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The Reader's Den: "The Death of Ivan Ilyich"
“What if in reality my whole life has been wrong?”
Welcome to week two of the book discussion of The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy. This novella was written at the beginning of Tolstoy's late period as he began to change his philosophical view of life, which is reflected back in the story as Ivan Ilyich awakens to the idea that perhaps he is suffering because his life was not led with moral focus.
Leo Tolstoy was born to an aristocratic family in 1828. His parents died when he was ten, leaving him in the care of two loving aunts. After his formal schooling, he went home to manage his family's estate, eventually volunteering to fight tribes in the Caucasus and enlisting in the army during the Crimean War. These experiences inspired his writing and he completed his first literary works while serving in the military. The second stage of his career began after his marriage in 1862. This was the time when War and Peace and Anna Karenina were written. In middle age, after the deaths of friends, family members and children, Tolstoy found himself in a religious crisis, and left the Russian Orthodox Church (which eventually excommunicated him). He chose to preach and practice reason and pacifism and rejected the belief in private property among other anarchistic beliefs. His writings from this period, as in The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886), tend to be moralistic, becoming more so in the last years of his life. He died in 1910 of pneumonia at a train station after leaving his estate having become suspicious of those close to him.
Please feel free to post comments, reviews, or questions about the story at any time during the discussion. Please visit the Catalog or your local Library branch to find a copy of The Death of Ivan Ilyich or a biography of Tolstoy, or search for a copy at your nearest library through WorldCat.