Fyodor Dolokhov – the Bad Guy from War and Peace

Tolstoy loosely based the character of Fyodor Dòlokhov in War and Peace on his cousin, Fyodor “the American” Tolstoy, who was in his time notorious throughout Russia. A careless and hot-headed guy, who fought duel after duel, had a serious gambling addiction and cheated with cards as if his life depended on it. I wrote about him on my blog here.

The Tough Guy

Dòlokhov we get to know as a rather tough guy, who lives with the rich Anatole Kurágin. Dòlokhov himself has no money or connections and appears to take advantage of Anatole. Tolstoy, however, leads the reader to believe that without Dòlokhov, Anatole would be boring and uninteresting, and that as such, Dòlokhov is the one being used. (Tolstoy frequently uses this method of inversion with great success, it makes his characters real and convincing, think of Nicholas rescuing Mary, which turned out to be Mary rescuing Nicholas). Dòlokhov takes advantage of his other friends and fellow officers by cheating with cards.

 

Nonetheless Dòlokhov is greatly admired in this circle of young rich men and officers for his courage, the way he holds his liquor, his dare and his carelessness. He lives his life without giving a shit what other people think, and who wouldn’t want to do that? In short, a party in St Petersburg wasn’t a party without Dòlokhov.

The Officer

In the army Dòlokhov does well because of his courage, but his recklessness earns him several downgrades from his rank as officer.

 

“As if tired of everyday life he had felt a need to escape from it by some strange, and unusually cruel, action.”

 

Pierre Bezúkhov considers Dòlokhov his friend too, and lets himself be seduced by him. Later, after rumours of an affair with his wife Hélène, he sees him as a ruthless murderer, who takes pleasure in hurting other people, precisely because they have been (too) good to him. Because of that (an affair wasn’t generally a good enough reason to challenge someone) Pierre challenges Dòlokhov to a duel.

Although Pierre has never before fired a gun and Dòlokhov has had plenty of experience, Dòlokhov ends up seriously injured after the duel. Years later, on the eve of the Battle of Borodino, the two meet again. Apparently Dòlokhov has understood what the rest of the world didn’t: Pierre is not to be taken for a fool. He asks Pierre to forgive him.

Fyodor “the Persian” Dòlokhov

Like the American, Dòlokhov disappears from Russia for a while. When he returns he is dressed as a Persian and wild rumours of his actions in Persia circulate.

The Cheater

It is the people who are good to Dòlokhov who bring out the worst in him. The young and naive Nicholas Rostòv adores him, but Dòlokhov makes him lose 43.000 roubles, cheating him with cards. Dòlokhov had set the number 43 in advance, as that was the sum of his and Sonya’s ages. He had asked Sonya to marry him, but she declined because she was in love with Nicholas. After Nicholas loses terribly the Rostòvs get into serious financial trouble.

The Bastard

Years later the youngest Rostòv, Petya, by now also an officer, has a fatal meeting with Dolokhov. He too admires him no end. His hunger for action in the war against Napoleon is enormous, and he is convinced that he will find it there where Dòlokhov is. Against all orders he hurtles himself into a gunfight to prove to Dòlokhov that he is a real man. He gets shot by the French and Dòlokhov’s cold reaction is merely “Done for!”, as if the utterance of these words afforded him pleasure. And so, once more, the Rostòv family becomes the victim of the ruthless Dòlokhov.

 

Fyodor “the American” Tolstoy married his gypsy girl, paid a high price for his crimes and led a quiet life ever since. If the same can be said of Fyodor “the Persian” Dòlokhov, we will never know.

 

 

Book: War and Peace from Tolstoy

Photos: the BBC and liveinternet.ru

Denisov – the good guy from War and Peace

 

28 thoughts on “Fyodor Dolokhov – the Bad Guy from War and Peace

  1. I think Dolokhov’s a really intriguing character. There’s definitely something about him that attracts the reader, even when he’s behaving despicably you’re still drawn to him…. Or maybe it’s just me! I didn’t realise he was based on Tolstoy’s cousin though, that’s very interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. No, it’s not just you, Dolokhov is definitely also an attractive and charismatic character. Fascinating too. In the way bad men often are..;-) But I’m glad sweet Sonya didn’t marry him!
    Tolstoy’s cousin had a remarkable life, apparently he killed in total 11 men in duels, and lost 11 of his children, only 1 girl lived to adulthood!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dolokhov is a very appealing character… and how interesting to learn that Tolstoy based this character on his cousin… I guess Reality and Fiction could be more than intertwined at times… Great post, dear Elisabeth… Happy weekend ahead. 🙂 All the best to you!, Aquileana 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you so much, dear! I’m happy to hear you liked it. As a matter of fact many of the characters in War and Peace are based on relatives, for example Natásha is supposedly his sister-in-law and Tolstoy used himself for Pierre. Take care, Amalia, and have a fab weekend:-)

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  5. Thank you so much, dear Amalia! If there was an award for the most social blogger out there, you’d be the winner!
    Big hug from me to you!

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  6. So far my favorite scene is the duel between Pierre and Dolokhov. I also like the character Denisov, I can’t help but laugh every time he opens his mouth to speak, if you know what I mean….

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  7. You’re absolutely right, the duel scene is chilling, right from the insult during the dinner. We can totally understand Pierre and his need to stand up for himself and make a statement against the Dolokhovs of this world. And yes, Denisov is very likable.
    I can see two new blogposts coming up…. 😉

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  8. Interesting thoughts! I’m reading the epic now, and we’re discussing it in an off-topic section on the piano forum (I can send you the link if you’re interested). By the way, if the topic of the blog is A Russian Affair, have you also explored Russian music? I’ve been learning some Tchaikovsky on piano recently, and that, in addition to having read A Gentleman in Moscow, is what led me to War and Peace.

    Keep blogging….thanks for the insights!

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  9. Hey Craig, thanks for your comment. Although I enjoy listening to Tchaikovsky and other Russian composers, I don’t know much about music. But in March I’m going to see the opera Eugene Onegin, and I’ll write about that on the blog. Please send me the link, I’m always interested to read what readers think about War and Peace and Russian literature, as it gives me new ideas:-)

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great! Our forum is geared toward pianos and music, but here and there we discuss other topics. We have in our midst a Professor of Russian Literature (username dumka1). I began reading about 1 month ago; I began the topic (username cmb13). If you’d like to join the discussion, feel free to sign up for the forum; it’s free.

    Here is a link to the topic:
    http://forum.pianoworld.com/ubbthreads.php/topics/2889883/war-and-peace-tolstoy.html#Post2889883

    And a Tchaikovsky piece I learned earlier this year as an adult beginner (5 yrs experience thus far):

    I hope you enjoy them!
    Craig

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Sorry, ElisabethM, I didn’t mean for that link to show up on the page like that but I’m unable to edit it. I was only trying to post a clickable link. If you’re able and want to, feel free to take it down.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I read the forum last night and it was great to see how involved you’re all getting! And I came to the conclusion that I should write more about Pierre.
    Thanks, Craig!

    Like

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