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Leo Tolstoy Biography; or Was Death of Ivan Ilyich His Own Life?

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Petra Arredondo-Ríos

Professor Godínez

English 028

30 April 2017

Leo Tolstoy Biography; Or was Death of Ivan Ilyich his own Life?

                You can’t help but wonder if Leo Tolstoy in all his books and novellas were somehow all just portraying a bit about his own life.  Leo Tolstoy was a Russian writer who ranked among the world’s top writer in his time.   Leo Tolstoy was born September 9, 1828, Yasnaya Polyana, Tula Province, Russia.  Leo Tolstoy is best known for his two longest, War and Peace (1865-69) and Anna Karenina (1875-77), which are commonly regarded as among the finest novels ever written (Encyclopedia Britannica).  Leo Tolstoy shorter works the novella,  The Death of Ivan Ilyich was published in 1886.  The Death of Ivan Ilyich is the story of a painfully ordinary government official who comes down with an untreatable illness and dies at home slowly, painfully, and full of loneliness.  Ivan Ilyich has an unhappy family life, and a petty personality.  Instead of turning to religion, art, or the love of his life to cope with death, he turns to a few doctors. Ivan Ilyich finds that he isn’t able to enjoy many things he once did.  Ivan Ilyich finds that friends of

a lifetime aren’t real friends.   He feels his own family does not really love him and feels all alone.  Leo Tolstoy, by age 58 had endured several impactful events throughout his life.  I believe that Tolstoy and Ilyich had similarities in their life’s but perhaps the experiences were different.  Therefore, factors such as death, wealth, believes, and trivialities could have influenced the theme in the novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich.

        In Tolstoy early life, his mother Maria Volkonsky dies when he is only 18 months old. Tolstoy is the youngest of four sons.  His father Nikolay Tolstoy, dies in 1837 just years after his mom. Tolstoy and his siblings are raised by grandmother but she dies just eleven months after his father.  Soon after, Tolstoy and his siblings are left with a guardian, his aunt Tatyana Ergolsky (Encyclopedia of World Biography).  Tolstoy father Nikolay exhausted most of his wealth before marrying his mom Maria.  His mother was an heiress to a fortune that included 800 serfs and the estate of Yasnaya Polyana.  I am sure that in Tolstoy early years the experience of losing both parents influenced caused him challenges as a young man.  In 1844, Tolstoy entered Kazan University as a student of Oriental languages but transferred to law faculty (Encyclopedia Britannica).  In the novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich.  Ilyich is portrayed as a man that comes from a wealthy family and is a lawyer who becomes a government official.  In the novella, Tolstoy says, “He had studied with his younger brother at the School of Law” (Tolstoy 8).  Ivan Ilyich character is of someone obsessed with standards of propriety and decorum, the etiquette of the upper class. Ilyich becomes accustomed to propriety, grows intolerable to everything that threatens his own comfort of material well-being.  In Tolstoy life attempts to take the law examination but becomes disenchanted after the first two parts. He finally leaves the university in 1847 (Encyclopedia Britannica). 

        In September of 1862, Tolstoy at the age of 34 years old marries 16 years old Sofya Andreyevna Bers, a daughter of a prominent Moscow doctor.  According to the Encyclopedia of World Biography;  “the first decade of their marriage brought Tolstoy great happiness; never before or after was his creative life so rich or his personal life so full; June of 1963 his wife had the first of their 13 children.”  Sadly only 10 survived infancy.  Tolstoy character Ivan Ilyich marries Praskovya Fedorovna Mikhel, according to Tolstoy, “who was the most attractive, clever and a brilliant girl” (Tolstoy 10).  She also came from a good family and has some property.  They had 4 children but only 2 survived.  Ilyich and Mikel character were not a very happy marriage. Mikel was not a happy woman she was jealous women who wanted her husband’s attention, (Tolstoy 12).  Ilyich focused more on the government duties and didn’t really spend much time with family.  Tolstoy and his wife Sofya were very happy and he was deeply in love with her.  Stated in Encyclopedia of World Biography; “She worshiped her husband, doing everything in her power to free him from all but his writings.”  During this time, is when Tolstoy worked on his best-known work “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina.”



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