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Pushkin as a Historian

From his student days Pushkin was passionately interested in Russian history and in 1831 he was appointed Russia’s official historian laureate.  The main project he left unfinished at the end of his life was a history of Peter the Great, the historical figure who fascinated him most of all.  Robert Chandler will read from his forthcoming translation of Peter the Great’s African, Pushkin’s unfinished novel about his maternal great-grandfather, Ibrahim Gannibal.  Probably the son of a minor African prince, Gannibal was abducted as a child, sold as a slave in Constantinople, purchased by the Russian ambassador and presented as a gift to Peter the Great.  Gannibal went on to become an important military engineer and one of Peter’s closest confidants.

Robert will go on to discuss, and read from, “The History of the Village of Goriukhino,” one of the wittiest and most original of all Pushkin’s works.  This parody-history is perhaps best understood as a series of questions Pushkin was asking himself.  As he moved towards his own, more original way of writing history, Pushkin was trying on different styles and viewpoints.  Goriukhino is also a quizzical, often critical self-examination on Pushkin’s part – above all, with regard to his conduct towards his own serfs.  Goriukhino breaks off on a note of deep, tragic seriousness; it may well have been Pushkin’s awareness of the desperateness of the peasants’ condition that made it impossible for him to complete the work in a way that would have been acceptable to the tsarist censorship.

(Robert Chandler’s translation of Pushkin’s one completed historical novel, The Captain’s Daughter, is published by NYRB Classics.  His translations of a selection of Pushkin’s unfinished prose works will also be published by NYRB Classics.)

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Robert Chandler has translated Sappho and a selection of Apollinaire for Everyman’s Poetry. His translations from Russian include many works by Vasily Grossman and Andrey Platonov. He has also compiled three anthologies for Penguin Classics: of Russian short stories, of Russian magic tales and (together with Boris Dralyuk and Irina Mashinski) of Russian Poetry. He is a co-translator of three volumes of memoirs and stories by Teffi and the author of a short biography of Alexander Pushkin. His translation of Vasily Grossman’s Stalingrad will be published in June 2019. His translations have won prizes in both the UK and the USA and his own poems have appeared in the TLS and elsewhere. Teaching is increasingly important to him, and he runs a monthly translation workshop at Pushkin House.

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