Blog Topic #8


Leo Tolstoy on finding a meaning in life: artificial vs spiritual life.

The writer Tolstoy concentrated most of his works on this topic, and all his ideas are clearly reflected in one of the stories written by him we read such as “The death of Ivan Ilyich”. Here we face two types of lives: the artificial life, represented by Ivan (that can be an alter ego of the writer himself), Praskovya  and everyone living in Ivan’s society, and the authentic life represented by Gerasmin.

The artificial life is marked by superficial relationships, self-interest, and materialism. It is unfulfilling, and most of all incapable of providing answers to the important questions in life, such as the meaning of life itself. The artificial life hides life’s true meaning and leaves one alone at the moment of death.

The authentic life, on the other hand, is marked by pity and compassion and characterises people with unique thoughts, feelings, and desires. This kind of life is based on human relationships that break down isolation and look for deeper interpersonal connection with others.

Gerasmin, on the opposite of Ivan, is not afraid of death because he believes in the fairness and spirituality of life; he believes in self-sacrificing love for others that fills his life with meaning and true values.

It is clear at this point how Tolstoy depicts human existence: as a conflict between the inner and the external, the spiritual life and the physical life. He wants us to be aware of the duality of life in order to be able to give more importance to spiritual life.

Tolstoy seeks to answer this ‘simple’ yet paralyzingly profound question to himself and the following is an interesting confession of him that shows that stage of life where he fell into a profound spiritual crisis and probably the most significant and meaningful moment in his life.

Photo: “famous people who battled depression”, Tolstoy,

Today or tomorrow sickness and death will come (they had come already) to those I love or to me; nothing will remain but stench and worms. Sooner or later my affairs, whatever they may be, will be forgotten, and I shall not exist. Then why go on making any effort? . . . How can man fail to see this? And how go on living? That is what is surprising! One can only live while one is intoxicated with life; as soon as one is sober it is impossible not to see that it is all a mere fraud and a stupid fraud! That is precisely what it is: there is nothing either amusing or witty about it, it is simply cruel and stupid.


Had I simply understood that life had no meaning I could have borne it quietly, knowing that that was my lot. But I could not satisfy myself with that. Had I been like a man living in a wood from which he knows there is no exit, I could have lived; but I was like one lost in a wood who, horrified at having lost his way, rushes about wishing to find the road. He knows that each step he takes confuses him more and more, but still he cannot help rushing about. It was indeed terrible. And to rid myself of the terror I wished to kill myself.”¹

“Ivan Ilyich’s life had been most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible.”

 ¹ Leo Tolstoy, A confession. 1882, Chapter IV


One thought on “Blog Topic #8

  1. Beatrice. This is an excellent blog. I love the quotes you ave included at the bottom however I think you should cite them 🙂 Im really enjoying Tolstoy and the themes that are evident in his texts. It is clear to see you understand and enjoy them too! Keep up the great work 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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