Saturday, November 01, 2008


Rating : 3.5/5
Number of Pages : 304
Reason for Reading : Classic's Challenge, Guardian 100 Greatest Books of All Time

My version of The Death of Ivan Ilych and other stories contained the following four novellas:

Family Happiness
The story concerns the love and marriage of a young girl, Mashechka (Masha), and the much older Sergey Mikhaylych, an old family friend. After a somewhat awkward courtship, the two are married and move to Mikhaylych's home. Mikhaylych was concerned that as Mashe was so much younger she would be more concerned with the frivolities in life and could not settle with a man such as him. Their marriage begins well with the two in love, until they join society and Mikhaylych becomes cold to his popular wife. Tolstory seems of the opinion that marriage cannot remain happy, but must fall into routine with both parties plodding along and not rocking the boat. The title is highly ironic.

The Death of Ivan Ilych
At the beginning Ivan Ilych has just died and we attend his funeral. Present are a series of work colleagues all after his job and promotion and his wife who just wants as much money from the government as possible. Looking back over Ivan's life we see how he wasted it. His focus was on material possessions and it is on hanging curtains one day that he suffers his injury that will later kill him. On his death bed he finally sees the light and undergoes a conversion of sorts after a painful last few days.

The Kreutzer Sonata
During a train ride, Pozdnyshev overhears a conversation concerning marriage, divorce and love. When a woman argues that marriage should not be arranged but based on true love, he asks "what is love?". It turns out he is famous for having murdered his wife. He began by having a string of affairs and laments on how mothers push their daughters into society to sell themselves to the highest bidder. He does settle and marry, more out of a sense of duty than anything else. He never experiences what others seem to call love and eventually becomes convinced his wife is having an affaier with her music teacher. He is later acquitted of her murder in light of her apparent adultery, and Pozdnyshev rides the trains seeking forgiveness from fellow passengers.

Master and Man
Land owner Vasili Andreevich Brekhunov takes along one of his peasants, Nikita, for a short journey to the house of the owner of a forest. He is impatient and wishes to get to the town more quickly 'for business' (purchasing the forest before other contenders can get there and undercut him). They find themselves in the middle of a blizzard, but the master wishes to press on and get the cheap land. They eventually get lost off the road and they try to camp. The master's peasant soon finds himself about to die from hypothermia and his master leaves with the horse letting him die. Nikita (he used to suffer from a drinking problem but has since given up vodka) awaits his death, but his mater has a change of heart when he attains a spiritual/moral revelation (similar to The Death of Ivan Ilych). He returns and lies on top of the Nikita to keep him warm through the cold night. He, himself is too exposed to the cold though and dies (along with the steadfast horse sadly). Nikita's life is saved.

There are themes of anti-marriage, the praise of the life of peasants over society who merely waste their money and time in vain pursuits and death allowing for spiritual conversions. An interesting collection of stories not to be overlooked by fans of Anna Karenina as it has some similar ideas.

2 comments:

Nymeth said...

I think I'll give these a try some day. I haven't read any Tolstoy, and this sounds like a less intimidating introduction than Anna Karenina.

Trish said...

To be honest, Tolstoy really scares me!! I guess I'm just really intimidated by him for some reason. But I do have this book on my shelf (yes, with the same stories), so I'll have to buck up and read them someday. Sounds like some really interesting themes!