The Death of Ivan Ilych
How we cite our quotes:
The preparations for marriage and the beginning of married life, with its conjugal caresses, the 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. (2.18)
Ivan approaches marriage as just another thing meant to make him happy. It's supposed to be pleasant: he gets nice things (furniture, crockery, a larger house), and a woman to take care of him. He's not willing to deal with it if it's unpleasant.
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 greatest and most cruel 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. (3.2)
Ivan's first real experience with unhappiness (his only one, before his illness) comes when he doesn't get the promotion he wants. He's been living beyond his means, and the prospect of not being able to sustain the lifestyle he enjoys is scary. He feels betrayed by everybody, both because he doesn't get the promotion and because nobody's willing to help him. All of it seems very unpleasant indeed, but nobody else seems to care. Unlike his death, however, this is a situation Ivan has power to remedy.
The pleasures connected with his work were pleasures of ambition; his social pleasures were those of vanity; but Ivan Ilych's greatest pleasure was playing bridge. He acknowledged that whatever disagreeable incident happened in his life, the pleasure that beamed like a ray of light above everything else was to sit down to bridge with good players, not noisy partners, and of course to four-handed bridge (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 bridge, especially if he had won a little (to win a large sum was unpleasant), Ivan Ilych went to bed in a specially good humour. (3.25)
This passage tells us what happiness meant for Ivan before he became ill. Power and achievement at work, good times with friends, and above all, games. It's all about fun. And since Ivan has the most fun playing bridge, that's the best part of his life. It's hard not to pick up on Tolstoy's sarcastic disgust here.