Should Sonya have married Dolokhov?

In Tolstoy’s famous novel War and Peace bad guy Dolokhov proposes to good girl Sonya. She refuses him, but one of the readers of this blog wondered if she should have married him after all. So let’s try to analyse this romantic affair.


Sonya is a poor orphan cousin living with Rostovs. Tolstoy describes her as a promising kitten at the beginning of the novel. She’s very pretty, loyal, sweet and has a strong sense of justice. She’s her cousin Natasha’s best friend and this little kitten is very much in love with her cousin Nicholas.


Dolokhov is a good looking officer, notorious gambler and duelist. He has no connections or money. Most people consider him a cruel and cold hearted person. In fact the only person who thinks he has a heart of gold is his mother. Dolokhov is an enigmatic character. He seems disappointed in the world and feels a strong need to revenge himself.


Dolokhov tells Nicholas that he will sacrifice anything for the people he loves, but we don’t see any proof of that; au contraire, he claims to be Nicholas’ friend but not much later tries to steal his girl, and when she rejects him, he punishes Nicholas by cheating him out of 43000 (precisely 43000, because 43 is the combined age of him and Sonya) roubles in a game of cards.

Sonya really does make sacrifices: she risks her friendship with Natasha in order to prevent Natasha from eloping with Anatole. Later she writes Nicholas to forget his promise to marry her, so that he is free to marry Mary.

Does Dolokhov love Sonya?

So why does Dolokhov propose to Sonya? I’m mostly inclined to say out of jealousy. In his mind people like Pierre and Nicholas get all the good things in life because of their name, connections and money, and for the same reasons they get away with anything. Perhaps he has heard or sensed that Sonya loves Nicholas and he wants to take her from Nicholas, who, after all, already has so much good luck*.

When he is recovering from the injuries he suffered in his duel with Pierre he confides in Nicholas, telling him that he is looking for “divine purity and devotion” in women; he needs a woman who will “regenerate, purify and elevate” him. It is technically possible that he saw those qualities in Sonya, and that that’s why he proposed to her.

The refusal

Either way, Sonya was right to refuse Dolokhov. His mother may have been blind to his faults, but our Sonya is a smart girl, guided by a strong sense of right and wrong. She inadvertently uses Nicholas as an excuse, probably thinking optimistically that Dolokhov will at least be happy for his friend. Her euphoric state immediately after the refusal speaks volumes; she made the right choice.

In 19th century terms Dolokhov would have been a good match for Sonya; the old countess, who disapproves anyway of a marriage between Nicholas and Sonya, clearly thinks that Sonya should have accepted him. But Sonya is to remain single and together with the old countess she’s going to live with Nicholas and Mary. Like a cat, Tolstoy writes, she had attached herself not to the people but to the home.

And as for Dolokhov’s need to be purified, regenerated and elevated? Well, he shouldn’t rely on a woman to better his life, let alone a sweet seventeen year old girl. He shows his true colours and punishes Nicholas severely for his cousin’s love: first by making him lose a fortune and then by not preventing the death of his little brother Petya. Tolstoy doesn’t tell us if he ever found the wife of his dreams.

*In the beginning of War and Peace, Dolokhov, Pierre and Anatole tie a bear to a policeman and throw them in the river. For this ‘prank’ Dolokhov gets reduced in rank to soldier. Anatole, who is rich and well connected, remains an officer. Pierre is a civilian, but doesn’t get any punishment because of his dying (and extremely wealthy) father. Nicholas, similarly, seems to have everything going for him, he’s a count, wealthy, makes a dashing career in the army, everyone likes him, and he comes from a warm and loving family. He too is protected by his family name: For being Dolokhov’s second in the duel, he ought to have gotten punished. Instead he gets a promotion.

Have you read War and Peace? And if so, what are your feelings about Sonya and Dolokhov? Should Sonya have married Nicholas?

© Elisabeth van der Meer / illustration from War and Peace

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52 thoughts on “Should Sonya have married Dolokhov?

  1. Thank you, Rebecca. It’s definitely to Tolstoy’s credit that 150 years later we are still talking about the characters he thought up as if they were real. Because as you say, we can still relate to them.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m glad Sonya didn’t marry Dolokov. He was much too cold to marry such a sweet girl. However, I was disappointed for her when she and Nickolai didn’t marry. But Princess Marya was a good wife for Nickolai, and they really did love each other.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree completely! The romance between Sonya and Nicholas started off very promising. When I first read War and Peace I thought they’d get married; Natasha would marry Andrew; and Pierre perhaps with Marya 😄 But, of course, Tolstoy made us think that on purpose 😄

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Excellent, engaging analysis, Elisabeth! Reminds me of how many “bad boy”/good woman relationships (or attempted relationships) there are in literature. Definitely makes for dramatic reading!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. That WOULD be a great blog idea, Elisabeth! I might just do it. 🙂 I could also include the opposite — relationships between admirable men and not-so-admirable women.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. In Russian literature of XVIII-XIX there are a lot of the same situations when the beautiful but not reach girls had a marriage proposal from men who either rich or had a scandalous popularity. They rejected because all these proposals were not sincere although girl’s mothers really wanted these marriages. Pretty often these stories had the tragic end. It looks by that time it was pretty common situation. It is difficult to say were these girls right or wrong. We cannot make the decision for them. It is what it is. I think they made the right choice.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Very insightful, thank you, Luanne. I think so too, she could not have saved him, and he would have brought her down with him. She was so good and pure, and he was the opposite, she would have been ashamed of/for him and bis past.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. So, I saw your great article yesterday morning, but I had no idea what my opinion in this case is… …because, psst, don’t tell: I only watched the movie when I was a kid and never read the book. BUT, you know, a guy with my background should better have an opinion about that and I saw it as a kind of duty to tell you what I thing about her best decision. …hours later there was still this blank comment box on my screen… …so I decided to consult an real expert in that topic. Victoria!

    After a twenty minutes long dialogue I was in need to interrupt her, because it was a kind of overflow of information for my brain… “ depends on… …the historical background of this time… …the special ideology of the family… …different time windows and doors that opened up and closed for Sonya during the plot.. …even Tolstois changing world view is to consider…. …do you mean it under consideration of nowadays ideology?… …the best would be if Sonya would marry…” You see, it’s not that easy… …even if you consult an expert.

    Sonya, my advice… …follow your heart… …grab that guy you love! Go wherever you want! …because the steps in life that you climb which are encouraged by love, are always right and will be rewarded. 🙂

    wish you a nice day
    smiles, Markus

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Haha, yes, of course Victoria is right. It all depends on the circumstances and when we read War and Peace now, we tend to see it in the light of our contemporary ideas about marriage. I’m sure Tolstoy wouldn’t mind, it’s his own fault for writing such a timeless classic!
    Have a happy weekend,


  10. ppff.. ..true… …why he did such things. 😀
    ..but I think there is in deed an impact by literature of that time towards the nowadays marriage behavior. We know a few couples who marry after two weeks from their first date. A few in-between the first three month. …and I think it comes from that heroic and romantic ideas conveyed by the novels of that days. …and you see… …his fault again. 😦 ..oh boy.. …Leo, what have you done to us. 😀 😉

    have a wonderful easter weekend!!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. That is very quick! 😄 First impressions can be deceptive. Let’s hope the marriages make it anyway. Otherwise they’ll start fighting duels as well 😄

    You have a wonderful Easter weekend too! 🌷🐣🐰🥚


  12. …Victoria’s friends where shocked, that I didn’t made a proposal within the first year. 😀 ..but who cares. At least we brought it to 18 years… …and many lucky years will follow.. …without duels. 😀 😉

    A wonderful easter holiday for you too 🐣🐰🥚🌷

    Liked by 1 person

  13. It’s the kind of book that offers something to everyone, and it’s a good read. For me the main attraction is that you feel that you really get to know the different characters and empathise with them.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I hope 2019 is not too long to leave a comment!

    I completely agree that Sonya should not have married him (or Nikolai, he was not the right man for her either) , but I can’t be in peace with the fact that she became an old maid /governant in Nikolai’s household!
    She deserved a prince, a loving husband and a happy life with her own family. She gave up so much the whole book and got nothing from it. I was heartbroken.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Hey Jessica! It’s never too late to join the conversation / speculation.

    I also feel that Sonya deserved much more than she ended up with! She should have had her own happy family, perhaps with Denisov? I remember very well how unjust it felt when I first read War and Peace. I know Tolstoy based her character on a favorite aunt who lived with his family when he was growing up, but still!


  16. Wow, I completely agree with you, buuuuuut as someone said before, Dolojov is my favourite character too… I do believe that, in the deepest part of his soul, he loved Sonya purely … He is not as bad as he tries to show… but anyway, you are right, our Fédia is a toxic person and Sonya deserve more than that… but… what a wonderful couple… 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Hello Sonia! Of course you identified with your namesake! I agree with you that it’s possible that Dolochov really may have loved Sonya, and that he could have improved his bad habits if she was his wife. We shall never know… But it is fun to think about all the what-ifs:-) Dolochov is certainly the most controversial character in War and Peace!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Well absolutely!!! She totally deserved something better! This was perhaps Tolstoy’s mistake. He based her character on a favorite aunt, who was also not married and lived with the family when Tolstoy grew up. So it was his fond memories that made him choose such a fate for her.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I think it’s more interesting to assume a scoundrel like Dolokhov really was ready to change his life around for just, pure Sonya. That said, Dolokhov would need to be with someone who could tell him off, were he to fall back into old habits (a very human thing). The way Sonya acts around Nikolai at least, I’m not convinced she could be that person for him. In some adaptions of the book she seems assertive enough to do so, at least. Perhaps because she’s not so smitten with Dolokhov as she is with Nikolai, she would be capable of it? I can imagine an alternate universe where Dolokhov and herself have a Han/Leia thing going on, haha.

    I wish Sonya romantic happiness, but I don’t think Dolokhov is the answer and Nikolai was never good for her. I can’t imagine her with anyone else, though. I can only think of Andrei.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Yes, poor Sonya! She’s a romantic soul. At least she was assertive enough to say no to Dolokhov. But I did think that she deserved at least one proper romance before she became a spinster.

    Liked by 1 person

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