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Character Meta for Literary Lads Fest [Oct. 20th, 2013|02:27 pm]
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This was Literary Lads Fest. Lots of awesome posts there; you should go check it out!

My character of choice:

THEODORE DOLOKHOV from War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.

Dolokhov is a minor character, comparatively, and one of Tolstoy’s antagonists. There is a lot of gap-filling and speculating that needs to be done here to flesh him out fully but the wonderful thing about Tolstoy is that his characterizations and details in his writing are so poignant that it’s possible to derive a lot out of even a small amouts of text.

We see from the very start that Dolokhov is different from most of the other prominent characters in the novel. He is a young officer of “small means and no connections.” This sets his widely apart from the likes of the Rostovs, Kuragins and Bolkonskis. 19th c. Russian society was very rigid in class structure and social mobility was extremely difficult. Dolokhov is of noble birth but he does not appear to own land of surfs off of which to make a profit. In fact, he supports his mother and hunchback sister on the modest salary of a militia officer. Is it any wonder that he supplements his income by gambling?

What I love about Dolokhov the most is his pride and sense of self-respect, his intense loyalty to those few he cares about and his immense willpower to do what is right for him and to get ahead even when all the odds are stacked against him. This guy’s a fighter.

Tolstoy’s initial descriptions of Dolokhov are incredibly telling. Tolstoy notes that, “the resolute, insolent intelligence of his eyes, produced an effect which made it impossible not to notice his face.” This is a neat summation of some of Dolokhov’s core characteristics: he is intelligent and capable, has immense willpower and is unwilling to back down before obstacles, material, social or otherwise. Tolstoy then explains that although Dolokhov had little money and social status and lived with the titled and rich Anatole, he commanded far more respect among all the people who knew them. Dolokhov is able to win and command respect not only among his friends but also with superiors. Dressed inappropriately while in the ranks, Dolokhov faces rebukes and attempted insults from an inspecting general.

"Why a blue coat? Off with it... Sergeant major! Change his coat... the ras..." he did not finish.
"General, I must obey orders, but I am not bound to endure..." Dolokhov hurriedly interrupted.
"No talking in the ranks!... No talking, no talking!"
"Not bound to endure insults," Dolokhov concluded in loud, ringing tones.
The eyes of the general and the soldier met. The general became silent, angrily pulling down his tight scarf.
"I request you to have the goodness to change your coat," he said as he turned away.

Amazingly, the general backs down and makes his demands far more mildly. There is a defiance and willpower in Dolokhov that many other characters lack. This is certainly not the road the Boris Drubetskoy would have chosen. It could be said that Bros is better served by playing politics than Dolokhov is by dueling and talking back (seeing as how Boris’ career progresses and Dolokhov keeps getting demoted). Yet, I feel that Dolokhov would find this sort of game unacceptable because it would depend to much on ingratiating himself to people for whom he felt nothing but contempt and Dolokhov’s sense of self-worth would not allow him to do that. Dolokhov lives by a mantra of “If I want anything, I won't ask—I'll take it!"

Dolokhov’s currency in the world is not – and cannot be – money or connections. His currency is bravery and daring. He proves himself countless times in battle, earning his rank back time and again after getting it taken away. He is also never shy about reminding the commanding officers of his triumphs:

"Your excellency, here are two trophies," said Dolokhov, pointing to the French sword and pouch. "I have taken an officer prisoner. I stopped the company." Dolokhov breathed heavily from weariness and spoke in abrupt sentences. "The whole company can bear witness. I beg you will remember this, your excellency!"
"All right, all right," replied the commander, and turned to Major Ekonomov.
But Dolokhov did not go away; he untied the handkerchief around his head, pulled it off, and showed the blood congealed on his hair.
"A bayonet wound. I remained at the front. Remember, your excellency!"

Later, during the war of 1812, Dolokhov will lead a band of Cossacks who played an integral part in terrorizing and weakening the retreating French. He goes on daring espionage outings into the enemy camp and when the young Petya Rostov called him a hero, he wasn’t wrong.

Dolokhov is extremely loyal to those he cares about. There are not a lot of those people, mostly his immediate family but this is because his perceptions of people are so extremely divided: those he cares about deeply and everyone else. Like with most things in his life, Dolokhov has a very strong opinion one way or another and operates in extremes. He tells Nikolai Rostov:

"I know people consider me a bad man!" he said. "Let them! I don't care a straw about anyone but those I love; but those I love, I love so that I would give my life for them, and the others I'd throttle if they stood in my way. I have an adored, a priceless mother, and two or three friends … and as for the rest I only care about them in so far as they are harmful or useful. And most of them are harmful”

It’s true that Dolokhov holds people to an extremely high standard, but he holds himself to those standards as well. And, after all, can he help it? The society he lives in is corrupt, focused mostly on money and who someone knows or has special favors from. Dolokhov has been dropped by friends who no longer see him as a worthy contact (like Zherkov who would not speak to him after Dolokhov was demoted to the ranks) and he seems to have a strong distrust of women. (Given that even Tolstoy does not hide the fact that most girls of good family are out to find a rich husband – and we see plenty of example of this – this is not surprising.) Of course Dolokhov would find most people harmful. Yet he still ha the ability to appreciate true purity and loyalty when he sees it. After all, he falls in love with Sonya and what is his instinct? No, not to seduce her, but to marry her. There is an extremely strong theme of family with Dolokhov in a non-obnoxious and preachy way but as something that is natural and integral to the character, underlying everything he does.

He is completely unapologetic knowing what he wants and how he wants it done and he never thinks to explain himself to anyone. I have a strong respect for this life position.

On a lighter note, Dolokhov is a gorgeous party boy who knows how to party, dress like a boss and hold his alcohol. I find it very attractive when a character can let loose and have fun without too much presumptuousness. This ability to just have fun is something that I think a character like Bolkonski lacks.

So, bottoms up, everyone! :)

(Disclaimer: I could write/talk about Dolokhov in far more detail and for far longer, this is just the basics!)