Unusually, the novel begins with what in most novels would normally be considered as the epilogue, thus all suspense concerning the final outcome of the action of the work is removed and the reader is able to concentrate almost entirely on its psychological and philosophical aspects.
The opening scene of the novel is in the Law Courts in St. Petersburg, where during an interval in a trial one of Ivan Ilyich Golovins colleagues, a certain Pyotr Ivanovich, remarks upon a notice in the newspaper telling of the death of Ivan Ilyich "which occurred on February the 4th of this year 1882." The following conversation of the men present, whom, we are told, had all been fond of Ivan Ilyich, centres not about their upset at his death, but instead on who will take up his now vacant position and what knock-on effects that this will have for them.
The scene then moves to the home of Pyotr Ivanovich, who had been one of Ivan Ilyichs nearest acquaintances, and we are told how after his dinner he changes and goes to Ivan Ilyichs house in order to pay his respects to the dead. Here he encounters one of his habitual card-playing companions, a man named Schwartz with whom he hopes to join in a game of cards later. Unsure of how to behave, he enters the room where Ivan Ilyichs body is briefly and is then drawn into another room by Ivan widow, Praskovya Fedorovna, who wishes to find out from him if there is any way she can extract any more money from the government over and above that she will receive from her pension now that her husband is dead. Pyotr Ivanovich tells her that he thinks not, and departs from the house for that of his colleague Fedor Vasilievich, where Schwarz and others are playing cards, and finding that they have only just finished playing the first rubber, joins in.
In this chapter, we are told of Ivan Ilyichs pre-history. He was the son of a careerist civil servant who had finished up as a Privy Councillor. His younger brother, who was considered a failure, worked in the railways department, and his sister had married a Baron Greff. Ivan, considered to be the best of the Golovin children, had studied at the School of Law, during which time he occasionally succumbed to youthful vices, but graduated successfully nevertheless, thereafter taking a position in the tenth rank of the civil service, working as an official for special service for a provincial governor, a position he enjoyed and found very comfortable. He served in this capacity for five years and was then made examining magistrate in another province, the power of which more elevated position he enjoyed enormously. He performed the job "in the proper way" and efficiently and it was in this new town that he met his wife, the most eligible girl of the area, and believing that marriage was something that a man in his position should do, he did. He then soon found out that married life was not so easy, and with the birth of his first child his wife became to him incomprehensibly more difficult and demanding, with the result that Ivan involved himself more and more in his work. After three years of service as examining magistrate Ivan was made Assistant Public Prosecutor, and then four years later was transferred to another province as Public Prosecutor, where his relationship with his wife continued to be generally strained and he became more and more involved in his work, which consequently gave him increasing pleasure. Things continued thus for another seven years, by which point his eldest daughter was sixteen, and his only other surviving child had been put by his wife into the High School rather than the School of Law in order to spite him.
We now find Ivan Ilyich seventeen years into his married life, being passed over for promotions and dissatisfied with his salary of three thousand five hundred rubles a year. He therefore, in this summer of 1880 decides to go with his family to his brother-in-laws country home with his family in order to save money, but overcome by ennui he makes a journey to St. Petersburg with the sole intention of finding himself a position, no matter what it may be, which commands a salary of five thousand rubles. In the course of his journey, he chances upon an old acquaintance who informs him of a suitable post in St. Petersburg that is about to be vacated. This he subsequently secures and then transfers himself to
|Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Bibliomania.com Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.|