Life on a Deathbed

The Death of Ivan Ilyich

A lifelong Russian Orthodox Christian,1 Leo Tolstoy underwent an intense “conversion” in his late fifties when he embraced a more ascetic mode of living and, although a nobleman, lived as a servant. The Death of Ivan Ilyich, his first work exhibiting this change, recounts the formative events in the title character’s life, revealing an absence of any meaningful relationships right up until his deathbed repentance. Whether or not the novel captures some of Tolstoy’s late-in-life reflections on his pre-conversion life, it evokes the psalmist’s call to “number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom,” as the story unfolds the spiritual cost of neglecting or...


is a retired secondary teacher of English and philosophy. For forty years he challenged students to dive deep into the classics of the Western canon, to think and write analytically, and to find the cultural constants reflected throughout that literature, art, and thought.

This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #67, Winter 2023 Copyright © 2024 Salvo |


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