By Karen Langley
1. His matrilineal great grandfather was a black African page brought over to Russia as a slave. Abram Petrovich Gannibal (1696–1781) was kidnapped and taken to Russia as a gift for Peter the Great. Gannibal was educated in France to the profession of a military engineer, later progressing to become governor of Reval and finally Général en Chef (which was the 3rd most senior army rank) – in charge of the building of sea forts and canals in Russia.
2. Pushkin met Gogol! By 1831 Pushkin’s literary influence had grown and at that time he met Nikolai Gogol, who was then in the early stages of his career. Gogol had published his first volumes of Ukrainian tales and Pushkin supported him, publishing some of his most famous short stories in the The Contemporary, a magazine he founded in 1836. After Pushkin’s death, Gogol went on to write his most famous work, Dead Souls.
3. A spurious erotic journal was attributed to him. Published in 1986, The Secret Journal 1836-37 was claimed to be the decoded contents of a private journal kept by Pushkin. In actual fact it was simply an erotic novel told as if from Pushkin’s point of view – which hasn’t stopped it still being sold under its fictional description!
4. He was a serial duellist. Pushkin is believed to have fought as many as 29 duels and was obviously a man who cared deeply about his honour. His last engagement was the one where he would receive his fatal wound, when he fought with Georges-Charles de Heeckeren d’Anthès, a French officer serving with the Chevalier Guard Regiment. Pushkin had accused d’Anthès of having designs on his beautiful young wife, Natalya, and paid the ultimate price…
5. Pushkin was a member of the outlawed political group The Decembrists. They were a collection of noblemen who wanted to give more rights to all Russian citizens at a time when the strict hierarchy of the country meant that the peasants were basically slaves. The Decembrists wanted fairer laws which all could understand and rights for the peasants. By writing in Russian when the predominant language among the nobles was French, Pushkin gave Russian literature its voice. This put him in a dangerous position at court and he narrowly avoided execution; but his relationship with the Tsar was unsettled ever after, and there are conspiracy theories that say his final duel was set up to get him out of the way once and for all…
Image: Alexander Pushkin by Orest Kiprensky, public domain.