The Death of Ivan Ilych
by Leo Tolstoy
The Death of Ivan Ilych Society and Class Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph). We used Alymer Maude's translation.
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 house 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. (3.17)
Here is the irony of Ivan's whole life in one passage. Ivan wants his house to be impressive and fancy, and puts an enormous amount of effort into making it look that way. But he has the same ideas as everyone else, so his house ends up looking like all the others. According to Tolstoy, the tastes of the whole middle class are bad imitations of the aristocracy's (that might be Tolstoy's snobbery coming out again).
But just through his most unpleasant matter, Ivan Ilych obtained comfort. Gerasim, the butler's young assistant, always came in to carry the things out. 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. (7.5)
Once Ivan gets ill, Gerasim is the only person in Ivan's life who doesn't seem false, and therefore the only person who can comfort him. Unlike everyone else in the novella, Gerasim is a peasant. He even wears a "Russian peasant costume." Tolstoy is definitely trying to make a point here.
Praskovya Fedorovna mentioned some roles in which Sarah Bernhardt was particularly good. 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. (8.55)
Even in the way they talk, Praskovya Fedorovna and the others are unoriginal and ordinary. Just like Ivan with his house, they are trying very hard to be sophisticated, original. Instead they turn out just like everyone else.