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The Negro of Peter the Great

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Pushkin in a group   Self-caricature from a Pushkin notebook
Pushkin with his artist friends
British Library Ac.9088b, p.153
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  Self-caricature from a Pushkin notebook
British Library 7862.ppp.24
Copyright © The British Library Board

After the interview with Tsar Nicholas, Pushkin’s earlier work began to be published to great acclaim. His release had energised him, and as if to mark a new chapter in his life he began writing his novel The Negro of Peter the Great. He had been thinking about a project involving Abram (in the novel, Ibrahim) for some time. After leaving school in 1817, he had met the last surviving son of Abram’s, his grandfather’s brother Peter, and in 1825 he wrote in his diaries, that he was “counting on seeing my old Negro of a Great-uncle, who I guess is going to die one of these fine days, and I must get from him some memoirs about my great-grandfather”. He did so a week later.

The novel is ostensibly based on his grandfather’s experiences, but Pushkin referred frequently to his own African blood and his ‘negro’ temperament, and it is impossible not to read something of his own experience into his account of Ibrahim’s environment. For instance, in the novel, when Ibrahim leaves France he writes to his lover asking why she would want to unite herself to the “unhappy lot of a Negro... a pitiful creature whom people scarcely deign to recognise as human”. In St Petersburg, the parents of the girl that the Tsar has picked out for his protégé can hardly conceal her horror, while her mother whines about the ugliness of his features.

Pushkin himself had more than once been abused as having a “monkey’s face”, and in the circumstances it seems significant that at the time he wrote The Negro Pushkin himself had started looking for a wife.

Guest-curated for the British Library by Mike Phillips

Pushkin takes a wife and writes The Bronze Horseman Next - 'Pushkin takes a wife and writes The Bronze Horseman'

Introduction Introduction
Alexander Pushkin
Alexander Dumas Alexandre Dumas
George Polgreen Bridgetower George Polgreen Bridgetower
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
John Archer John Archer
 
 
 
Discover more:
Introduction
Introduction
Alexander Pushkin
Pushkin's African background - the Pushkins and the Gannibals
Pushkin's African background - the Pushkins and the Gannibals
Childhood and schooldays
Childhood and schooldays
Pushkin, poet and troublemaker - the early years
Pushkin, poet and troublemaker - the early years
Pushkin in exile - the prisoner of the Caucasus
Pushkin in exile - the prisoner of the Caucasus
Back from exile - life on the family estate
Back from exile - life on the family estate
The Decembrist disaster
The Decembrist disaster
The Negro of Peter the Great
Pushkin takes a wife and writes The Bronze Horseman
Pushkin takes a wife and writes The Bronze Horseman
Pushkin's death and its aftermath
Pushkin's death and its aftermath
Alexandre Dumas
Alexandre Dumas
George Polgreen Bridgetower
George Polgreen Bridgetower
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
John Archer
John Archer
 
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