The materials presented in this book were developed over many years of teaching about Tolstoy and the Death of Ivan Ilich (Смерть Ивана Ильича, 1886), both in English translation and in the original Russian. The primary intended audience of the book is students of Russian language and literature. The work is mainly oriented toward those reading the text in the original, but the novel is presented in various formats to accommodate readers possessing various degrees of proficiency in Russian, from little to none all the way up to the advanced level of instruction.

The book opens with an Introduction to Tolstoy’s life and times and to The Death of Ivan Ilich, adapted for this publication from that which appeared in my book, Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Il’ich: A Critical Companion (Evanston IL: Northwestern University Press, 1999). A brief presentation of the historical background of Russia in the 1860’s, 70’s, and 80’s and Tolstoy’s place in it, is followed by an account of the writing and publication of the novel, a discussion of the reception and analysis of the novel in its own time and later, in both Russia and abroad. The Introduction ends with a presentation of data on the physical proportions of the novel (the number and relative sizes of the chapters) and their significance in understanding the artistic strategy of the work.

To accommodate the needs of readers at various levels of readiness, the text is offered in four different formats.

1. Russian only:

The text presented here is that found in Volume 26 of the Complete Collected Works of L. N. Tolstoy in 90 Volumes (Полное собрание сочинений Л. Н. Толстого в 90 томах, Москва-Ленинград: ГИХЛ, 1928-58). This is the “Jubilee Edition,” so-called because its publication began on the one-hundredth anniversary of Tolstoy’s birth. It is recognized as the canonical version of the text of the novel (Vol. 26, pp. 61-113), and the volume also contains alternate readings of some passages in the text (pp. 505-528) as well as extensive commentary, including a history of the writing and publication of the novel by L. P. Grossman (pp. 679-91).  A link to a digitized copy of Volume 26 can be found in the Bibliography of Primary Sources at the end of this book. The ful-text version is offered for reasons of convenience to readers who may prefer it, but also in order to permit streamlined searching of the text for those with an interest in investigating lexical or syntactic frequencies as an aspect of the novel’s style. It is more efficient to be able to search the  entire text at once, rather than to deal with the twelve individual chapters. The same reasoning pertains to the English full-text version.

2. English translation only: 

The text offered here is that prepared by Louise and Aylmer Maude. It provides a contemporary translation of the text by persons who were close friends of Tolstoy and who had the benefit of his advice with respect to the translation of difficult passages (Tolstoy had a passable knowledge of English). The Maudes were also the translators and editors of the 21-volume “The Works of Tolstoy” (the so-called Centenary Edition), published by Oxford University Press 1928-37.

3. Russian and English texts (as described above) are presented side by side, accompanied by explanatory and interpretive annotations:

The texts are presented in matching paragraphs. When necessary, the paragraphing of the English translation has been tacitly adjusted to match that of the Russian original in order to make clear which English paragraph belongs with which Russian paragraph. This version is intended primarily for readers who have no or little knowledge of Russian, and who might benefit from the hints and helps provided by a parallel translation, as well as the extensive annotations attached to both the Russian and English texts. These annotations are the same as those to be found in the last of the four formats of presentation (see below).

4. Stressed and fully glossed Russian text with explanatory and interpretive annotations:

Any student of the Russian language will confirm that, because Russian is a “free-stress” language, the position of the stress, even in individual forms of the same word, is difficult to master. And since the strength of the stressed syllable in a Russian word is emphatically greater than that of the other syllables, the pronunciation of the words can be greatly distorted by misplacing the stress. To help students at the earlier stages of instruction to read with correct pronunciation, the text presented here has been stressed throughout.

The text is also fully glossed. These glosses are not intended to be “translations” in the usual meaning of that word. That is, they are not intended to provide colloquial equivalents in English of the Russian phrases. The intention is rather to provide an understanding of both the grammar and meaning of the Russian phrases by, insofar as possible, presenting the English words in the grammatical order characteristic of the Russian phrase. I use the phrase “in so far as possible” advisedly; Tolstoy’s grammar, and Russian grammar generally, is often of such complexity that following the intention as described would be unhelpful, and a basic translation must suffice. Another way of describing the purpose of the glosses is to say that they intend to show not so much what the Russian says as the way a Russian says it.

Here are some examples. The title of the novel is Смерть Ивана Ильича. If you select any one of those three words, the entire phrase will be highlighted, and a window will open, displaying the words “The Death of Ivan Ilich.” The presumption is that the function of the word “of” in English is carried out by the form of the Russian words “Ивáна Ильичá.” A few lines further down we see “подавáя емý свéжий, пахýчий ещë нóмер.” Clicking on any word in this phrase produces the gloss “giving him the fresh, still fragrant (issue of the paper).” Here the words in parentheses provide an explanation of one or more of the Russian words, or of words understood in, but absent from, the Russian. Often this manner of presentation can accommodate even rather lengthy phrases: “так все казáвшиеся тогдá рáдости тепéрь на глазáх его тáяли и превращáлись во чтó-то ничтóжное и чáсто гáдкое“ produces the gloss “so (also) all (of the things which) seemed then (to be) joys now before his eyes melted (away) and turned into something completely trivial (lit., into nothing) and often repulsive.”

The annotations are more or less extended commentaries designated by superscript numbers. Many of them are explanatory in nature, elaborating more exactly the significance of the Russian text which may not have been fully captured by the English translation or the glosses. Many others are interpretive in nature, describing the significance of particular passages for an organized understanding of the artistry and thematic significance of the novel as a whole. The intention has been to develop an overall interpretation of the text which is directly linked to and justified by detailed commentary on particular passages.

The final section of the book offers an extensive bibliography of primary sources and secondary scholarship on the novel.

This book would not have come into being without the support and assistance of people and organizations at the University of Minnesota. Thanks are owed to Lisa German, our University Librarian; to the Library’s Digital Arts, Sciences, and Humanities Program; and to the UMN Libraries Publishing Services for their support of the book’s publication.  I am grateful also to the University’s College of Liberal Arts for the award of sabbatical leave during the Fall Semester of 2020, which provided me with the time to complete my work and see the volume through to publication.  Professors Charlotte Melin and Leslie Morris, the two most recent chairs of the Department of German, Nordic, Slavic, and Dutch, have been consistently and effectively supportive of my efforts to see this work completed.

I want in particular to acknowledge the crucial contribution of four University of Minnesota colleagues to this book. My thanks to Brian Vetruba, European Studies and Digital Scholarship Librarian, Arts and Humanities, for his many contributions, especially the breadth of his linguistic knowledge and the depth of his professional experience, to the creation of the Bibliography of Studies which forms the final section of the book.  Shane Nackerud, Co-Interim Director of Content Services of University Libraries Publishing, and Laureen Boutang, Publishing Services Coordinator, have done a really outstanding job in creating an efficient and attractive electronic format for the book.  Without them the book would not exist. Going back further in time (the origin of the idea for this book dates back to the 1990’s) I owe especially warm thanks to Earl Schleske, now retired from the University, whose enthusiastic support and brilliance as a programmer made possible the first web-based versions of this material. I thank all of them for their support and encouragement, their collegiality and expertise. Whatever distinction this book may have owes a great deal to their talent, support, and collaboration. Its shortcomings belong to me, and I would be pleased to receive constructive criticism and suggestions for improvement at

Gary R. Jahn, December 2020



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