The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories is a collection of stories that emerged from a profound spiritual crisis, during which Leo Tolstoy believed that he had encountered death itself. This Penguin Classics edition is translated with an introduction by Anthony Briggs, David McDuff and Ronald Wilks.
These seven compelling stories explore, in very different ways, Tolstoy’s preoccupation with mortality. ‘The Death of Ivan Ilyich’ is a devastating account of a man fighting his inevitable end, and asks the existential question: why must a good person be taken before his time? In ‘Polikushka’, a light-fingered drunk’s chance to prove himself has tragic repercussions, while ‘Three Deaths’ depicts the last moments of an aristocrat, a peasant and a tree, and ‘The Forged Coupon’ shows a seemingly minor offence that leads inexorably to ever more horrific crimes. And in three tales about soldiers, ‘After the Ball’, ‘The Wood-felling’ and ‘The Raid’, Tolstoy portrays the brutality that all too often accompanies military life.
The translations by Anthony Briggs, David McDuff and Ronald Wilks capture Tolstoy’s powerful, vivid prose. This edition also includes a new introduction by Anthony Briggs discussing Tolstoy’s breakdown and the effect this had on his writing, as well as a chronology, further reading and notes.
Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) was born at Yasnaya Polyana, in central Russia. He led a life of wasteful idleness until 1851, when he travelled to the Caucasus and joined the army with his older brother, fighting in the Crimean war. After marrying Sofya Behrs in 1862, Tolstoy settled down, managing his estates and writing two of his best-known novels, War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1878). In 1884 Tolstoy experienced a spiritual crisis, becoming an extreme moralist, rejecting the state, the church and private property. His last novel, Resurrection (1900), was written to raise money for the Doukhobor sect of Christian spiritualists.
If you enjoyed The Death of Ivan Ilyich, you might like Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, also available in Penguin Classics.