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The Death of Ivan Ilych
by Leo Tolstoy
Ivan Ilych Golovin Timeline and Summary
We learn of Ivan Ilych's death, and meet his corpse at his funeral service. The narrator tells us the story of Ivan Ilych's terrible life, or at least the first forty years of it, beginning with Ivan's birth (1839 or 1840). Ivan goes to law school in his youth, where he does a few horrid things but learns to think of them as normal. He begins a career as a legal official in one of the provinces. After a move to another province, Ivan meets Praskovya Fedorovna and marries her. The marriage sours when Praskovya Fedorovna becomes pregnant and moody, and Ivan retreats into his work life. Ivan's first child, Lisa, is born, but Ivan continues to withdraw from his family. Ivan and his family move to another province so Ivan can take a better job. Family life gets worse, and several children are lost. Vasya is born. At age forty or so, (in 1880), Ivan is passed up for a promotion and feels the injustice of the universe upon him for the first time. He leaves his work and moves his family to the country to stay with a relative. Ivan becomes depressed in the country because he has nothing to do, and goes to St. Petersburg determined to find a higher paying job. He succeeds. He also finds a new house. Ivan becomes passionate about the decorating of his new house. One day he falls while putting up the drapes and injures his side. Ivan's family joins him in St. Petersburg and they build a new life there. He has a temporary truce with his wife. The pain in his side does not go away. Ivan's pain gets worse and makes him very irritable. At Praskovya Fedorovna's insistence he goes to see a doctor, and receives a wrong diagnosis and drugs that don't work. Ivan starts seeing various doctors, but none seems able to help him. As Ivan's condition worsens, he grows increasingly irritable and comes to feel himself totally isolated. He stops liking work, and bridge. Ivan overhears a conversation between Praskovya Fedorovna and her brother in which he's called a "dead man." Ivan realizes that his illness is really a matter of life and death, and he's dying. Ivan is haunted by it (his death) everywhere he goes. Even in the drawing room. Ivan's condition gets much worse. He has to stay home, eat only special food, and have Gerasim, a servant, help him with going to the bathroom. He discovers Gerasim is a source of comfort. Ivan awakens one morning to receive a visit from Michael Danilovich and a celebrated specialist. Once again, the doctors are not of any help. That night, after the doctors leave, his family goes to the theater, but only after paying him a painfully awkward visit. Later that night Ivan takes some opium for his pain, and enters a haze in which he feels he is falling through a narrow black bag. When he recovers, it occurs to him for the first time that his whole life has been unhappy, and that he might have lived wrongly. He refuses to accept, however, that he did not live his life as he should have. After two more weeks, Ivan is sofa-bound. He spends all of his time thinking of his past, and wrestling with the idea that he has made some serious mistakes in life. Two more weeks pass and Ivan is in a worse state than ever. He suspects that, yes, he has lived his life wrongly. He receives communion at Praskovya Fedorovna's request. Afterwards, he starts screaming. Ivan screams for three days. On the third day, he sees the light: Ivan finds love, God, and the meaning of life, and dies.