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In the tumultuous experience of illness, Ivan Ilyich wants most of all to be seen.
He is denied a meaningful death, instead surrounded by dishonesty and judgement.
There is one source of comfort for Ivan Ilyich, however.
First published in 1886, Tolstoy’s work has its protagonist in Ivan Ilyich, an ambitious Russian lawyer.
This lawyer’s life is a mixture of vanity and shallow relationships.
He does not cheapen death, but only refuses to flout life.
The result is unprecedented for the dying man: “In all other people Ivan Ilyich was offended by health,” but somehow, “Gerasim’s strength and high spirits didn’t depress but calmed Ivan Ilyich.” How does Gerasim do this? How does his strength connect him with someone so weak?
But as in so much of life, the messiness of literature provided tremendous insight.
In both arenas, I have found valuable reflection in the Peter Carson translation of Leo Tolstoy’s classic, (Tolstoy, 2014).
always cheerful and sunny.” He carries out the most intimate of tasks, such as cleaning up after Ivan Ilyich’s bowel movements.
Ivan Ilyich is fraught with self-judgement, however, and is “embarrassed by seeing this man…