READ STUDY GUIDE: Chapter X
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?"