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In 1828, somewhere in the countryside north of Moscow, Leo Tolstoy was born into the Russian nobility. Count Tolstoy, although acquainted with the finer things that life had to offer, new that the Romantic view of the world was false early in his life. His mother left this world when he was two, and his father undoubtedly told horrific stories of the chaotic Napoleonic Wars. This, coupled with the consecutive deaths of not only his father, but his favorite aunts and grandmother, all before his twenty-first birthday, a three year stint in the military during the Crimean war, and the works of masters such as Rousseau, Voltaire, Hegel, Darwin, Dickens, Gogol, and the New Testament contributed to the literary genius which is Tolstoy. As a realist, Tolstoy was committed to truthfully representing reality in literature. As a founder of a socio-religious movement, aptly named Tolstoyism, his goal was to enlighten the masses.
The Death of Ivan Ilyich is a prime example of the merger of these two ideals. At first glance this is a simple tale of a " most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible" man? s life and death (1208). But upon closer scrutiny, we see that this is a stylized account of the Count?
s own life. Much like Ivan, the Count married a younger wife, not so much out of love, as out of convenience. After a few years of marital bliss, problems arose. Both men tried to separate home and work, with the disastrous results of neglecting their wives.
Although ideally matched socially, these two couple? s argued about everything from work and politics, to the children not eating their food fast, or slow enough. When Ivan dies, his wife wraps up his affairs, as best she can. Tolstoy, however, made out his will well before his death in 1910, and interestingly enough, leaves his wife of over 50 years relatively little of his possessions. Another similarity between the Count and the Judge is their deaths. Ivan?
s " floating kidney, " or " appendicitis, " depending on the doctor, caused him great pain and discomfort for the last couple years of his life. Towards the end, he refused to see any doctors, and finally had a revelation. Tolstoy died the death of an eighty-two year old man. His last year was spent confined to a few rooms in his home, and refused also to see a doctor.
Where Ivan? s revelation of life occurred during the last days of his life, Tolstoy? s occurred somewhere around 1877, following the deaths of his 7 th, 8 th, and 9 th children in infancy. Both, however, came up with the same conclusion: a materialistic and self-centered life is not a good one. Only when your life has an unselfish, community minded purpose is it worth living.
And with " forgive me" on their lips, they died.
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