Leo Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich might well be read as a narrative outworking of Pascal's observation that "We run heedless into the abyss after putting something in front of us to stop us seeing it."1 That Ivan Ilyich, an ambitious mid-level Russian legal official, plummets into the abyss is incontestable, for the novella opens by announcing his death. What is debated is how he does so: On his deathbed does he merely resign himself to nothingness, or does he undergo some sort of religious conversion? Some scholars—call them "hermeneuts of denial"—find little or no religious significance in Ivan's death.2 If some allusions are religiously suggestive, they must be interpreted and discounted in view of...
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