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The Death of Ivan Ilych
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Chapter 10

Another fortnight passed. Ivan Ilych now no longer left his

sofa. He would not lie in bed but lay on the sofa, facing the wall

nearly all the time. He suffered ever the same unceasing agonies

and in his loneliness pondered always on the same insoluble

question: "What is this? Can it be that it is Death?" And the

inner voice answered: "Yes, it is Death."

"Why these sufferings?" And the voice answered, "For no

reason—they just are so." Beyond and besides this there was


From the very beginning of his illness, ever since he had

first been to see the doctor, Ivan Ilych's life had been divided

between two contrary and alternating moods: now it was despair and

the expectation of this uncomprehended and terrible death, and now

hope and an intently interested observation of the functioning of

his organs. Now before his eyes there was only a kidney or an

intestine that temporarily evaded its duty, and now only that

incomprehensible and dreadful death from which it was impossible to


These two states of mind had alternated from the very

beginning of his illness, but the further it progressed the more

doubtful and fantastic became the conception of the kidney, and the

more real the sense of impending death.

He had but to call to mind what he had been three months

before and what he was now, to call to mind with what regularity he

had been going downhill, for every possibility of hope to be


Latterly during the loneliness in which he found himself as he

lay facing the back of the sofa, a loneliness in the midst of a

populous town and surrounded by numerous acquaintances and

relations but that yet could not have been more complete anywhere -

- either at the bottom of the sea or under the earth—during that

terrible loneliness Ivan ilych had lived only in memories of the

past. Pictures of his past rose before him one after another.

they always began with what was nearest in time and then went back

to what was most remote—to his childhood—and rested there.

If he thought of the stewed prunes that had been offered him that

day, his mind went back to the raw shrivelled French plums of his

childhood, their peculiar flavour and the flow of saliva when he

sucked their stones, and along with the memory of that taste came

a whole series of memories of those days: his nurse, his brother,

and their toys. "No, I mustn't thing of that....It is too

painful," Ivan Ilych said to himself, and brought himself back to

the present—to the button on the back of the sofa and the

creases in its morocco. "Morocco is expensive, but it does not

wear well: there had been a quarrel about it. It was a different

kind of quarrel and a different kind of morocco that time when we

tore father's portfolio and were punished, and mamma brought us

some tarts...." And again his thoughts dwelt on his childhood, and

again it was painful and he tried to banish them and fix his mind

on something else.

Then again together with that chain of memories another series

passed through his mind—of how his illness had progressed and

grown worse. There also the further back he looked the more life

there had been. There had been more of what was good in life and

more of life itself. The two merged together. "Just as the pain

went on getting worse and worse, so my life grew worse and worse,"

he thought. "There is one bright spot there at the back, at the

beginning of life, and afterwards all becomes blacker and blacker

and proceeds more and more rapidly—in inverse ration to the

square of the distance from death," thought Ivan Ilych. And the

example of a stone falling downwards with increasing velocity

entered his mind. Life, a series of increasing sufferings, flies

further and further towards its end—the most terrible suffering.

"I am flying...." He shuddered, shifted himself, and tried to

resist, but was already aware that resistance was impossible, and

again with eyes weary of gazing but unable to cease seeing what was

before them, he stared at the back of the sofa and waited—

awaiting that dreadful fall and shock and destruction.

"Resistance is impossible!" he said to himself. "If I could

only understand what it is all for! But that too is impossible.

An explanation would be possible if it could be said that I have

not lived as I ought to. But it is impossible to say that," and he

remembered all the legality, correctitude, and propriety of his

life. "That at any rate can certainly not be admitted," he

thought, and his lips smiled ironically as if someone could see

that smile and be taken in by it. "There is no explanation!

Agony, death....What for?"

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