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Saturday, 29 March 2014

Notes on "The death of Ivan Ilyich"

http://s12.postimg.org/8k604ex3h/medium_zipview.jpgI'm reading "The death of Ivan Ilyich".
This novella is included in the Norton critical edition of Tolstoy's short fiction, edited by Michael R. Katz.

The book I borrowed from my university, somebody underlined and scribbled in it (let call this person X). The 1st time is when Praskovya addresses somebody as Jean, who should be her husband Ivan. X underlined the name Jean and wrote beside it "Ivan?" I made a right guess- Jean is the French equivalent of the name Ivan, which is itself the Russian equivalent of the name John in English. It's like Pyotr, Peter and Pierre are different versions of the same name.
The 2nd time, X underlined the clause "she told him she was doing for herself what she actually was doing for herself" and wrote "?" next to it.
One should look at the whole thing:
"When the examination was over the doctor looked at his watch, and then Praskovya Fedorovna announced to Ivan Ilyich that it was of course as he pleased, but she had sent today for a celebrated specialist who would examine him and have a consultation with Mikhail Danikovich (their regular doctor).
'Please don't raise any objections. I'm doing this for my own sake', she said ironically, letting it be felt that she was doing it all for his sake and only said this to leave him no right to refuse. He remained silent, knitting his brows. He felt that he was surrounded and involved in such a mesh of falsity that it was hard to unravel anything.
Everything she did for him was entirely for her own sake, she told him she was doing for herself what she actually was doing for herself, as if that was so incredible he must understand the opposite." 
This bit is in fact clear. I would call it a case of double irony- the irony of a person who means to say something ironically and ends up telling the truth, with or without awareness of it. In the next page Tolstoy writes "Praskovya Fedorovna came in, self-satisfied but with a rather guilty air. She sat down and asked how he was, but, as he saw, only for the sake of asking and not in order to learn about it, knowing that there was nothing to learn". The "ask for the sake of asking, not for the answer" thing I've seen in F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story "May day", I've also seen in real life (or felt so at least), and perhaps done it at least once myself. People sometimes ask "How are you?", "Are you OK?", "What's wrong?"... not because they'd like to know how it's going with the other person, but because they feel that they should ask so (the same goes for questions like "What do you think?", "Is it all right?", "Do you mind?" in some cases). Similarly, in the former passage, Praskovya hardly cares about Ivan's condition- she says something that is meant to be understood as an irony, so that Ivan cannot refuse, and if he refuses to see the specialist, she has the right to put the blame on him when his condition worsens, as she has always blamed him, but the thing she says is actually the truth, for she doesn't care about him, like somebody urges a sick person to find a doctor and get better not because they genuinely wish the sick person to get better but rather because the sick person is a burden, or a nuisance, and at the same time, whilst asking for doctors and specialists, she can tell people that she has done her task and fulfilled her role and that anything that goes wrong is due to him alone, and at the same time she can feel good about herself, having done what she should. 
These lines are the most insightful ones in this story, but then, the whole story so far is perfection, as expected. 
Reading books that aren't brand new, by the way, can be rather nice. Some people might underline, stress important points, make notes or jot down some thoughts.  


(Note: The picture is taken from redemmas.org)

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