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For the love of Himadri......

.... I have finally bitten the bullet and borrowed a Tolstoy from the library.....

It is The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories.  

They had better be good mate!  Or you're in trouble!


Oh – what a lovely title this thread has! That has really cheered me up now!

As the title implies, The Death of Ivan Ilyich is all about death and dying, and, as you can imagine, it’s a bit of a feelgood story.

Do let us know how you get on with it.

Oh, I will.... believe me, I will!


Ok, I made a start on the Tolstoy and read the first story over the last two nights as bedtime reading.  


It's called Happy Ever After (but more often known as Family Happiness).   It's about a young girl Marya Alexandrovna and her courtship and marriage to a much older man, Sergei Mihailovich.  

SM is an old friend of the father.  She lives as 'gentry' although not part of society.   At the beginning of the book, her mother has just died and she is miserable.  The return of SM brings her some distraction and makes her feel happier.   Soon she falls in love and he falls for her.  

Basically, this is a 'rites of passage' story.  She has to grow up and comes to understand that a woman is only truly happy when she is happy with her husband and children, living in the country, away from the corruptions and temptations of society.  

To be honest, it wasn't quite as bad as I was expecting.   Tolstoy's descriptions of gardens and landscape were quite often good and gave me a picture of place and setting.   But....

I had quite a few problems with this story.   For a start, it's hardly an original idea or story.   And wasn't handled in a particulary original way.   Society being a corrupting influence was, imo, handled much better by Voltaire in Candide.  

To be fair, I read the preface and saw the dreaded words 'influenced by Rousseau' so was kind of expecting the central idea of the story.   All that 'noble savage' nonsense!  (imo anyway!)   And of course, the Romantic style of story-telling.   Which was never my favourite style.   In this story, I find the emotions overblown and melodramatic.  For instance:

 Days, weeks, two months of seclusion in the country slipped by - imperceptibly, it seemed at the time; and yet the feelings, emotions and bliss of those two months would have sufficed to fill a whole lifetime.  

And two months later.....

 I loved him as much as ever, and was as happy in his love; but my love, instead of growing, had come to a standstill, and a new sensation of restlessness gradually invaded my spirit.  Loving was not enough for me after the happiness I had known falling in love.  I longed for activity, instead of an even flow of existence.  I wanted excitement and danger and the chance to renounce self for the sake of my love.........

I wanted not what I had got, but a life of challenge; I wanted feeling to guide us in life, and life to be the guide of feeling.  If only I could go with him to the edge of a precipice and say, 'One more step, and I shall be over; one more movement and I die!'  and then, pale with fear, he would catch me in his arms and hold me over the edge till my blood froze, and carry me off whither he pleased.

All this to describe a state of boredom!    Rolling Eyes

It's all too 'in your face'.  There's no subtlety, no finesse.  It's basically.....teenage.   If I was fifteen, I would probably love this story, the way I loved Jane Eyre but  

Possibly, I'm missing something and Tolstoy is being cleverer than I think.  But I don't get the feeling from the writing that this is any more subtle than it reads.   It reads like typical Romantic writing.   All heart 'on your sleeve' frenzied emotion.

Family Happiness is a relatively early work by Tolstoy: he was still finding his feet here. Although it is not entirely without interest, it isn't really the best way into Tolstoy: it's really one for seasoned Tolstoy fans who are interested in the writer's development.

Of the other stories in the collection, I find The Cossacks delightful in its evocation of place and time, but once again, it isn't mature Tolstoy. The Death of Ivan Illych, on the other hand, is an out-and-out masterpiece.

Ah, I see!   Ok, I shall read the Death of.... and let you know.

Miranda, did you ever finish "Ivan Ilyich"?  It is, as Himadri says, a masterpiece.  I consumed it in one afternoon and part of the evening following the text while listening to an unabridged reading by Oliver Ford Davies on Naxos Audiobooks. It stays with you.

Ermmm.....  Embarassed

No, I'm afraid I didn't.  I got distracted by another book and then had to take the Tolstoy back to the library.

I really do struggle with Tolstoy.   I have a problem getting his ridiculous (IMO) philosophical ramblings out of my head.    

But I will try again, at some point.........


Which bits of Tolstoy do you class as "ridiculous philosophical ramblings"?

Even Isaiah Berlin, who knew a thing or two about philosophy, took Tolstoy's philosophical writings very seriously. He didn't regard them either as "ridiculous", or as "ramblings".

Ivan Ilyich as existential document

I read Ivan Ilyich many years ago in an anthology of existential literature (please don't let that put you off). Without giving anything away, the existentialists concentrated on the change in the main char as his impending death approaches, the attitude of wife and friends, and esp his servant. Happy reading.

I've started a Wodehouse - Ring for Jeeves.

I am reading

I am reading Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.

Welcome to the board! I hope you're enjoying the book. It's one of my favourites.

I started Lolita but put it aside and the thought of more of Humbert's company is not compelling enough for me to want to pick it up again.  

Welcome, Abhiggyan.  There is actually a thread for people to put what they are reading at the moment, and it wouldn't get lost there.  Also one for what you have read during the month.  Plenty for you to get your teeth into anyway.  

Cheers, Caro.

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