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The Death of Ivan Ilych
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Chapter 3

So Ivan Ilych lived for seventeen years after his marriage.

He was already a Public Prosecutor of long standing, and had

declined several proposed transfers while awaiting a more desirable

post, when an unanticipated and unpleasant occurrence quite upset

the peaceful course of his life. He was expecting to be offered

the post of presiding judge in a University town, but Happe somehow

came to the front and obtained the appointment instead. Ivan Ilych

became irritable, reproached Happe, and quarrelled both him and

with his immediate superiors—who became colder to him and again

passed him over when other appointments were made.

This was in 1880, the hardest year of Ivan Ilych's life. It

was then that it became evident on the one hand that his salary was

insufficient for them to live on, and on the other that he had been

forgotten, and not only this, but that what was for him the

greatest and most cruel injustice appeared to others a quite

ordinary occurrence. Even his father did not consider it his duty

to help him. Ivan Ilych felt himself abandoned by everyone, and

that they regarded his position with a salary of 3,500 rubles as

quite normal and even fortunate. He alone knew that with the

consciousness of the injustices done him, with his wife's incessant

nagging, and with the debts he had contracted by living beyond his

means, his position was far from normal.

In order to save money that summer he obtained leave of

absence and went with his wife to live in the country at her

brother's place.

In the country, without his work, he experienced *ennui* for

the first time in his life, and not only *ennui* but intolerable

depression, and he decided that it was impossible to go on living

like that, and that it was necessary to take energetic measures.

Having passed a sleepless night pacing up and down the

veranda, he decided to go to Petersburg and bestir himself, in

order to punish those who had failed to appreciate him and to get

transferred to another ministry.

Next day, despite many protests from his wife and her brother,

he started for Petersburg with the sole object of obtaining a post

with a salary of five thousand rubles a year. He was no longer

bent on any particular department, or tendency, or kind of

activity. All he now wanted was an appointment to another post

with a salary of five thousand rubles, either in the

administration, in the banks, with the railways in one of the

Empress Marya's Institutions, or even in the customs—but it had

to carry with it a salary of five thousand rubles and be in a

ministry other than that in which they had failed to appreciate


And this quest of Ivan Ilych's was crowned with remarkable and

unexpected success. At Kursk an acquaintance of his, F. I. Ilyin,

got into the first-class carriage, sat down beside Ivan Ilych, and

told him of a telegram just received by the governor of Kursk

announcing that a change was about to take place in the ministry:

Peter Ivanovich was to be superseded by Ivan Semonovich.

The proposed change, apart from its significance for Russia,

had a special significance for Ivan Ilych, because by bringing

forward a new man, Peter Petrovich, and consequently his friend

Zachar Ivanovich, it was highly favourable for Ivan Ilych, since

Sachar Ivanovich was a friend and colleague of his.

In Moscow this news was confirmed, and on reaching Petersburg

Ivan Ilych found Zachar Ivanovich and received a definite promise

of an appointment in his former Department of Justice.

A week later he telegraphed to his wife: "Zachar in Miller's

place. I shall receive appointment on presentation of report."

Thanks to this change of personnel, Ivan Ilych had

unexpectedly obtained an appointment in his former ministry which

placed him two states above his former colleagues besides giving

him five thousand rubles salary and three thousand five hundred

rubles for expenses connected with his removal. All his ill humour

towards his former enemies and the whole department vanished, and

Ivan Ilych was completely happy.

He returned to the country more cheerful and contented than he

had been for a long time. Praskovya Fedorovna also cheered up and

a truce was arranged between them. Ivan Ilych told of how he had

been feted by everybody in Petersburg, how all those who had been

his enemies were put to shame and now fawned on him, how envious

they were of his appointment, and how much everybody in Petersburg

had liked him.

Praskovya Fedorovna listened to all this and appeared to

believe it. She did not contradict anything, but only made plans

for their life in the town to which they were going. Ivan Ilych

saw with delight that these plans were his plans, that he and his

wife agreed, and that, after a stumble, his life was regaining its

due and natural character of pleasant lightheartedness and decorum.

Ivan Ilych had come back for a short time only, for he had to

take up his new duties on the 10th of September. Moreover, he

needed time to settle into the new place, to move all his

belongings from the province, and to buy and order many additional

things: in a word, to make such arrangements as he had resolved

on, which were almost exactly what Praskovya Fedorovna too had

decided on.

Now that everything had happened so fortunately, and that he

and his wife were at one in their aims and moreover saw so little

of one another, they got on together better than they had done

since the first years of marriage. Ivan Ilych had thought of

taking his family away with him at once, but the insistence of his

wife's brother and her sister-in-law, who had suddenly become

particularly amiable and friendly to him and his family, induced

him to depart alone.

So he departed, and the cheerful state of mind induced by his

success and by the harmony between his wife and himself, the one

intensifying the other, did not leave him. He found a delightful

house, just the thing both he and his wife had dreamt of.

Spacious, lofty reception rooms in the old style, a convenient and

dignified study, rooms for his wife and daughter, a study for his

son—it might have been specially built for them. Ivan Ilych

himself superintended the arrangements, chose the wallpapers,

supplemented the furniture (preferably with antiques which he

considered particularly *comme il faut*), and supervised the

upholstering. Everything progressed and progressed and approached

the ideal he had set himself: even when things were only half

completed they exceeded his expectations. He saw what a refined

and elegant character, free from vulgarity, it would all have when

it was ready. On falling asleep he pictured to himself how the

reception room would look. Looking at the yet unfinished drawing

room he could see the fireplace, the screen, the what-not, the

little chairs dotted here and there, the dishes and plates on the

walls, and the bronzes, as they would be when everything was in

place. He was pleased by the thought of how his wife and daughter,

who shared his taste n this matter, would be impressed by it. They

were certainly not expecting as much. He had been particularly

successful in finding, and buying cheaply, antiques which gave a

particularly aristocratic character to the whole place. But in his

letters he intentionally understated everything in order to be able

to surprise them. All this so absorbed him that his new duties—

though he liked his official work—interested him less than he

had expected. Sometimes he even had moments of absent-mindedness

during the court sessions and would consider whether he should have

straight or curved cornices for his curtains. He was so interested

in it all that he often did things himself, rearranging the

furniture, or rehanging the curtains. Once when mounting a step-

ladder to show the upholsterer, who did not understand, how he

wanted the hangings draped, he mad a false step and slipped, but

being a strong and agile man he clung on and only knocked his side

against the knob of the window frame. The bruised place was

painful but the pain soon passed, and he felt particularly bright

and well just then. He wrote: "I feel fifteen years younger."

He thought he would have everything ready by September, but it

dragged on till mid-October. But the result was charming not only

in his eyes but to everyone who saw it.

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. At tea that evening, when Praskovya Fedorovna among

others things asked him about his fall, he laughed, and showed them

how he had gone flying and had frightened the upholsterer.

"It's a good thing I'm a bit of an athlete. Another man might

have been killed, but I merely knocked myself, just here; it hurts

when it's touched, but it's passing off already—it's only a


So they began living in their new home—in which, as always

happens, when they got thoroughly settled in they found they were

just one room short—and with the increased income, which as

always was just a little (some five hundred rubles) too little, but

it was all very nice.

Things went particularly well at first, before everything was

finally arranged and while something had still to be done: this

thing bought, that thing ordered, another thing moved, and

something else adjusted. Though there were some disputes between

husband and wife, they were both so well satisfied and had so much

to do that it all passed off without any serious quarrels. When

nothing was left to arrange it became rather dull and something

seemed to be lacking, but they were then making acquaintances,

forming habits, and life was growing fuller.

Ivan Ilych spent his mornings at the law court and came home

to diner, and at first he was generally in a good humour, though he

occasionally became irritable just on account of his house. (Every

spot on the tablecloth or the upholstery, and every broken window-

blind string, irritated him. He had devoted so much trouble to

arranging it all that every disturbance of it distressed him.) But

on the whole his life ran its course as he believed life should do:

easily, pleasantly, and decorously.

He got up at nine, drank his coffee, read the paper, and then

put on his undress uniform and went to the law courts. there the

harness in which he worked had already been stretched to fit him

and he donned it without a hitch: petitioners, inquiries at the

chancery, the chancery itself, and the sittings public and

administrative. In all this the thing was to exclude everything

fresh and vital, which always disturbs the regular course of

official business, and to admit only official relations with

people, and then only on official grounds. A man would come, for

instance, wanting some information. Ivan Ilych, as one in whose

sphere the matter did not lie, would have nothing to do with him:

but if the man had some business with him in his official capacity,

something that could be expressed on officially stamped paper, he

would do everything, positively everything he could within the

limits of such relations, and in doing so would maintain the

semblance of friendly human relations, that is, would observe the

courtesies of life. As soon as the official relations ended, so

did everything else. Ivan Ilych possessed this capacity to

separate his real life from the official side of affairs and not

mix the two, in the highest degree, and by long practice and

natural aptitude had brought it to such a pitch that sometimes, in

the manner of a virtuoso, he would even allow himself to let the

human and official relations mingle. He let himself do this just

because he felt that he could at any time he chose resume the

strictly official attitude again and drop the human relation. and

he did it all easily, pleasantly, correctly, and even artistically.

In the intervals between the sessions he smoked, drank tea, chatted

a little about politics, a little about general topics, a little

about cards, but most of all about official appointments. Tired,

but with the feelings of a virtuoso—one of the first violins who

has played his part in an orchestra with precision—he would

return home to find that his wife and daughter had been out paying

calls, or had a visitor, and that his son had been to school, had

done his homework with his tutor, and was surely learning what is

taught at High Schools. Everything was as it should be. After

dinner, if they had no visitors, Ivan Ilych sometimes read a book

that was being much discussed at the time, and in the evening

settled down to work, that is, read official papers, compared the

depositions of witnesses, and noted paragraphs of the Code applying

to them. This was neither dull nor amusing. It was dull when he

might have been playing bridge, but if no bridge was available it

was at any rate better than doing nothing or sitting with his wife.

Ivan Ilych's chief pleasure was giving little dinners to which he

invited men and women of good social position, and just as his

drawing-room resembled all other drawing-rooms so did his enjoyable

little parties resemble all other such parties.

Once they even gave a dance. Ivan Ilych enjoyed it and

everything went off well, except that it led to a violent quarrel

with his wife about the cakes and sweets. Praskovya Fedorovna had

made her own plans, but Ivan Ilych insisted on getting everything

from an expensive confectioner and ordered too many cakes, and the

quarrel occurred because some of those cakes were left over and the

confectioner's bill came to forty-five rubles. It was a great and

disagreeable quarrel. Praskovya Fedorovna called him "a fool and

an imbecile," and he clutched at his head and made angry allusions

to divorce.

But the dance itself had been enjoyable. The best people were

there, and Ivan Ilych had danced with Princess Trufonova, a sister

of the distinguished founder of the Society "Bear My Burden".

The pleasures connected with his work were pleasures of

ambition; his social pleasures were those of vanity; but Ivan

Ilych's greatest pleasure was playing bridge. He acknowledged that

whatever disagreeable incident happened in his life, the pleasure

that beamed like a ray of light above everything else was to sit

down to bridge with good players, not noisy partners, and of course

to four-handed bridge (with five players it was annoying to have to

stand out, though one pretended not to mind), to play a clever and

serious game (when the cards allowed it) and then to have supper

and drink a glass of wine. after a game of bridge, especially if

he had won a little (to win a large sum was unpleasant), Ivan Ilych

went to bed in a specially good humour.

So they lived. they formed a circle of acquaintances among

the best people and were visited by people of importance and by

young folk. In their views as to their acquaintances, husband,

wife and daughter were entirely agreed, and tacitly and unanimously

kept at arm's length and shook off the various shabby friends and

relations who, with much show of affection, gushed into the

drawing-room with its Japanese plates on the walls. Soon these

shabby friends ceased to obtrude themselves and only the best

people remained in the Golovins' set.

Young men made up to Lisa, and Petrishchev, an examining

magistrate and Dmitri Ivanovich Petrishchev's son and sole heir,

began to be so attentive to her that Ivan Ilych had already spoken

to Praskovya Fedorovna about it, and considered whether they should

not arrange a party for them, or get up some private theatricals.

So they lived, and all went well, without change, and life

flowed pleasantly.

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