Monday, August 20, 2018

“Mr. Ilyich, He dead!” Briefly, My Problem With Tolstoy’s The Death Of Ivan Ilyich

I just reread this after a long, long ago first reading.

It strikes me as thematically and homiletically simple minded. All social convention is artifice and fakery; sophistication is  but a veneer and a distraction, an illusion, a delusion. Truth only lies in simplicity and compassion. The novella is so abstract in a way as to be more like an Aesop’s fable or an allegory. Sure, the descriptions of the superficialities of conventionality are strong (but overdone in their absoluteness) and affectingly strong it is in our being immersed in the slow sickening unto death of Ilyich. But the wholesale condemnation of all social life and its contrast with the simple purity of Gerasim is simplistic and sentimental and the final epiphany is unsatisfying as it aims to resolve a contrast that is false, that is overstated to the point of foolishness. But maybe I’m missing depths, maybe ironic depths. 

1 comment:

  1. R.S.

    It portrays an unusual relationship between man and servant, which is supposed to be moving, because noble. Recall Wilde, "one must have a heart of stone not to laugh at the death of Little Nell." Not all are moved to tears. I had a heart of stone when I read The Old Curiosity Shop a few years ago. I'm reading Don Quixote which is sentimental from beginning to end, despite its reputation as satire. One of the great divides in taste seems to be between the tough and tender-minded. (This has no relation to their actions, their characters, I would guess.)