The End of Days

MacLaverty, Bernard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony
  • Date of entry: Feb-28-2022
  • Last revised: Feb-28-2022


Autumn in Vienna, 1918. Menace circulated in the air itself and fear was rampant as a global pandemic and a World War raged. Egon, an artist, and his wife Edi, six months pregnant, had enough money to live on but hardly any opportunities to spend it. Shortages of coal for heat and flour for bread were continuous. Edi has suddenly become very ill - trouble breathing, loss of appetite, exhaustion, fever, and explosive coughing that produces blood. It is the Spanish flu and pneumonia.

Egon devotedly cares for his sick wife despite her warning, "You will get it from me" (p111). Soon she is unresponsive. As Egon listens for a heartbeat with his ear against Edi's motionless chest, he can only auscultate the distant, faint beat of his unborn child's heart that is quickly silent. He tragically describes Edi's corpse: "Her body being both cradle and coffin, within a minute" (p128). Egon feels compelled to make multiple sketches of his dead wife.

Before long, Egon experiences harsh bouts of coughing, fever, and chills. He becomes remorseful about the drawings he made of Edi and burns them in the kitchen stove. Egon gazes at the fire, knowing he too will die shortly but aware that he will be survived by all his other artwork.


This short story imagines the final days of Austrian painter Egon Schiele and his pregnant wife Edith. He died at age 28, just three days after she passed away, both victims of the 1918 influenza pandemic.

The tale is a stunning and sorrowful envisioned snapshot of what the end of life might have felt like for an artist-protagonist during the 1918 influenza pandemic. It highlights the risk of love, the inescapable weight of dread, and the connection between creativity and illness.

Primary Source

Blank Pages and Other Stories (pp105-138)


W.W. Norton & Company

Place Published

New York, NY



Page Count