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The Death of Ivan Ilych
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Chapter 4

They were all in good health. It could not be called ill

health if Ivan Ilych sometimes said that he had a queer taste in

his mouth and felt some discomfort in his left side.

But this discomfort increased and, though not exactly painful,

grew into a sense of pressure in his side accompanied by ill

humour. And his irritability became worse and worse and began to

mar the agreeable, easy, and correct life that had established

itself in the Golovin family. Quarrels between husband and wife

became more and more frequent, and soon the ease and amenity

disappeared and even the decorum was barely maintained. Scenes

again became frequent, and very few of those islets remained on

which husband and wife could meet without an explosion. Praskovya

Fedorovna now had good reason to say that her husband's temper was

trying. With characteristic exaggeration she said he had always

had a dreadful temper, and that it had needed all her good nature

to put up with it for twenty years. It was true that now the

quarrels were started by him. His bursts of temper always came

just before dinner, often just as he began to eat his soup.

Sometimes he noticed that a plate or dish was chipped, or the food

was not right, or his son put his elbow on the table, or his

daughter's hair was not done as he liked it, and for all this he

blamed Praskovya Fedorovna. At first she retorted and said

disagreeable things to him, but once or twice he fell into such a

rage at the beginning of dinner that she realized it was due to

some physical derangement brought on by taking food, and so she

restrained herself and did not answer, but only hurried to get the

dinner over. She regarded this self-restraint as highly

praiseworthy. Having come to the conclusion that her husband had

a dreadful temper and made her life miserable, she began to feel

sorry for herself, and the more she pitied herself the more she

hated her husband. She began to wish he would die; yet she did not

want him to die because then his salary would cease. And this

irritated her against him still more. She considered herself

dreadfully unhappy just because not even his death could save her,

and though she concealed her exasperation, that hidden exasperation

of hers increased his irritation also.

After one scene in which Ivan Ilych had been particularly

unfair and after which he had said in explanation that he certainly

was irritable but that it was due to his not being well, she said

that he was ill it should be attended to, and insisted on his going

to see a celebrated doctor.

He went. Everything took place as he had expected and as it

always does. There was the usual waiting and the important air

assumed by the doctor, with which he was so familiar (resembling

that which he himself assumed in court), and the sounding and

listening, and the questions which called for answers that were

foregone conclusions and were evidently unnecessary, and the look

of importance which implied that "if only you put yourself in our

hands we will arrange everything—we know indubitably how it has

to be done, always in the same way for everybody alike." It was

all just as it was in the law courts. The doctor put on just the

same air towards him as he himself put on towards an accused


The doctor said that so-and-so indicated that there was so-

and-so inside the patient, but if the investigation of so-and-so

did not confirm this, then he must assume that and that. If he

assumed that and that, then...and so on. To Ivan Ilych only one

question was important: was his case serious or not? But the

doctor ignored that inappropriate question. From his point of view

it was not the one under consideration, the real question was to

decide between a floating kidney, chronic catarrh, or appendicitis.

It was not a question the doctor solved brilliantly, as it seemed

to Ivan Ilych, in favour of the appendix, with the reservation that

should an examination of the urine give fresh indications the

matter would be reconsidered. All this was just what Ivan Ilych

had himself brilliantly accomplished a thousand times in dealing

with men on trial. The doctor summed up just as brilliantly,

looking over his spectacles triumphantly and even gaily at the

accused. From the doctor's summing up Ivan Ilych concluded that

things were bad, but that for the doctor, and perhaps for everybody

else, it was a matter of indifference, though for him it was bad.

And this conclusion struck him painfully, arousing in him a great

feeling of pity for himself and of bitterness towards the doctor's

indifference to a matter of such importance.

He said nothing of this, but rose, placed the doctor's fee on

the table, and remarked with a sigh: "We sick people probably

often put inappropriate questions. But tell me, in general, is

this complaint dangerous, or not?..."

The doctor looked at him sternly over his spectacles with one

eye, as if to say: "Prisoner, if you will not keep to the

questions put to you, I shall be obliged to have you removed from

the court."

"I have already told you what I consider necessary and proper.

The analysis may show something more." And the doctor bowed.

Ivan Ilych went out slowly, seated himself disconsolately in

his sledge, and drove home. All the way home he was going over

what the doctor had said, trying to translate those complicated,

obscure, scientific phrases into plain language and find in them an

answer to the question: "Is my condition bad? Is it very bad? Or

is there as yet nothing much wrong?" And it seemed to him that the

meaning of what the doctor had said was that it was very bad.

Everything in the streets seemed depressing. The cabmen, the

houses, the passers-by, and the shops, were dismal. His ache, this

dull gnawing ache that never ceased for a moment, seemed to have

acquired a new and more serious significance from the doctor's

dubious remarks. Ivan Ilych now watched it with a new and

oppressive feeling.

He reached home and began to tell his wife about it. She

listened, but in the middle of his account his daughter came in

with her hat on, ready to go out with her mother. She sat down

reluctantly to listen to this tedious story, but could not stand it

long, and her mother too did not hear him to the end.

"Well, I am very glad," she said. "Mind now to take your

medicine regularly. Give me the prescription and I'll send Gerasim

to the chemist's." And she went to get ready to go out.

While she was in the room Ivan Ilych had hardly taken time to

breathe, but he sighed deeply when she left it.

"Well," he thought, "perhaps it isn't so bad after all."

He began taking his medicine and following the doctor's

directions, which had been altered after the examination of the

urine. but then it happened that there was a contradiction between

the indications drawn from the examination of the urine and the

symptoms that showed themselves. It turned out that what was

happening differed from what the doctor had told him, and that he

had either forgotten or blundered, or hidden something from him.

He could not, however, be blamed for that, and Ivan Ilych still

obeyed his orders implicitly and at first derived some comfort from

doing so.

From the time of his visit to the doctor, Ivan Ilych's chief

occupation was the exact fulfillment of the doctor's instructions

regarding hygiene and the taking of medicine, and the observation

of his pain and his excretions. His chief interest came to be

people's ailments and people's health. When sickness, deaths, or

recoveries were mentioned in his presence, especially when the

illness resembled his own, he listened with agitation which he

tried to hide, asked questions, and applied what he heard to his

own case.

The pain did not grow less, but Ivan Ilych made efforts to

force himself to think that he was better. And he could do this so

long as nothing agitated him. But as soon as he had any

unpleasantness with his wife, any lack of success in his official

work, or held bad cards at bridge, he was at once acutely sensible

of his disease. He had formerly borne such mischances, hoping soon

to adjust what was wrong, to master it and attain success, or make

a grand slam. But now every mischance upset him and plunged him

into despair. He would say to himself: "there now, just as I was

beginning to get better and the medicine had begun to take effect,

comes this accursed misfortune, or unpleasantness..." And he was

furious with the mishap, or with the people who were causing the

unpleasantness and killing him, for he felt that this fury was

killing him but he could not restrain it. One would have thought

that it should have been clear to him that this exasperation with

circumstances and people aggravated his illness, and that he ought

therefore to ignore unpleasant occurrences. But he drew the very

opposite conclusion: he said that he needed peace, and he watched

for everything that might disturb it and became irritable at the

slightest infringement of it. His condition was rendered worse by

the fact that he read medical books and consulted doctors. The

progress of his disease was so gradual that he could deceive

himself when comparing one day with another—the difference was

so slight. But when he consulted the doctors it seemed to him that

he was getting worse, and even very rapidly. Yet despite this he

was continually consulting them.

That month he went to see another celebrity, who told him

almost the same as the first had done but put his questions rather

differently, and the interview with this celebrity only increased

Ivan Ilych's doubts and fears. A friend of a friend of his, a very

good doctor, diagnosed his illness again quite differently from the

others, and though he predicted recovery, his questions and

suppositions bewildered Ivan Ilych still more and increased his

doubts. A homeopathist diagnosed the disease in yet another way,

and prescribed medicine which Ivan Ilych took secretly for a week.

But after a week, not feeling any improvement and having lost

confidence both in the former doctor's treatment and in this one's,

he became still more despondent. One day a lady acquaintance

mentioned a cure effected by a wonder-working icon. Ivan Ilych

caught himself listening attentively and beginning to believe that

it had occurred. This incident alarmed him. "Has my mind really

weakened to such an extent?" he asked himself. "Nonsense! It's

all rubbish. I mustn't give way to nervous fears but having chosen

a doctor must keep strictly to his treatment. That is what I will

do. Now it's all settled. I won't think about it, but will follow

the treatment seriously till summer, and then we shall see. From

now there must be no more of this wavering!" this was easy to say

but impossible to carry out. The pain in his side oppressed him

and seemed to grow worse and more incessant, while the taste in his

mouth grew stranger and stranger. It seemed to him that his breath

had a disgusting smell, and he was conscious of a loss of appetite

and strength. There was no deceiving himself: something terrible,

new, and more important than anything before in his life, was

taking place within him of which he alone was aware. Those about

him did not understand or would not understand it, but thought

everything in the world was going on as usual. That tormented Ivan

Ilych more than anything. He saw that his household, especially

his wife and daughter who were in a perfect whirl of visiting, did

not understand anything of it and were annoyed that he was so

depressed and so exacting, as if he were to blame for it. Though

they tried to disguise it he saw that he was an obstacle in their

path, and that his wife had adopted a definite line in regard to

his illness and kept to it regardless of anything he said or did.

Her attitude was this: "You know," she would say to her friends,

"Ivan Ilych can't do as other people do, and keep to the treatment

prescribed for him. One day he'll take his drops and keep strictly

to his diet and go to bed in good time, but the next day unless I

watch him he'll suddenly forget his medicine, eat sturgeon—which

is forbidden—and sit up playing cards till one o'clock in the


"Oh, come, when was that?" Ivan Ilych would ask in vexation.

"Only once at Peter Ivanovich's."

"And yesterday with shebek."

"Well, even if I hadn't stayed up, this pain would have kept

me awake."

"Be that as it may you'll never get well like that, but will

always make us wretched."

Praskovya Fedorovna's attitude to Ivan Ilych's illness, as she

expressed it both to others and to him, was that it was his own

fault and was another of the annoyances he caused her. Ivan ilych

felt that this opinion escaped her involuntarily—but that did

not make it easier for him.

At the law courts too, Ivan Ilych noticed, or thought he

noticed, a strange attitude towards himself. It sometimes seemed

to him that people were watching him inquisitively as a man whose

place might soon be vacant. Then again, his friends would suddenly

begin to chaff him in a friendly way about his low spirits, as if

the awful, horrible, and unheard-of thing that was going on within

him, incessantly gnawing at him and irresistibly drawing him away,

was a very agreeable subject for jests. Schwartz in particular

irritated him by his jocularity, vivacity, and *savoir-faire*,

which reminded him of what he himself had been ten years ago.

Friends came to make up a set and they sat down to cards.

They dealt, bending the new cards to soften them, and he sorted the

diamonds in his hand and found he had seven. His partner said "No

trumps" and supported him with two diamonds. What more could be

wished for? It ought to be jolly and lively. They would make a

grand slam. But suddenly Ivan Ilych was conscious of that gnawing

pain, that taste in his mouth, and it seemed ridiculous that in

such circumstances he should be pleased to make a grand slam.

He looked at his partner Mikhail Mikhaylovich, who rapped the

table with his strong hand and instead of snatching up the tricks

pushed the cards courteously and indulgently towards Ivan Ilych

that he might have the pleasure of gathering them up without the

trouble of stretching out his hand for them. "Does he think I am

too weak to stretch out my arm?" thought Ivan Ilych, and forgetting

what he was doing he over-trumped his partner, missing the grand

slam by three tricks. And what was most awful of all was that he

saw how upset Mikhail Mikhaylovich was about it but did not himself

care. And it was dreadful to realize why he did not care.

They all saw that he was suffering, and said: "We can stop if

you are tired. Take a rest." Lie down? No, he was not at all

tired, and he finished the rubber. All were gloomy and silent.

Ivan Ilych felt that he had diffused this gloom over them and could

not dispel it. They had supper and went away, and Ivan Ilych was

left alone with the consciousness that his life was poisoned and

was poisoning the lives of others, and that this poison did not

weaken but penetrated more and more deeply into his whole being.

With this consciousness, and with physical pain besides the

terror, he must go to bed, often to lie awake the greater part of

the night. Next morning he had to get up again, dress, go to the

law courts, speak, and write; or if he did not go out, spend at

home those twenty-four hours a day each of which was a torture.

And he had to live thus all alone on the brink of an abyss, with no

one who understood or pitied him.

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