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On Sonya Rostov [Sep. 14th, 2015|06:59 pm]
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A while ago, someone asked me on Tumblr why I like Sonya Rostov. I actually kind of like what I wrote down for the response; in any case it was the first time I actually tried to organize my thoughts about her. (The asker also mentioned that Sonya seemed underdeveloped for them, so I touched on that a bit too.) I'm copying my response here, for...IDK just to have long thinky posts all in one place or something? Anyway, behind the cut!

You’re right that Sonya doesn’t get a lot of development, at least not the sort that some of the other characters get. Now, War and Peace doesn’t have POV chapters the same way that ASOIAF does, but it does come close. While Pierre, Andrei and Natasha are considered the main 3, the book actually has 5 primary character POVs: Pierre, Andrei, Natasha, Maria and Nikolai. Sonya is a major supporting character in both Natasha’s and Nikolai’s storylines, but she isn’t a “POV character” the same way that they are. (Similarly to how, for example, Helene is a major supporting character in Pierre’s storyline but not a “POV character” in her own right.)

But a lack of development has never stopped me from liking a character. One of the great things about War and Peace that even the non-POV characters have enough development that it’s possible to assess who they are and what they are like. Sometimes, the novel will even take a step away from the major POVs to give us a bit of insight into these supporting players.

On one hand, I think the reason I have such a strong affinity for Sonya is because in a lot of ways, she is like me. Far more than any of the other women in the book. She’s the girl who is fairly pretty, intelligent/sensible, and perfectly nice/sweet. And yet she is average enough that no one seems to notice her, especially in the shadow of the extrovert extraordinaire Natasha. (Who, btw, also happens to be pampered, rich and endlessly self-assured.) Sonya is shy and she wants to be a loyal friend but she also wants to be loved, no matter what she tells herself. She as much girl-next-door as you can get in this novel. She’s as much me as any of the women characters in this novel get.

At the same time, she’s just a total sweetheart. She’s intensely loyal to her friends/family and is faithful to the man she loves. She’s sensible. She’s caring. She’s kind. Sonya’s a good person. Some might not like her as a character because they find her boring, but characters like this don’t bore me, so… Why wouldn’t I like her?

Also. Even though Sonya won’t stand up for herself to the Rostovs, it doesn’t mean she can’t or that she’s week. It’s something she chooses to do. First, it’s hard and disingenuous to expect a girl who has nothing in the world to turn away from her only economic support and social safety net. Second, Sonya puts a lot of stock into virtue and humility. She thinks better of herself when she can make a sacrifice – this is how she tries to be a good person. I’m not saying she doesn’t have any self-esteem issues – which isn’t even surprising, considering – but it’s undeniable that she is strong. Her strength isn’t instantly visible, it doesn’t involve “kicking butt” or rebelling. Sonya’s is a quiet, inner strength. The sort of strength that means she can carry what she considers her duty: to be kind to the family that took her in as a child, to save Natasha from ruin no matter the cost, to let Nikolai go when he has the chance to marry someone who can offer him/his family more than she can.

Yet, at the same time, Sonya is not a flawless character, the sort that gets annoying sometimes. Her flaws are quite obvious: she’s a little naive/idealistic about people she cares about, she’s rather demure, she won’t fight for herself (which, yes, represents her strength of spirit and is also a character flaw – it can be both), she’s not above jealousy, resentment and bitterness, though she fights them with all she has. She’s quite the straight-shooter. She has self-esteem issues.

Sonya gets ignored, mistreated and/or betrayed by everyone, including the author/narrative. But she’s a good person, a compelling character and I identify with her more than anyone else* in the novel. So, yes, I love her.

*except for maybe Anatole, but that’s a different story.

[User Picture]From: evelyn_b
2015-09-15 04:18 pm (UTC)
Sonya! <3 I think she's a remarkably compelling character despite (?) a certain amount of authorial neglect -- though I don't feel like Tolstoy gets really unfair to her until the epilogue, when he's sort of hovering around Nikolai and Natasha's headspaces, making excuses.

I've come to really like the "Sonya" type of character -- the quiet-strength self-sacrificing moral exemplar who is usually (but not always) set up as a foil to the energetic heroine (one thing I like about Jane Austen is that she has a couple of really excellent protagonists of this type. I am not a fan of Twilight, but Bella Swan is a contemporary attempt at a Sonya-like character).

Part of it is backlash against an understandable backlash, and part of it is just that I relate a lot to having principles and wanting to please everyone and the tension between those things.

Anyway, Sonya! <3
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[User Picture]From: alley_skywalker
2015-09-15 08:02 pm (UTC)
Sometimes I feel like Sonya is a little too much of a moralist. I appreciate a character's ability to bend the rules and such. But Sonya has so much else going for her too and like, sure, she has principles and morals, but her first and and foremost driving force is loyalty and I think that loyalty supersedes abstract ideals in a pinch, and I guess that sort of thing is attractive to me.
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