Last night, self finished finished The Death of Ivan Ilyich and it was quite a letdown.
First of all, the hero dies.
It’s right there in the title, self!
Since the book she read just prior was Dexter Filkins’ The Forever War, she is by now inured to all narratives on deaths and/or dying.
What self objected to was the reading of an entire Tolstoy story and finding herself not moved. Not in the slightest. And furthermore Tolstoy resorts to
a very time-worn device: the moral redemption of the hero, introducing a startling revelation an hour before his death. Which in no way made the work more edifying or redemptive and which had self going WHAT?
Ivan Ilyich realizes he should just give his family peace. By dying quietly. And with this realization, the character’s black fear of dying dissipates (Just in time, too, as he’s going to die whether he likes it or not. And, Tolstoy crisply informs us, in an hour)
This was one of the rare book purchases self has made in the last few months, and it was not cheap. But, such is her annoyance at all the eminent critics who pronounced this one of the greatest works of all time, that she’s decided she’ll leave it behind when she flies out of Los Angeles. It will be her small contribution to the intellectual enrichment of whoever picks it up next.
She then began the next book on her reading list, Voltaire’s Candide (Self travels everywhere with at least three books in her suitcase. In case she finds herself out of reach of a decent bookstore. She’s a regular Girl Scout when it comes to being prepared)
This book is the complete opposite of Tolstoy’s. It is flat-out satire. The central character is a robust (and dim-witted) lad named Candide. He is a servant enamored with his employer’s 17-year-old daughter. The employer gets wind of the servant’s amorous intentions and of course does the right thing: he fires Candide.
Then Candide winds up encountering an army and in the worst case of mistaken identity ever, the soldiers force him to run a gauntlet, not once but twice, and finally when Candide’s back is flayed open like a gutted fish, he is pardoned by the King of the Bulgarians. And, what great good timing, the King of the Bulgarians is about to engage in war with the King of the Abarians, at which point Chapter 2 ends and Chapter 3 begins thus:
Nothing could be so beautiful, so smart, so brilliant, so well-drilled as the two armies. Trumpets, fifes, oboes, drums, cannons formed a harmony such as was never heard even in hell. First the cannons felled about six thousand men on each side; then the musketry removed from the best of worlds some nine or ten thousand scoundrels who infected its surface. The bayonet also was the sufficient reason for the death of some thousands of men. The whole might well amount to about thirty thousand souls. Candide, trembling like a philosopher, hid himself as best he could during this heroic butchery.
Well, well, well! Methinks Candide is not as dim-witted as he first appeared!