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The Death of Ivan Ilych
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Chapter 7

How it happened it is impossible to say because it came about

step by step, unnoticed, but in the third month of Ivan Ilych's

illness, his wife, his daughter, his son, his acquaintances, the

doctors, the servants, and above all he himself, were aware that

the whole interest he had for other people was whether he would

soon vacate his place, and at last release the living from the

discomfort caused by his presence and be himself released from his


He slept less and less. He was given opium and hypodermic

injections of morphine, but this did not relieve him. The dull

depression he experienced in a somnolent condition at first gave

him a little relief, but only as something new, afterwards it

became as distressing as the pain itself or even more so.

Special foods were prepared for him by the doctors' orders,

but all those foods became increasingly distasteful and disgusting

to him.

For his excretions also special arrangements had to be made,

and this was a torment to him every time—a torment from the

uncleanliness, the unseemliness, and the smell, and from knowing

that another person had to take part in it.

But just through his most unpleasant matter, Ivan Ilych

obtained comfort. Gerasim, the butler's young assistant, always

came in to carry the things out. Gerasim was a clean, fresh

peasant lad, grown stout on town food and always cheerful and

bright. At first the sight of him, in his clean Russian peasant

costume, engaged on that disgusting task embarrassed Ivan Ilych.

Once when he got up from the commode to weak to draw up his

trousers, he dropped into a soft armchair and looked with horror at

his bare, enfeebled thighs with the muscles so sharply marked on


Gerasim with a firm light tread, his heavy boots emitting a

pleasant smell of tar and fresh winter air, came in wearing a clean

Hessian apron, the sleeves of his print shirt tucked up over his

strong bare young arms; and refraining from looking at his sick

master out of consideration for his feelings, and restraining the

joy of life that beamed from his face, he went up to the commode.

"Gerasim!" said Ivan Ilych in a weak voice.

"Gerasim started, evidently afraid he might have committed

some blunder, and with a rapid movement turned his fresh, kind,

simple young face which just showed the first downy signs of a


"Yes, sir?"

"That must be very unpleasant for you. You must forgive me.

I am helpless."

"Oh, why, sir," and Gerasim's eyes beamed and he showed his

glistening white teeth, "what's a little trouble? It's a case of

illness with you, sir."

And his deft strong hands did their accustomed task, and he

went out of the room stepping lightly. five minutes later he as

lightly returned.

Ivan Ilych was still sitting in the same position in the


"Gerasim," he said when the latter had replaced the freshly-

washed utensil. "Please come here and help me." Gerasim went up

to him. "Lift me up. It is hard for me to get up, and I have sent

Dmitri away."

Gerasim went up to him, grasped his master with his strong

arms deftly but gently, in the same way that he stepped—lifted

him, supported him with one hand, and with the other drew up his

trousers and would have set him down again, but Ivan Ilych asked to

be led to the sofa. Gerasim, without an effort and without

apparent pressure, led him, almost lifting him, to the sofa and

placed him on it.

"That you. How easily and well you do it all!"

Gerasim smiled again and turned to leave the room. But Ivan

Ilych felt his presence such a comfort that he did not want to let

him go.

"One thing more, please move up that chair. No, the other one

—under my feet. It is easier for me when my feet are raised."

Gerasim brought the chair, set it down gently in place, and

raised Ivan Ilych's legs on it. It seemed to Ivan Ilych that he

felt better while Gerasim was holding up his legs.

"It's better when my legs are higher," he said. "Place that

cushion under them."

Gerasim did so. He again lifted the legs and placed them, and

again Ivan Ilych felt better while Gerasim held his legs. When he

set them down Ivan Ilych fancied he felt worse.

"Gerasim," he said. "Are you busy now?"

"Not at all, sir," said Gerasim, who had learnt from the

townsfolk how to speak to gentlefolk.

"What have you still to do?"

"What have I to do? I've done everything except chopping the

logs for tomorrow."

"Then hold my legs up a bit higher, can you?"

"Of course I can. Why not?" and Gerasim raised his master's

legs higher and Ivan Ilych thought that in that position he did not

feel any pain at all.

"And how about the logs?"

"Don't trouble about that, sir. There's plenty of time."

Ivan Ilych told Gerasim to sit down and hold his legs, and

began to talk to him. And strange to say it seemed to him that he

felt better while Gerasim held his legs up.

After that Ivan Ilych would sometimes call Gerasim and get him

to hold his legs on his shoulders, and he liked talking to him.

Gerasim did it all easily, willingly, simply, and with a good

nature that touched Ivan Ilych. Health, strength, and vitality in

other people were offensive to him, but Gerasim's strength and

vitality did not mortify but soothed him.

What tormented Ivan Ilych most was the deception, the lie,

which for some reason they all accepted, that he was not dying but

was simply ill, and the only need keep quiet and undergo a

treatment and then something very good would result. He however

knew that do what they would nothing would come of it, only still

more agonizing suffering and death. This deception tortured him—

their not wishing to admit what they all knew and what he knew, but

wanting to lie to him concerning his terrible condition, and

wishing and forcing him to participate in that lie. Those lies—

lies enacted over him on the eve of his death and destined to

degrade this awful, solemn act to the level of their visitings,

their curtains, their sturgeon for dinner—were a terrible agony

for Ivan Ilych. And strangely enough, many times when they were

going through their antics over him he had been within a

hairbreadth of calling out to them: "Stop lying! You know and I

know that I am dying. Then at least stop lying about it!" But he

had never had the spirit to do it. The awful, terrible act of his

dying was, he could see, reduced by those about him to the level of

a casual, unpleasant, and almost indecorous incident (as if someone

entered a drawing room defusing an unpleasant odour) and this was

done by that very decorum which he had served all his life long.

He saw that no one felt for him, because no one even wished to

grasp his position. Only Gerasim recognized it and pitied him.

And so Ivan Ilych felt at ease only with him. He felt comforted

when Gerasim supported his legs (sometimes all night long) and

refused to go to bed, saying: "Don't you worry, Ivan Ilych. I'll

get sleep enough later on," or when he suddenly became familiar and

exclaimed: "If you weren't sick it would be another matter, but as

it is, why should I grudge a little trouble?" Gerasim alone did

not lie; everything showed that he alone understood the facts of

the case and did not consider it necessary to disguise them, but

simply felt sorry for his emaciated and enfeebled master. Once

when Ivan Ilych was sending him away he even said straight out:

"We shall all of us die, so why should I grudge a little trouble?"

—expressing the fact that he did not think his work burdensome,

because he was doing it for a dying man and hoped someone would do

the same for him when his time came.

Apart from this lying, or because of it, what most tormented

Ivan Ilych was that no one pitied him as he wished to be pitied.

At certain moments after prolonged suffering he wished most of all

(though he would have been ashamed to confess it) for someone to

pity him as a sick child is pitied. He longed to be petted and

comforted. he knew he was an important functionary, that he had a

beard turning grey, and that therefore what he long for was

impossible, but still he longed for it. and in Gerasim's attitude

towards him there was something akin to what he wished for, and so

that attitude comforted him. Ivan Ilych wanted to weep, wanted to

be petted and cried over, and then his colleague Shebek would come,

and instead of weeping and being petted, Ivan Ilych would assume a

serious, severe, and profound air, and by force of habit would

express his opinion on a decision of the Court of Cassation and

would stubbornly insist on that view. This falsity around him and

within him did more than anything else to poison his last days.

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