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.
"Had he any property?"
"I think his wife had a little – but something quite trifling." (1.12-13)
Very quickly, Ivan's family is revealed by his friends to be part of the middle class. They're not rich, but they do have property, which was pretty rare in the Russia of that day. The language of Ivan's friend – "quite trifling" – immediately gives us a sense of Ivan as someone who is petty and unimportant, at least according to Tolstoy.
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 arranged this room and had consulted him regarding this pink cretonne with green leaves. The whole room was full of furniture and knick-knacks, and on her way to the sofa the lace of the widow's black shawl caught on the edge of 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…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. (1.33)
According to Tolstoy, there is "middle class" written all over this passage. Tolstoy doesn't spend too much time in the novella describing any physical surroundings in great detail, but here he gives us a pretty detailed picture of the Golovins' drawing room, particularly the furniture. All of this is typical furnishing for a middle-class home that would be recognized by his readers. More specifically, it's a middle-class home that's trying to look wealthy. We get various indications that Ivan and his wife cared a lot about how their house looked. Also, Praskovya Fedorovna speaks in French – as the elite class did, and the middle class did in imitation.
Ivan Ilych's life had been most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible. (2.1)
The narrator puts his own evaluation of Ivan Ilych's life on the table right away: it was awful. That might sound like a very elitist or aristocratic thing to say. It's also a bit problematic, because Gerasim, as a peasant, is certainly simpler and more ordinary than a middle-class official like Ivan Ilych. And Gerasim's the one good guy in the story.