy. Having come to the conclusion that her husband had
a dreadful temper and made her life miserable, she began to feel sorry
for herself, and the more she pitied herself the more she hated her
husband. She began to wish he would die; yet she did not want him to
die because then his salary would cease. And this irritated her against
him still more. She considered herself dreadfully unhappy just because
not even his death could save her, and though she concealed her
exasperation, that hidden exasperation of hers increased his irritation
After one scene in which Ivan Ilych had been particularly unfair and
after which he had said in explanation that he certainly was irritable
but that it was due to his not being well, she said that he was ill it
should be attended to, and insisted on his going to see a celebrated
He went. Everything took place as he had expected and as it always
does. There was the usual waiting and the important air assumed by the
doctor, with which he was so familiar (resembling that which he himself
assumed in court), and the tapping and listening, and the questions
which called for answers that were foregone conclusions and were
evidently unnecessary, and the look of importance which implied that
"if only you put yourself in our hands we will arrange everything -- we
know exactly how it has to be done, always in the same way for
everybody alike." It was all just as it was in the law courts. The
doctor put on just the same air towards him as he himself put on
towards an accused person.
The doctor said that so-and-so indicated that there was so-and-so
inside the patient, but if the investigation of so-and-so did not
confirm this, then he must assume that and that. If he assumed that and
that, then . . . and so on. To Ivan Ilych only one question was
important: was his case serious or not? But the doctor ignored that
inappropriate question. From his point of view it was not the one under
consideration, the real question was to decide between a floating
kidney, chronic catarrh, or appendicitis. It was not a question the
doctor solved brilliantly, as it seemed to Ivan Ilych, in favour of the
appendix, with the reservation that should an examination of the urine
give fresh indications the matter would be reconsidered. All this was
just what Ivan Ilych had himself brilliantly accomplished a thousand
times in dealing with men on trial. The doctor summed up just as
brilliantly, looking over his spectacles triumphantly and even gaily at
the accused. From the doctor's summing up Ivan Ilych concluded that
things were bad, but that for the doctor, and perhaps for everybody
else, it was a matter of indifference, though for him it was bad. And
this conclusion struck him painfully, arousing in him a great feeling
of pity for himself and of bitterness towards the doctor's indifference
to a matter of such importance.
He said nothing of this, but rose, placed the doctor's fee on the
table, and remarked with a sigh: "We sick people probably often put
inappropriate questions. But tell me, in general, is this complaint
dangerous, or not? . . . "
The doctor looked at him sternly over his spectacles with one eye, as
if to say: "Prisoner, if you will not keep to the questions put to you,
I shall be obliged to have you removed from the court."
"I have already told you what I consider necessary and proper. The
analysis may show something more." And the doctor bowed.
Ivan Ilych went out slowly, seated himself disconsolately in his
sledge, and drove home. All the way home he was going over what the
doctor had said, trying to translate those complicated, obscure,
scientific phrases into plain language and find in them an answer to
the question: "Is my condition bad? Is it very bad? Or is there as yet
nothing much wrong?" And it seemed to him that the meaning of what the
doctor had said was that it was very bad. Everything in the streets
seemed depressing. The cabmen, the houses, the passers-by, and the
shops, were dismal. His ache, this dull gnawing ache that never ceased
for a moment, seemed to have acquired a new and more serious
significance from the doctor's dubious remarks. Ivan Ilych now watched
it with a new and oppressive feeling.
He reached home and began to tell his wife about it. She listened, but
in the middle of his account his daughter came in with her hat on,
ready to go out with her mother. She sat down reluctantly to listen to
this tedious story, but could not stand it long, and her mother too did
not hear him to the end.
"Well, I am very glad," she said. "Mind now to take your medicine
regularly. Give me the prescription and I'll send Gerasim to the
chemist's." And she went to get ready to go out.
While she was in the room Ivan Ilych had hardly taken time to breathe,
but he sighed deeply when she left it.
"Well," he thought, "perhaps it isn't so bad after all."
He began taking his medicine and following the doctor's directions,
which had been altered after the examination of the urine. but then it
happened that there was a contradiction between the indications drawn
from the examination of the urine and the symptoms that showed
themselves. It turned out that what was happening differed from what
the doctor had told him, and that he had either forgotten or blundered,
or hidden something from him. He could not, however, be blamed for
that, and Ivan Ilych still obeyed his orders implicitly and at first
derived some comfort from doing so.
From the time of his visit to the doctor, Ivan Ilych's chief occupation
was the exact fulfillment of the doctor's instructions regarding
hygiene and the taking of medicine, and the observation of his pain and
his bodily functions. His chief interest came to be people's ailments and
people's health. When sickness, deaths, or recoveries were mentioned in
his presence, especially when the illness resembled his own, he
listened with agitation which he tried to hide, asked questions, and
applied what he heard to his own case.
The pain did not grow less, but Ivan Ilych made efforts to force
himself to think that he was better. And he could do this so long as
nothing agitated him. But as soon as he had any unpleasantness with his
wife, any lack of success in his official work, or held bad cards at
whist, he was at once acutely sensible of his disease. He had formerly
borne such mischances, hoping soon to adjust what was wrong, to master
it and attain success, or make a grand slam. But now every mischance
upset him and plunged him into despair. He would say to himself: "There
now, just as I was beginning to get better and the medicine had begun
to take effect,
comes this accursed misfortune, or unpleasantness . . ."
causing the unpleasantness and killing him, for he felt that this fury
was killing him but he could not restrain it. One would have thought
that it should have been clear to him that this exasperation with
circumstances and people aggravated his illness, and that he ought
therefore to ignore unpleasant occurrences. But he drew the very
opposite conclusion: he said that he needed peace, and he watched for
everything that might disturb it and became irritable at the slightest
infringement of it. His condition was rendered worse by the fact that
he read medical books and consulted doctors. The progress of his
disease was so gradual that he could deceive himself when comparing one
day with another -- the difference was so slight. But when he consulted
the doctors it seemed to him that he was getting worse, and even very
rapidly. Yet despite this he was continually consulting them.
That month he
went to see another celebrated physician, who told him
and the interview with this celebrity only increased Ivan Ilych's
doubts and fears. A friend of a friend of his, a very good doctor,
diagnosed his illness again quite differently from the others, and
though he predicted recovery, his questions and suppositions bewildered
Ivan Ilych still more and increased his doubts. A homeopathist
diagnosed the disease in yet another way, and prescribed medicine which
Ivan Ilych took secretly for a week. But after a week, not feeling any
improvement and having lost confidence both in the former doctor's
treatment and in this one's, he became still more despondent. One day a
lady acquaintance mentioned a cure effected by a wonder-working icon.
Ivan Ilych caught himself listening attentively and beginning to
believe that it had occurred. This incident alarmed him. "Has my mind
really weakened to such an extent?" he asked himself. "Nonsense! It's
all rubbish. I mustn't give way to nervous fears but having chosen a
doctor must keep strictly to his treatment. That is what I will do. Now
it's all settled. I won't think about it, but will follow the treatment
seriously till summer, and then we shall see. From now there must be no
more of this wavering!"
This was easy to
say but impossible to carry out. The pain
more incessant, while the taste in his mouth grew stranger and
stranger. It seemed to him that his breath had a disgusting smell, and
he was conscious of a loss of appetite and strength. There was no
deceiving himself: something terrible, new, and more important than
anything before in his life, was taking place within him of which he
alone was aware. Those about him did not understand or would not
understand it, but thought everything in the world was going on as
usual. That tormented Ivan Ilych more than anything. He saw that his
household, especially his wife and daughter who were in a perfect whirl
of visiting, did not understand anything of it and were annoyed that he
was so depressed and so exacting, as if he were to blame for it. Though
they tried to disguise it he saw that he was an obstacle in their path,
and that his wife had adopted a definite line in regard to his illness
and kept to it regardless of anything he said or did. Her attitude was
this: "You know," she would say to her friends, "Ivan Ilych can't do as
other people do, and keep to the treatment prescribed for him. One day
he'll take his drops and keep strictly to his diet and go to bed in
good time, but the next day unless I watch him he'll suddenly forget
his medicine, eat sturgeon -- which is forbidden -- and sit up playing
cards till one o'clock in the morning."
"Oh, come, when was that?" Ivan Ilych would ask in vexation. "Only once
at Peter Ivanovich's."
"And yesterday with Shebek."
"Well, even if I hadn't stayed up, this pain would have kept me awake."
"Be that as it may you'll never get well like that, but will always
make us wretched."
Praskovya Fedorovna's attitude to Ivan Ilych's illness, as she
expressed it both to others and to him, was that it was his own fault
and was another of the annoyances he caused her. Ivan Ilych felt that
this opinion escaped her involuntarily -- but that did not make it
easier for him.
At the law courts too, Ivan Ilych noticed, or thought he noticed, a
strange attitude towards himself. It sometimes seemed to him that
people were watching him inquisitively as a man whose place might soon
be vacant. Then again, his friends would suddenly begin to chaff him in
a friendly way about his low spirits, as if the awful, horrible, and
unheard-of thing that was going on within him, incessantly gnawing at
him and irresistibly drawing him away, was a very agreeable subject for
jests. Schwartz in particular irritated him by his
jocularity, vivacity, and
Friends came to make up a set and they sat down to cards. They dealt,
bending the new cards to soften them, and he sorted the diamonds in his
hand and found he had seven. His partner said "No trumps" and supported
him with two diamonds. What more could be wished for? It ought to be
jolly and lively. They would make a grand slam. But suddenly Ivan Ilych
was conscious of that gnawing pain, that taste in his mouth, and it
seemed ridiculous that in such circumstances he should be pleased to
make a grand slam.
He looked at his partner Mikhail Mikhaylovich, who rapped the table
with his strong hand and instead of snatching up the tricks pushed the
cards courteously and indulgently towards Ivan Ilych that he might have
the pleasure of gathering them up without the trouble of stretching out
his hand for them. "Does he think I am too weak to stretch out my arm?"
thought Ivan Ilych, and forgetting what he was doing he over-trumped
his partner, missing the grand slam by three tricks. And what was most
awful of all was that he saw how upset Mikhail Mikhaylovich was about
it but did not himself care. And it was dreadful to realize why he did
They all saw that he was suffering, and said: "We can stop if you are
tired. Take a rest." Lie down? No, he was not at all tired, and he
finished the rubber. All were gloomy and silent. Ivan Ilych felt that
he had diffused this gloom over them and could not dispel it. They had
supper and went away, and Ivan Ilych was left alone with the
consciousness that his life was poisoned and was poisoning the lives of
others, and that this poison did not weaken but penetrated more and
more deeply into his whole being.
With this consciousness, and with physical pain besides the terror, he
must go to bed, often to lie awake the greater part of the night. Next
morning he had to get up again, dress, go to the law courts, speak, and
write; or if he did not go out, spend at home those twenty-four hours a
day each of which was a torture. And he had to live thus all alone on
the brink of an abyss, with no one who understood or pitied him.
So one month passed and then another. Just before the New Year his
brother-in-law came to town and stayed at their house. Ivan Ilych was
at the law courts and Praskovya Fedorovna had gone shopping. When Ivan
Ilych came home and entered his study he found his brother-in-law there
-- a healthy, florid man -- unpacking his portmanteau himself. He
raised his head on hearing Ivan Ilych's footsteps and looked up at him
for a moment without a word. That stare told Ivan Ilych everything. His
brother-in-law opened his mouth to utter an exclamation of surprise but
checked himself, and that action confirmed it all.
"I have changed, eh?"
"Yes, there is a change."
And after that, try as he would to get his brother-in-law to return to
the subject of his looks, the latter would say nothing about it.
Praskovya Fedorovna came home and her brother went out to her. Ivan
Ilych locked to door and began to examine himself in the glass, first
full face, then in profile. He took up a portrait of himself taken with
his wife, and compared it with what he saw in the glass. The change in
him was immense. Then he bared his arms to the elbow, looked at them,
drew the sleeves down again, sat down on an ottoman, and grew blacker
"No, no, this won't do!" he said to himself, and jumped up, went to the
table, took up some law papers and began to read them, but could not
continue. He unlocked the door and went into the reception-room. The
door leading to the drawing-room was shut. He approached it on tiptoe
"No, you are exaggerating!" Praskovya Fedorovna was saying.
"Exaggerating! Don't you see it? Why, he's a dead man! Look at his eyes
-- there's no life in them. But what is it that is wrong with him?"
"No one knows. Nikolaevich [that was another doctor] said something,
but I don't know what. And Seshchetitsky [this was the celebrated
specialist] said quite the contrary . . . "
Ivan Ilych walked away, went to his own room, lay down, and began
musing; "The kidney, a floating kidney." He recalled all the doctors
had told him of how it detached itself and swayed about. And by an
effort of imagination he tried to catch that kidney and arrest it and
support it. So little was needed for this, it seemed to him. "No, I'll
go to see Peter Ivanovich again." [That was the friend whose friend was
a doctor.] He rang, ordered the carriage, and got ready to go.
"Where are you going, Jean?" asked his wife with a specially sad and
exceptionally kind look.
This exceptionally kind look irritated him. He looked morosely at her.
"I must go to see Peter Ivanovich."
He went to see Peter Ivanovich, and together they went to see his
friend, the doctor. He was in, and Ivan Ilych had a long talk with him.
Reviewing the anatomical and physiological details of what in the
doctor's opinion was going on inside him, he understood it all.
There was something, a small thing, in the vermiform appendix. It might
all come right. Only stimulate the energy of one organ and check the
activity of another, then absorption would take place and everything
would come right.
He got home rather late for dinner, ate his dinner, and conversed
cheerfully, but could not for a long time bring himself to go back
to work in his room. At last, however, he went to his study and did
what was necessary, but the consciousness that he had put something
aside -- an important, intimate matter which he would revert to when
his work was done -- never left him. When he had finished his
work he remembered that this intimate matter was the thought of his
vermiform appendix. But he did not give himself up to it, and went to
the drawing-room for tea. There were callers there, including the
examining magistrate who was a desirable match for his daughter, and
they were conversing, playing the piano, and singing. Ivan Ilych, as
Praskovya Fedorovna remarked, spent that evening more cheerfully than
usual, but he never for a moment forgot that he had postponed the
important matter of the appendix. At eleven o'clock he said goodnight
and went to his bedroom. Since his illness he had slept alone in a
small room next to his study. He undressed and took up a novel by Zola,
but instead of reading it he fell into thought, and in his imagination
that desired improvement in the vermiform appendix occurred. There was
the absorption and evacuation and the re-establishment of normal
activity. "Yes, that's it!" he said to himself. "One need only assist
nature, that's all." He remembered his medicine, rose, took it, and lay
down on his back watching for the beneficent action of the medicine and
for it to lessen the pain. "I need only take it regularly and avoid all
injurious influences. I am already feeling better, much better." He
began touching his side: it was not painful to the touch. "There, I
really don't feel it. It's much better already." He put out the light
and turned on his side . . . "The appendix is getting better,
absorption is occurring." Suddenly he felt the old, familiar, dull,
gnawing pain, stubborn and serious. There was the same familiar
loathsome taste in his mouth. His heart sand and he felt dazed. "My
God! My God!" he muttered. "Again, again! And it will never cease." And
suddenly the matter presented itself in a quite different aspect.
"Vermiform appendix! Kidney!" he said to himself. "It's not a question
of appendix or kidney, but of life and . . . death. Yes, life was there
and now it is going, going and I cannot stop it. Yes. Why deceive
myself? Isn't it obvious to everyone but me that I'm dying, and that
it's only a question of weeks, days . . . it may happen this moment.
There was light and now there is darkness. I was here and now I'm going
there! Where?" A chill came over him, his breathing ceased, and he felt
only the throbbing of his heart.
"When I am not, what will there be? There will be nothing. Then where
shall I be when I am no more? Can this be dying? No, I don't want to!"
He jumped up and tried to light the candle, felt for it with trembling
hands, dropped candle and candlestick on the floor, and fell back on
"What's the use? It makes no difference," he said to himself, staring
with wide-open eyes into the darkness. "Death. Yes, death. And none of
them knows or wishes to know it, and they have no pity for me. Now they
are playing." (He heard through the door the distant sound of a song
and its accompaniment.) "It's all the same to them, but they will die
too! Fools! I first, and they later, but it will be the same for them.
And now they are merry . . . the beasts!"
Anger choked him and he was agonizingly, unbearably miserable. "It is
impossible that all men have been doomed to suffer this awful horror!"
He raised himself.
"Something must be wrong. I must calm myself -- must think it all over
from the beginning." And he again began thinking. "Yes, the beginning
of my illness: I knocked my side, but I was still quite well that day
and the next. It hurt a little, then rather more. I saw the doctors,
then followed despondency and anguish, more doctors, and I drew nearer
to the abyss. My strength grew less and I kept coming nearer and
nearer, and now I have wasted away and there is no light in my eyes. I
think of the appendix -- but this is death! I think of mending the
appendix, and all the while here is death! Can it really be death?"
Again terror seized him and he gasped for breath. He leant down and
began feeling for the matches, pressing with his elbow on the stand
beside the bed. It was in his way and hurt him, he grew furious with
it, pressed on it still harder, and upset it. Breathless and in despair
he fell on his back, expecting death to come immediately.
Meanwhile the visitors were leaving. Praskovya Fedorovna was seeing
them off. She heard something fall and came in.
"What has happened?"
"Nothing. I knocked it over accidentally."
She went out and returned with a candle. He lay there panting heavily,
like a man who has run a thousand yards, and stared upwards at her with
a fixed look.
"What is it, Jean?"
"No . . . o . . . thing. I upset it." ("Why speak of it? She won't
understand," he thought.)
And in truth she did not understand. She picked up the stand, lit his
candle, and hurried away to see another visitor off. When she came back
he still lay on his back, looking upwards.
"What is it? Do you feel worse?"
She shook her head and sat down.
"Do you know, Jean, I think we must ask Leshchetitsky to come and see
This meant calling in the famous specialist, regardless of expense. He
smiled malignantly and said "No." She remained a little longer and then
went up to him and kissed his forehead.
While she was kissing him he hated her from the bottom of his soul and
with difficulty refrained from pushing her away.
"Good night. Please God you'll sleep."
Ivan Ilych saw that he was dying, and he was in continual despair.
In the depth of his heart he knew he was dying, but not only was he un-
accustomed to the thought, he simply could not
grasp it, could not grasp
The syllogism he had learnt from Kiesewetter's Logic: "Caius is a man,
men are mortal, therefore Caius is mortal," had always seemed to him
correct as applied to Caius, but certainly not as applied to himself.
That Caius -- man in the abstract -- was mortal, was perfectly correct,
but he was not Caius, not an abstract man, but a creature quite, quite
separate from all others. He had been little Vanya, with a mamma and a
papa, with Mitya and Volodya, with the toys, a coachman and a nurse,
and later with Katenka-- Vanya, with all the joys, griefs, and delights of
childhood, boyhood, and youth. What did Caius know of the smell of that
little striped leather ball Vanya had been so fond of? Had Caius ever kissed
his mother's hand like that, and had the silk of her dress ever rustled so for
Caius? Had Caius ever rioted at school when the pastry was bad? Had
he ever been so much in love? Or presided so well at a court session?
"Caius really was mortal, and it was right for him to die; but for
me, little Vanya, Ivan Ilych, with all my thoughts and feelings, it's
altogether a different matter. It cannot be that I ought to die. That
would be too terrible."
Such was his feeling.
"If I had to die like Caius, I would have known it. An inner voice
would have told me so, but I was never aware of any such thing,
and I and all my friends-- we knew our case was quite different from
that of Caius, and now here it is!" he said to himself. "It can't be.
It's impossible! But here it is. How is this? How is one to understand
He could not understand it and tried to drive this false, incorrect,
morbid thought away and to replace it by other proper and healthy
thoughts. But that thought-- not just the thought but, it seemed,
the reality itself-- kept coming back and confronting him.
And to replace that thought he called up a succession of others, hoping
to find in them some support. He tried to get back into the former
current of thoughts that had once screened the thought of death from
him. But strange to say, all that had formerly shut off, hidden, and
destroyed his consciousness of death, no longer had that effect. Ivan
Ilych now spent most of his time in attempting to re-establish that old
current. He would say to himself: "I will take up my duties again --
after all I used to live by them." And banishing all doubts he would go
to the law courts, enter into conversation with his colleagues, and sit
carelessly as was his wont, scanning the crowd with a thoughtful look
and leaning both his emaciated arms on the arms of his oak chair;
bending over as usual to a colleague and drawing his papers nearer he
would interchange whispers with him, and then suddenly raising his eyes
and sitting erect would pronounce certain words and open the
proceedings. But suddenly in the midst of those proceedings the pain in
his side, regardless of the stage the proceedings had reached, would
begin its own gnawing work. Ivan Ilych would turn his attention to it
and try to drive the thought of it away, but the pain went right on with its work.
And then It would come and stand before him and stare at him, and he would be
petrified, the light would die out of his eyes, and he would again begin
asking himself, "Can It alone be true?" And his colleagues and
subordinates would see with surprise and distress that he, the
brilliant and subtle judge, was becoming confused and making mistakes.
He would shake himself, try to regain his composure, somehow bring
the sitting to a close, and return home sadly aware that his judicial labours
could no longer hide what he wanted them to hide, and could not deliver
him from It. And the worst thing was that It drew his attention to itself
not in order to make him take some action but only that he should look
at It, look It straight in the face, and doing nothing, suffer unspeakable agony.
And to save himself from this condition Ivan Ilych looked for
consolations -- new screens -- and new screens were found and for a
while seemed to save him, but then they immediately fell to pieces or
rather became transparent, as if It penetrated them and nothing could
In these latter days he would go into the drawing-room he had furnished
-- that drawing-room where he had fallen and for the sake of which (how
bitterly ridiculous it seemed) he had sacrificed his life -- for he
knew that his illness originated with that knock. He would enter and
see that something had scratched the polished table. He would look for
the cause of this and find that it was the bronze ornamentation of an
album, that had got bent. He would take up the expensive album which he
had lovingly arranged, and feel vexed with his daughter and her friends
for their untidiness -- for the album was torn here and there and some
of the photographs turned upside down. He would put it carefully in
order and bend the ornamentation back into position. Then it would
occur to him to place all those things in another corner of the room,
near the plants. He would call the footman, but his daughter or wife
would come to help him. They would not agree, and his wife would
contradict him, and he would dispute and grow angry. But that was all
right, for then he did not think about It. It was invisible.
But then, when he was moving something himself, his wife would say:
"Let the servants do it. You will hurt yourself again." And suddenly It
would flash through the screen and he would see It. It was just a
flash, so he hoped It would disappear, but he involuntarily became
aware of his side: the pain was there gnawing away at him, and he
flowers. What was the point of it all?
"It really is so! I lost my life over that curtain as I might have done
when storming a fort. Is that possible? How awful and how stupid. It
can't be true! It can't be, yet it is."
He would go to
his study, lay down, and once again was alone with It:
and grow numb with horror.
How it happened
it is impossible to say because it came about gradually,
his daughter, his son, his acquaintances, the doctors, the
servants, and-- above all-- he himself knew that the only interest
he had for others was whether he would soon vacate his place, free
released from his sufferings.
He slept less and
less. He was given opium and morphine injections,
a semi-conscious condition at first gave him a little relief, but only as
a new sensation, but then it became as agonizing, if not more so, than
Special foods were prepared for him by the doctors' orders, but all
those foods became increasingly distasteful and disgusting to him.
Special arrangements, too, were made for his bowel movements, and this
was a regular torture -- a torture because of the filth, the unseemliness,
and the stench, and from knowing that another person had to take part in it.
But it was precisely through this unseemly business that Ivan Ilych obtained
some comfort. Gerasim, the butler's young assistant, always came in to carry
out the chamber pot. Gerasim was a clean, fresh peasant lad, grown stout
on town food and always cheerful and bright. At first the sight of him, in
his clean Russian peasant costume, engaged on that disgusting task
embarrassed Ivan Ilych.
Once when he got up from the commode too weak to draw up his trousers,
he dropped into a soft armchair and looked with horror at his bare,
enfeebled thighs with the muscles so sharply marked on them.
Just then, Gerasim with a firm light tread, his heavy boots emitting
a pleasant smell of tar and fresh winter air, came in wearing a clean
hemp apron, the sleeves of his print shirt tucked up over his strong bare
young arms; and refraining from looking at his sick master out of
consideration for his feelings, and restraining the joy of life that
beamed from his face, he went up to get the pot.
"Gerasim!" said Ivan Ilych in a weak voice.
Gerasim started, evidently afraid he might have committed some
blunder, and with a rapid movement turned his fresh, kind, simple young
face which just showed the first downy signs of a beard.
"That must be very unpleasant for you. You must forgive me. I am
"Oh, no, sir," and Gerasim's eyes beamed and he showed his glistening
white teeth, "What's a little trouble? You're a sick man."
And his deft strong hands did their accustomed task, and he went out of
the room stepping lightly. Five minutes later he as lightly returned.
Ivan Ilych was still sitting in the same position in the armchair.
"Gerasim," he said when the latter had replaced the freshly-washed
utensil. "Please come and help me." Gerasim went up to him. "Lift
me up. It is hard for me to get up, and I have sent Dmitri away."
Gerasim went up to him, grasped his master with his strong arms deftly
but gently, in the same way that he stepped -- lifted him, supported
him with one hand, and with the other drew up his trousers and would
have set him down again, but Ivan Ilych asked to be led to the sofa.
Gerasim, without an effort and without apparent pressure, led him,
almost lifting him, to the sofa and placed him on it.
"Thank you. How skillfully.... how well you do it all!"
Gerasim smiled again and turned to leave the room. But Ivan Ilych felt
his presence such a comfort that he did not want to let him go.
"One thing more, please move up that chair. No, the other one -- under
my feet. It is easier for me when my feet are raised."
Gerasim brought the chair, set it down gently in place, and raised Ivan
Ilych's legs on it. It seemed to Ivan Ilych that he felt better while
Gerasim was holding up his legs.
"It's better when my legs are higher," he said. "Place that cushion
Gerasim did so. He again lifted the legs and placed them, and again
Ivan Ilych felt better while Gerasim held his legs. When he set them
down Ivan Ilych fancied he felt worse.
"Gerasim," he said. "Are you busy now?"
"Not at all, sir," said Gerasim, who had learnt from the townsfolk how
to speak to gentlefolk.
"What have you still to do?"
"What have I to do? I've done everything except chopping the logs for
"Then hold my legs up a bit higher, can you?"
"Of course I can. Why not?" and Gerasim raised his master's legs higher
and Ivan Ilych thought that in that position he did not feel any pain
"And how about the logs?"
"Don't trouble about that, sir. There's plenty of time."
Ivan Ilych told Gerasim to sit down and hold his legs, and began to
talk to him. And strange to say it seemed to him that he felt better
while Gerasim held his legs up.
After that Ivan Ilych would sometimes call Gerasim and get him to hold
his legs on his shoulders, and he liked talking to him. Gerasim did it
all easily, willingly, simply, and with a good nature that touched Ivan
Ilych. Health, strength, and vitality in other people were offensive to
him, but Gerasim's strength and vitality did not mortify but soothed
What tormented Ivan Ilych most was the deception, the lie, which for
some reason they all accepted, that he was not dying but was simply
ill, and that if he stayed calm and underwent treatment and then something
very good would result. He however knew that do what they would
nothing would come of it, only still more agonizing suffering and
death. This deception tortured him -- their not wishing to admit what
they all knew and what he knew, but wanting to lie to him concerning
his terrible condition, and wishing and forcing him to participate in
that lie. Those lies -- lies enacted over him on the eve of his death
and destined to degrade this awful, solemn act to the level of their
visitings, their curtains, their sturgeon for dinner -- were a terrible
agony for Ivan Ilych. And strangely enough, many times when they were
going through their antics over him he had been within a hairbreadth of
calling out to them: "Stop lying! You know and I know that I am dying.
Then at least stop lying about it!" But he had never had the spirit to
do it. The awful, terrible act of his dying was, he could see, reduced
by those about him to the level of a casual, unpleasant, and almost
indecorous incident (as if someone entered a drawing room emitting a
foul odour) and this was done by that very propriety which he had
served all his life long. He saw that no one pitied him, because no
one even cared to grasp his position. Only Gerasim recognized it and
pitied him. And so Ivan Ilych felt at ease only with him. He felt
comforted when Gerasim supported his legs (sometimes all night long)
and refused to go to bed, saying: "Don't you worry, Ivan Ilych. I'll
get sleep enough later on," or when he suddenly became familiar and
exclaimed: "If you weren't sick it would be another matter, but as it
is, why should I grudge a little trouble?" Gerasim alone did not lie;
everything showed that he alone understood the facts of the case and
did not consider it necessary to disguise them, but simply felt sorry
for his emaciated and enfeebled master. Once when Ivan Ilych was
sending him away he even said straight out: "We shall all of us die, so
why should I grudge a little trouble?" -- expressing the fact that he
did not think his work burdensome, because he was doing it for a dying
man and hoped someone would do the same for him when his time came.
Apart from this lying, or because of it, what most tormented Ivan Ilych
was that no one pitied him as he wished to be pitied. At certain
moments after prolonged suffering he wished most of all (though he
would have been ashamed to confess it) for someone to pity him as a
sick child is pitied. He longed to be caressed and comforted. He knew he
was an important functionary, that he had a beard turning grey, and
that therefore what he longed for was impossible, but still he longed for
it. And in Gerasim's attitude towards him there was something akin to
what he wished for, and so that attitude comforted him. Ivan Ilych
wanted to weep, wanted to be caressed and cried over, and then his
colleague Shebek would come, and instead of crying and getting affection,
Ivan Ilych would assume a serious, severe, profound expression, and by
force of habit would express his opinion on a decision of the Court of
would stubbornly insist on that view. Nothing did so much
It was morning. He knew it was morning because Gerasim had gone, and
Pyotr the footman had come, snuffed out the candles, drawn back one of
the curtains, and begun quietly to tidy up. Whether it was morning or
evening, Friday or Sunday, made no difference, it was all just the
gnawing, excruciating, incessant pain, the consciousness
dreaded and hateful Death which was the only reality, and always
the same falsity. What were days, weeks, hours, in such a case?
"Will you have some tea, sir?"
"He wants things to be regular, and wishes the gentlefolk to drink tea
in the morning," thought ivan Ilych, and only said "No."
"Wouldn't you like to move onto the sofa, sir?"
"He wants to tidy up the room, and I'm in the way. I am uncleanliness
and disorder," he thought, and said only:
"No, leave me alone."
The man went on bustling about. Ivan Ilych stretched out his hand.
Pyotr came up, ready to help.
"What is it, sir?"
Peter took the watch which was close at hand and gave it to his master.
"Half-past eight. Are they up?"
"No sir, except Vladimir Ivanovich" (the son) "who has gone to school.
Praskovya Fedorovna ordered me to wake her if you asked for her. Shall
I do so?"
"No, there's no need to," he said. "Perhaps I'd better have some tea," he
thought, and added aloud: "Yes, tea... bring me some."
Pyotr headed for the door, but Ivan Ilych dreaded being left alone. "How
can I keep him here?" he thought. "Oh yes, my medicine."
"Peter, give me my medicine," he said. "Why not?" he thought. "Perhaps it
became aware of the familiar, sickly, hopeless taste. "No, I can't believe
Peter went out. Left alone Ivan Ilych groaned not so much with pain,
terrible though that was, as from mental anguish. Always and for ever
the same, always these endless days and nights. If only it would come
quicker! If only what would come quicker? Death, darkness? . . . No,
no! anything rather than death!
When Peter returned with the tea on a tray, Ivan Ilych stared at him
for a time in bewilderment, not realizing who and what he was. Peter was
disconcerted by that look and his embarrassment brought Ivan Ilych to
"Oh, tea! All right, put it down. Only help me to wash and put on a
And Ivan Ilych began to wash. With pauses for rest, he washed his hands
and then his face, cleaned his teeth, brushed his hair, looked in the
glass. He was terrified by what he saw, especially by the limp way in
which his hair clung to his pallid forehead.
While his shirt was being changed, he knew that he would be still
more frightened at the sight of his body, so he avoided looking at it.
Finally he was ready. He drew on a dressing-gown, wrapped himself in a
plaid, and sat down in the armchair to take his tea. For a moment he
felt refreshed, but as soon as he began to drink the tea, he was again
aware of the same taste, and the pain also returned. He finished it
with an effort, and then lay down stretching out his legs, and
Always the same. Now a spark of hope flashes up, then a sea of despair
rages, and always pain; always pain, always despair, and always the
same. When alone he had a dreadful and distressing desire to call
someone, but he knew beforehand that with others present it would be
still worse. "Another dose of morphine--to lose consciousness. I will
tell him, the doctor, that he must think of something else. It's
impossible, impossible, to go on like this."
An hour and another pass like that. But now there is a ring at the door
bell. Perhaps it's the doctor? It is. He comes in fresh, hearty, plump,
and cheerful, with that look on his face that seems to say: "There now,
you're in a panic about something, but we'll arrange it all for you
directly!" The doctor knows this expression is out of place here, but
he has put it on once for all and can't take it off -- like a man who
has put on a frock-coat in the morning to pay a round of calls.
The doctor rubs his hands vigorously and reassuringly.
"Brr! How cold it is! There's such a sharp frost; just let me warm
myself!" he says, as if it were only a matter of waiting till he was
warm, and then he would put everything right.
"Well now, how are you?"
Ivan Ilych feels that the doctor would like to say: "Well, how are our
affairs?" but that even he feels that this would not do, and says
instead: "What sort of a night have you had?"
Ivan Ilych looks at him as much as to say: "Are you really never
ashamed of lying?" But the doctor does not wish to understand this
question, and Ivan Ilych says: "Just as terrible as ever. The pain
never leaves me and never subsides. If only something . . . "
"Yes, you sick people are always like that. . . . There, now I think I
am warm enough. Even Praskovya Fedorovna, who is so particular, could
find no fault with my temperature. Well, now I can say good-morning,"
and the doctor presses his patient's hand.
Then dropping his former playfulness, he begins with a most serious
face to examine the patient, feeling his pulse and taking his
temperature,sounding his chest, listening to his heart and lungs.
Ivan Ilych knows quite well and definitely that all this is nonsense
and pure deception, but when the doctor, getting down on his knee,
leans over him, putting his ear first higher then lower, and performs
various gymnastic movements over him with a significant expression on
his face, Ivan Ilych submits to it all as he used to submit to the
speeches of the lawyers, though he knew very well that they were all
lying and why they were lying.
The doctor, kneeling on the sofa, is still sounding him when Praskovya
Fedorovna's silk dress rustles at the door and she is heard scolding
Peter for not having let her know of the doctor's arrival.
She comes in, kisses her husband, and at once proceeds to prove that
she has been up a long time already, and only owing to a
misunderstanding failed to be there when the doctor arrived.
Ivan Ilych looks at her, scans her all over, sets against her the
whiteness and plumpness and cleanness of her hands and neck, the gloss
of her hair, and the sparkle of her vivacious eyes. He hates her with
his whole soul. And the thrill of hatred he feels for her makes him
suffer from her touch.
Her attitude towards him and his diseases is still the same. Just as
the doctor had adopted a certain relation to his patient which he could
not abandon, so had she formed one towards him -- that he was not doing
something he ought to do and was himself to blame, and that she
reproached him lovingly for this -- and she could not now change that
"You see he doesn't listen to me and doesn't take his medicine at the
proper time. And above all he lies in a position that is no doubt bad
for him -- with his legs up."
She described how he made Gerasim hold his legs up.
The doctor smiled with a contemptuous affability that said: "What's to
be done? These sick people do have foolish fancies of that kind, but we
must forgive them."
When the examination was over the doctor looked at his watch, and then
Praskovya Fedorovna announced to Ivan Ilych that it was of course as he
pleased, but she had sent today for a celebrated specialist who would
examine him and have a consultation with Michael Danilovich (their
"Please don't raise any objections. I am doing this for my own sake,"
she said ironically, letting it be felt that she was doing it all for
his sake and only said this to leave him no right to refuse. He
remained silent, knitting his brows. He felt that he was surrounded and
involved in a mesh of falsity that it was hard to unravel anything.
Everything she did for him was entirely for her own sake, and she told
him she was doing for herself what she actually was doing for herself,
as if that was so incredible that he must understand the opposite.
At half-past eleven the celebrated specialist arrived. Again the
sounding began and the significant conversations in his presence and in
another room, about the kidneys and the appendix, and the questions and
answers, with such an air of importance that again, instead of the real
question of life and death which now alone confronted him, the question
arose of the kidney and appendix which were not behaving as they ought
to and would soon get a good trouncing from Michael Danilovich and the
The celebrated specialist took leave of him with a serious though not a
and when Ivan Ilych looked up at him, his eyes glistening
pathetic that, seeing it, Praskovya Fedorovna actually burst into tears as she
The gleam of hope kindled by the doctor's encouragement did not last
long. Once again the same room, the same pictures, curtains, wall-paper,
medicine bottles, were all there, and the same aching suffering body, and
Ivan Ilych began to moan. They gave him an injection and he sank
It was twilight when he came to. They brought him his dinner and he
swallowed some beef broth with difficulty, and then everything was the
same again and night was coming on.
After dinner, at seven o'clock, Praskovya Fedorovna came into the room
in evening dress, her full bosom pushed up by her corset, and with
traces of powder on her face. She had reminded him in the morning that
they were going to the theatre. Sarah Bernhardt was visiting the town
and they had a box, which he had insisted on their taking. Now he had
forgotten about it and was hurt by the sight of her elaborate attire. But he
concealed his indignation when he remembered that he had himself urged them
to secure a box and go because it would be an instructive and aesthetic
pleasure for the children.
Praskovya Fedorovna came in, self-satisfied but yet with a rather
guilty air. She sat down and asked how he was, but, as he saw, only for
the sake of asking and not in order to learn about it, knowing that
there was nothing to learn -- and then went on to what she really
wanted to say: that she would not on any account have gone but that the
box had been taken and Helen and their daughter were going, as well as
Petrishchev (the examining magistrate, their daughter's fiance) and
that it was out of the question to let them go alone; but that she
would have much preferred to sit with him for a while; and he must be
sure to follow the doctor's orders while she was away.
"Oh, and Fedor Petrovich" (the fiance) "would like to come in. May he?
His daughter came in all decked out in a gown that left much of her fresh
young flesh exposed which for him was the cause of so much agony.
Strong, healthy, and obviously in love, she was impatient with illness,
suffering, and death because they interfered with her happiness.
Fedor Petrovich came in too, in evening dress, his hair curled a la
Capoul, a tight stiff collar round his long sinewy neck, an enormous
white shirt-front and narrow black trousers hugging his strong thighs.
He had one white glove tightly drawn on, and was holding his opera hat
in his hand.
Following him, the schoolboy son crept in unnoticed, in a new uniform, poor
little fellow, and wearing gloves. Terribly dark shadows showed under
his eyes, the meaning of which Ivan Ilych knew well.
He had always felt sorry for his son, and he found the boy's frightened,
pitying look terrifying to behold. It seemed to Ivan Ilych that Vasya
was the only one besides Gerasim who understood and pitied him.
They all sat down and again asked how he was feeling. A silence followed.
Lisa asked her mother about the opera glasses, and there was an argument
between mother and daughter as to who had taken them and where they had
been put. This occasioned some unpleasantness.
Fedor Petrovich inquired of Ivan Ilych whether he had ever seen Sarah
Bernhardt. Ivan Ilych did not at first catch the question, but then
replied: "No, have you seen her before?"
"Yes, in Adrienne Lecouvreur."
Praskovya Fedorovna said she had been particularly good in something
or other. Her daughter disagreed. Conversation sprang up as to
the elegance and realism of her acting -- the sort of conversation that
is always repeated and is always the same.
In the midst of the conversation Fedor Petrovich glanced at Ivan Ilych
and became silent. The others also looked at him and grew silent. Ivan
Ilych was staring with glittering eyes straight before him, evidently
infuriated with them. This had to be rectified, but it was impossible to
do so. The silence had to be broken, but for a time no one dared to
break it and they all became afraid that the lie dictated by propriety
would suddenly become obvious and the truth become plain to all. Lisa
was the first to pluck up courage and break that silence, but by trying
to hide what everybody was feeling, she betrayed it.
"Well, if we are going it's time we left," she said, glancing at her
watch, a gift from her father, and with a faint and significant smile at
Fedor Petrovich relating to something known only to them. She
got up with a rustle of her dress.
They all rose, said good-night, and went away.
When they had gone, Ivan Ilych thought he felt better; the lie was gone--
it had left with them. But the pain remained-- that same pain, that same
fear that made everything monotonously alike, nothing harder and
nothing easier. Everything was getting worse.
Again time dragged on, minute after minute and hour after hour, on and
"Yes, send Gerasim here," he replied to a question Peter asked.
His wife returned late at night. She tip-toed into the room, but he heard
her, opened his eyes, and quickly closed them again. She wanted to
send Gerasim away and sit with him herself, but he opened his eyes
"No, go away."
"Are you in great pain?"
"Always the same."
He consented and drank some. She went away.
Until about three in the morning he was in an agonizing delerium.
It seemed to him that he and his pain were being thrust into a narrow,
black sack-- a deep one-- but though they were pushed further and further
in they could not be pushed to the bottom. And this dreadful business
was causing him suffering. He was afraid of that sack yet wanted to
fall through; he struggled but yet co-operated.
And suddenly he lost his grip
of the bed dozing quietly and patiently, while he himself lay with his
emaciated stockinged feet resting on Gerasim's shoulders; the same
shaded candle was there and the same unceasing pain.
"Go away, Gerasim," he whispered.
"It's all right, sir. I'll stay a while."
"No. Go away."
He removed his legs from Gerasim's shoulders, turned sideways with his
nestled on his cheek, and began to feel terribly sorry for himself. He waited
till Gerasim had gone into the next
room and then no longer able to restrain
loneliness, about the cruelty of people, about the cruelty of God, about
the absence of God.
"Why hast Thou done all this? Why hast Thou brought me to this? Why
dost Thou torture me so? For what?"
He did not expect an answer and he cried because there was no answer
and there could be none. The pain started up again, but he did not stir
and did not call. He said to himself: "Go on then! Hit me again! But what for?
What have I done to Thee?"
Then he grew quiet and not only stopped crying but held his breath
and became all attentive: he seemed to be listening-- not to an
audible voice, but to the voice of his soul, to the flow of thoughts
surging within him.
"What is it you want?" was the first clear conception capable of
expression in words, that he heard.
"What do you want? What do you want?" he repeated to himself.
"What? Not to suffer. To live," he replied.
And once again he listened with such rapt attention that even his
pain did not distract him.
"To live? How?" asked the voice of his soul.
"Why, to live as I used to -- happily and pleasantly."
"As you lived before, happily and pleasantly?" asked the voice.
And in imagination he called to mind the best moments of his pleasant
life. Yet, strange to say, all the best moments of his pleasant life
seemed entirely different than they had then seemed -- all except
the earliest memories of childhood. Way back in his childhood, there had
been something really pleasant, something he could live with were it ever
to recur. But the child who had experienced that happiness no longer
existed. It was like the memories of another man.
As soon as the period that had produced the present Ivan Ilych,
all the seeming joys of his life vanished before his sight and turned
into something trivial and often nasty.
And the farther he moved from childhood, the closer he came to
the present, the more trivial and doubtful were the joys. Beginning with
the years he spent in Law School. A little of what was genuinely good
had still existed then: there had been light-heartedness, friendship, and hope.
But by the time he reached the upper classes thegood moments had become
rarer. After that, during the period he had worked for the governor
there had also been some pleasant moments--:memories of his love for
a woman. But then everything became
more and more confused, less of
His marriage, a mere accident, then the disenchantment that followed it,
his wife's bad breath and the sensuality and pretense! And that
deadly official life and those worries about money, and so it had gone
for a year, two years, ten years, twenty years--on and on in the same way.
And the longer it lasted the more deadly it became. "It is as though I had been
going steadily downhill while I imagined I was going up. That's exactly what
happened. In public opinion I was moving uphill, but to the same extent life
was slipping away from me. And now it is gone and all I can do is die!
"What does it all mean? Why has it happened? It can't be that life is so
senseless and horrible. But if it really has been so horrible and senseless,
why must I die and die in agony? There is something wrong!
"Perhaps I did not live as I should have," it suddenly occurred to
him. "But how could that be when I did everything I was supposed to do?"
he replied, and
immediately dismissed from his mind the one solution
"Then what do you want now? To live? Live how? Live as you did in the
law courts when the usher proclaimed The court is open!' The court is
open!" he repeated to himself. "Here he is, the judge. But I am not guilty!"
he exclaimed angrily. "What is it for?" And he stopped crying, but turning
his face to the wall continued to ponder on the same question:
Why, and for what purpose, is there all this horror? But think as he
might, he could find no answer. And whenever the thought occurred to
him, as it often did, that he had not lived as he should have, he at once
recalled how correct his whole life had been and dismissed this bizarre idea.
Another two weeks passed. Ivan Ilych now no longer got off his sofa. He
did not want to lie in bed ans so he lay on the sofa, facing the wall nearly all
the time. He suffered, all alone, the same inexplicable suffering and,
Can it be that it is Death?" And the inner voice answered: "Yes,
it is Death."
"Why these torments?" And the voice answered, "For no reason -- they
just are." Above and beyond this there was nothing.
From the start of his illness, ever since he first went to see the
doctor, Ivan Ilych's life had been divided between two contrary
and fluctuating moods: one a mood of despair and the expectation of an
incomprehensible and terrible death, the other a mood of hope filled with
intent observation of the functioning of his bodily functions. At times he was
confronted with nothing but a kidney or an intestine that temporarily evaded
its duty; at others nothing but an unfathomable, horrifying death from
which there was no escape.
These two moods had fluctuated since the onset of his illness, but the
farther that illness progressed, the more unlikely and preposterous
considerations about his kidney became, and the more real his sense of
He had but to call to mind what he had been three months before and
what he was now, to remember how steadily he had gone downhill,
for all possibility of hope to be shattered.
During the last days of the isolation in which he lived, lying on the sofa
with his face to the wall, isolation in the midst of a populous
city among numerous friends and relatives, an isolation that could not
have been more complete anywhere -- either at the bottom
of the sea or the bowels of the earth -- during the last days of that
with what was nearest in time and then went back to what was most
remote -- to his childhood-- and rested there. If he thought of the stewed
prunes that had been offered him that day, his mind went back to the raw
shrivelled French plums of his childhood, their peculiar flavour and the flow
of saliva when he sucked their stones, and along with the memory of that
taste came a whole series of memories of those days: his nurse, his brother,
and their toys. "No, I mustn't thing of that. . . . It is too painful,"
Ivan Ilych said to himself, and brought himself back to the present --
to the button on the back of the sofa and the creases in its morocco.
"Morocco is expensive, but it does not wear well: there had been a
quarrel about it. It was a different kind of quarrel and a different
kind of morocco that time when we tore father's portfolio and were
punished, and mamma brought us some tarts. . . ." And again his
thoughts dwelt on his childhood, and again it was painful and he tried
to banish them and fix his mind on something else.
Then together with that chain of memories another series flashed
through his mind -- of how his illness had progressed and grown worse.
Here too, the farther back in time he went, the more life he found.
There had been more goodness in his life earlier and more of life itself.
The two merged together. "Just as the pain went on getting worse and
worse, so my life grew worse and worse," he thought. "There is one
bright spot there at the back, at the beginning of life, and afterwards
all becomes blacker and blacker and proceeds more and more rapidly --
in inverse ration to the square of the distance from death," thought
Ivan Ilych. And the image of a stone hurtling downwards with
increasing velocity entered his mind. Life, a series of increasing
sufferings, flies further and further towards its end -- the most
terrible suffering. "I am falling. . . ." He shuddered, shifted back and forth,
resist, but by then knew there was no resisting. And
dreadful fall and shock and destruction.
"Resistance is impossible!" he said to himself. "But if only I could
understand the reason for this agony! Yet even that is impossible. It would
But it is impossible to say that," he uttered inwardly, remembering all
the legality, correctitude, and propriety of his life.
"That is a point I cannot
could see that smile and be taken in by it. "There is no explanation!
Agony, death. . . . Why?"
Two more weeks went by this way. During that time the event
Ivan Ilych and his wife had hoped for occured: Petrishchev formally
proposed. It happened in the evening. The next day Praskovya Fedorovna
went into her husband's room thinking about how she would announce
the proposal, but during the
night Ivan Ilych had undergone a change
position. He lay on his back, groaning and staring
straight ahead with
She began to remind
him of his medicines. He shifted his gaze to her.
"For Christ's sake let me die in peace!" he said.
She would have gone away, but just then their daughter came in and went
up to say good morning. He looked at her as he had done at his wife,
and in reply to her inquiry about his health said dryly that they would
soon be rid of him. Both were silent, sat there for a while, and
"Is it our fault?" Lisa said to her mother. "It's as if we were to
blame! I am sorry for papa, but why should he torture us like that?
The doctor came at his usual time. Ivan Ilych answered "Yes" and "No,"
glowered at him throughout the visit, and at last said: "You know you
can do nothing for me, so leave me alone."
"We can ease your sufferings."
"You can't even do that. Let me be."
The doctor went into the drawing room and told Praskovya Fedorovna that
the case was very serious and that the only resource left was opium to
allay her husband's sufferings, which must be excruciating.
It was true, as the doctor said, that Ivan Ilych's physical agony
but worse than the physical sufferings was his moral
What had induced his moral agony was that during the night, as he
gazed at Gerasim's broad-boned sleepy, good-natured face, the
It occurred to him that what had appeared utterly inconceivable
before--that he had not lived the kind of life he should have-- might
after all be true. It occurred to him that those scarcely perceptible
impulses of his to protest what people of high rank considered good,
might have been precisely what mattered, and all the rest not been
the real thing. His official duties, his whole manner of life, his family,
left to defend.
"But if that is so," he said to himself, "and I am leaving this life
with the awareness that I squanderedt all that was given me and it is
impossible to rectify it -- what then?"
He lay on his back and began to review his whole life in quite a new
way. In the morning when he saw first his footman, then his wife, then
his daughter, and then the doctor, their every word and movement
confirmed to him the horrible truth that had been revealed to him during
the night. In them he saw himself -- all that for which he had lived --
and saw clearly that it was not real at all, but a terrible and huge
deception which had shut out both life and death. This awareness
intensified his physical suffering tenfold. He groaned and tossed
and clutched at his bed clothes. He felt they were choking and suffocating
He was given a
large dose of opium and lost consciousness, but at
His wife came to him and said:
"Jean, my dear, do this for me. It can't do any harm and often helps.
Really, its such a small thing. Healthy people often do it."
He opened his eyes wide.
"What? Take the sacrament? Why? I don't want to! And yet . . . "
She began to cry.
"Then you will, dear? I'll send for our priest. He is such a fine man."
"Fine. Very good," he muttered.
When the priest came and heard his confession, Ivan Ilych relented
and seemed to feel a relief from his doubts and consequently from his
sufferings, and for a moment there came a ray of hope. He again began
to think of the vermiform appendix and the possibility of correcting
it. As he took the sacrament, there were tears in his eyes.
When they laid
him down afterwards, he felt better for a second,
the operation that had been suggested to him. "To live! I want to
live!" he said to himself.
His wife came in to congratulate him on taking the sacrament, she said the
things people usually do, and then added,
"You really do feel better, don't you?"
Without looking at her he said "Yes."
Her clothes, her figure, the expression of her face, the tone of her
voice, all revealed the same thing. "Not the real thing. All you have
and with that pain a awareness of the inevitable, imminent destruction.
The pain took a new turn: it began to grind and shoot and constrict his breathing.
The expression of his face when he uttered that "Yes" was dreadful.
Having uttered it, he looked her straight in the eyes, flung himself
face downward and shouted:
"Go away! Go away! Leave me alone!"
That moment started three days of incessant screaming, screaming so
so terrible that even two rooms away one could not hear it without
trembling. The moment he had answered his wife, he realized that he was
lost, that the end had come, that there was no return, the very end,
and that his doubts, still unresolved, remained with him.
"Oh! Oh! No!" he screamed in various intonations. he had begun by
screaming "I don't want it! I don't!" and continued screaming with that
For three straight days, during which time ceased to exist for him, he
struggled desperately in that
black sack into which an unseen invisible force
struggles in the hands of an executioner, knowing there is no escape.
And he felt that with every minute, despite his efforts to resist, he was
drawing closer and closer to what terrified him. He felt he was in agony
because he was being thrust into that black hole and still more because
he was unable to get right into it. He was prevented from getting into
it by his conviction that his life had been a good one. That very
justification of his life held him fast and prevented his moving
forward, and it caused him the most torment of all.
Suddenly some force struck him in the chest and the side, making it still
harder to breathe: he plunged into the hole and there at the bottom
something was shining. What had happened to him was like the sensation one
sometimes experiences in a railway carriage when one thinks one is
going backwards while one is really going forward and suddenly becomes
aware of the real direction.
"Yes, all of it was simply not the real thing," he said to himself, "but no
matter. I can still make it the real thing-- I can. But what is the real thing?"
This took place at the end of the third day, an hour before his death.
Just then his son crept softly into the room and went up to his bed
The dying man was still screaming desperately and faliling his arms.
His hand fell on the boy's head, and the boy grasped it, pressed
it to his lips, and began to cry.
At that very moment Ivan Ilych fell through and saw a light, and it
was revealed to him that his life had not been what it should have
been, but that he could still rectify the situation.
"But what is
and felt sorry for him. His wife came in and went up to him. He looked
at her. She gazed at him open-mouthed, with unwiped tears on her nose and
cheek, with a look of despair on her face. He grieved for her.
"Yes, I am torturing them," he thought. "They feel sorry for me, but it
will be better for them when I die." He wished to say this but had not
the strength to utter it. "But why speak-- I must do something," he thought.
He looked at his wife and, indicating his son with a glance, said: "Take him away
. . . sorry for him . . . sorry for you too. . . ." He tried to add,
me," but said, "Forget," and too feeble to correct himself,
And suddenly it grew clear to him that what had been oppressing him and
would not leave him suddenly was vanishing all at once-- from two sides,
ten sides, all sides. He felt sorry for them; he had to do something to keep from
hurting them: to deliver them and himself from these sufferings.
"How good and how simple!" he thought. "And the pain?" he asked
himself. "Where was it gone? Now, then pain, where are you, pain?"
He waited for it attentively.
"Yes, here it is. Well, what of it? Let the pain be."
"And death . . . where is it?"
He searched for his accustomed fear of death and could not find it.
"Where was death? What death?" There was no fear because there was no
Instead of death there was light.
"So that's it!" he suddenly exclaimed aloud. "What bliss!"
To him all this happened in a single instant, and the meaning of that
instant did not change. For those present his agony continued for
another two hours. Something rattled in his throat, his emaciated body
twitched, then the gasping and rattle became less and less frequent.
"It is finished!" said someone near him.
He heard these words and repeated them in his soul.
"Death is over," he said to himself. "There is no more death!"
He drew in a
breath, broke off in the midst of it, stretched himself out,