In Tolstoy's novella The Death of Ivan Ilych, the middle-aged Ivan is dying. During this process, he comes to recognize that his life has been self-absorbed and trivial; such a recognition is, however, the first step on the path to a Christian-style self-abnegation and redemption. So runs the traditional interpretation. Against this, I argue that Ivan's perception and deliberation were distorted by "autobiographical despair": the tendency to downplay the genuine meanings of one's life, meanings that were also central to the dying person's identity. I argue that autobiographical despair is much more dangerous than the more familiar prospective despair.