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Tolstoy on the Bus

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I usually ride my bike to work, but sometimes I fancy a leisurely bus ride. I work late on Wednesday nights teaching, and so itís nice to go in a bit later and read a book on the bus. Today itís Tolstoy on the bus.


My rather battered book on the bus this morning.

The bus services are too unreliable to use every day, and I would miss biking. Today though I will spend about an hour and a half waiting for, and riding on buses, and so I can devote a bit of time to War and Peace. Iíll arrive at work relaxed. Iíll be later than if I used a car, but there will be no stress.

I began War and Peace last year, and I read past the battle of Austerlitz before I left it for a while and read a few different books. I like a wide range and generally read as the fancy takes me unless Iím having to study a book for something specific. After such an interlude, I find I can pick up a book and Iím back in the story again. I have a number that I am currently reading that are of the longer type. Iím reading Wolf Hall, Ulysses and Midnightís Children, though not right at this moment. Iím quite happy to leave a book if I donít like it. There are too many great books to bother with the ones you donít get on with. Yes, some may reward ploughing on, but there are plenty of old and new books that will reward me more with enjoyment as well.

Iím at a critical part in War and Peace. Anatole Kuragin has determined to seduce Natasha, who is betrothed to Prince Andrew. Anatole is about to whisk Natasha away, have a sham marriage ceremony performed and leave Russia. Heís been driven by his irresponsible, but exciting driver, Balaga. Anatole has taken his leave of Dholokov, who has fixed up the arrangements for him, and the rest of his friends which include some Gypsy ladies. Iím primarily interested in the war aspect of War and Peace, but Tolstoy is a brilliant writer who has ramped up the tension in this episode masterfully.

The sensible Sonya has so far been unable to dissuade Natasha from her rash course, and Prince Andrew is nowhere to be seen. Prince Andrewís Father and his sister have made such an unfavourable impression on her that she feels no loyalty to her betrothedís family. Anatole has been portrayed as a captivating young man, both a joy and a scourge.

Tolstoyís views are evident in the book. His portrayal of the opera through the experience of Natasha demonstrates his view of sophistication, especially French. Natasha is an archetype of the Russian woman. She can dance to Uncleís guitar with the fire of a Russian peasant whilst charming the Russian aristocracy in society. Yet she finds the experience of the opera as bewildering. Tolstoy portrays it as a phenomena artificial to the Russian spirit, and it comes to represent the decadence of France. Here at the opera she meets the charming Anatole Kuragin. She is charmed by this rake, as the Russian aristocracy were charmed by French culture.

Tolstoyís observation of people and their moods is often insightful. Anna Kareninaís depressed mood before her suicide is extended through her eyes to the wider environment. The opposite is true of Levin, after his engagement, as he sees everyone as loving one another. The observation is also evident in War and Peace and is a characteristic of the song lyric Ė ďWhen youíre smiling, the whole world smiles with you.Ē Both Prince Andrew and Natasha experience both aspect of this, and Tolstoy seems to regard this honesty of the emotions as being a part of a characterís integrity.

Thereís much to ponder. Iíll catch my next bus soon after I have finished writing this piece and my coffee in a town cafe. Will Anatole be successful and leave us with another victim of insincere society, or will Prince Andrew return in time? Iíll leave with the reflection that Tolstoy would also have appreciated the bus. His final moments before he died were spent in a train station having left his wife of many years again. Perhaps it was a case of Russian passion on public transport.


  1. LitNetIsGreat's Avatar
    Great stuff, I like reading on the bus too, most of the time that is, as long as there are no idiots shouting down their phones, etc, etc. I've read War and Peace but it was a long time ago and I don't think I took much of it in. Another reading maybe, but not for a while yet.

    I've only had one or two rides on the bike this year. Two weeks ago we went for our usual route around the Strines (some killer hills) which I found hard going, but you soon get back into it. Was good to be out though.

    Keep reading on the bus.
  2. prendrelemick's Avatar
    A great attitude Paul, many people see W&P as a challenge, rather than a pleasure.

    You've hardly started it! You'll need a month's worth of Day Rover tickets at least to finish.
  3. Paulclem's Avatar
    I went on four buses tonight, and was reading War and Peace again. I'm into Napoleon's Russian campaign. I'm enjoying it a great deal.

    You're right Mick, though interspersed with the bike riding, it's going to be 2 months.
  4. Buh4Bee's Avatar
    I great read and what better place to read than the bus.
  5. qimissung's Avatar
    A lovely blog entry, Paul. You make riding on the bus seem nearly as great a joy as reading Tolstoy, and you've piqued my interest in reading "War and Peace." It will be a while, unfortunately. I've got a long list of books to attend to before I get to that one.

    I commute by car, but I did take a trolley the other day-and it was very peaceful.
  6. Paulclem's Avatar
    I agree Jersea, and thanks Qimi. I do find it very stress free on the bus - it's just that they're too unreliable for me to do it all the time. If I've ridden my bike to work all week, then often I'll go in by bus once, and chill out with a book.
  7. TheFifthElement's Avatar
    I have the best of both worlds, as I ride my bike to the train station and then have a 40 minute train journey into work. So I get to bike and read. I am quite lucky.

    I'm getting around to W&P. I bought it earlier in the year and am determined to read it. I might have to wait until I'm walking to the train station though, as it takes up so much room in my bag.

    Glad to hear you're enjoying it. Lovely, peaceful blog Paul
  8. Paulclem's Avatar
    Thanks Fifth. It's a good read. Hefty though.
  9. The Comedian's Avatar
    Good reading as usual Paul. I wish I had an opportunity to read in a public transport. But I live in too rural an area for public transportation. But in the summers, I take my canoe out to the lake, grab a book and cold beer, and lay down in the thing so that I can't see over the edges and float and read until I wash up on some shoreline. . . .ah! I can't wait for summer to arrive.
  10. LitNetIsGreat's Avatar
    Oh my brother C, that sounds like total heaven - we're a bit short of cannoes around my end! A nip out into the Peaks on the bike or go walking is about my lot. Can't wait for summer too, or even a proper spring.
  11. Paulclem's Avatar
    Thanks Comedian. I caught your blog about canoeing late, but it sounds great. We're short of canoes here too, and places to paddle them. I know where I'd rather read, but you make do.

    A bus is a kind of canoe in an enclosed metal tube on wheels kind of way.
  12. Virgil's Avatar
    Ha, that is a great read for about the first 1500 pages. The last 500 got to be a chore. But no one writes better dashing male characters than Tolstoy.
  13. Mutatis-Mutandis's Avatar
    [QUOTE=jersea;bt55052]I great read and what better place to read than the bus.[/QUOTE]
    The ****ter.
  14. Paulclem's Avatar
    I'm enjoying it still. 200 or so pages to go - wherever I need to read.