Monday, September 24, 2012

Alexander Pushkin: Little Known Facts

Portrait of A. Pushkin by Konstantin Somov
I posted a little about Alexander Pushkin's African ancestry last week, and promised more today.  I've learned quite a bit about this fascinating man, and although he lived a short life, it was one of great accomplishment!

Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin (1799 –1837) was a Russian author of the Romantic era, and is considered the greatest Russian poet and founder of modern Russian literature.  Pushkin was born into the Russian nobility in Moscow and published his first poem at age fifteen.  He was widely recognized by the literary establishment by the time he graduated from the Tsarskoye Selo Lyceum.

On June 6, 1999, Russia celebrated the 200th anniversary of Pushkin's birth. A London Times headline read, "Pushkin Mania rages: Russians cash in on bicentenary of their poet's birth". Reporting from Moscow, Anna Blundy noted: "Russia has been swept by Puskhinmania in preparation for tomorrow's bicentenary of the poet's birth...Russians all know long tracts of Pushkin's work by heart, and Sunday's festival is the dominant theme of most television, and radio broadcasts, newspaper articles and advertising campaigns."

In Russia, Pushkin seems to be a combination of Shakespeare and Mozart rolled into one. As Shakespeare is to the English language, Pushkin is to Russian literature.  

But, regardless of Pushkin's greatness, according to Selwyn Cudjoe, "at the beginning of the 19th century, Pushkin's Africanness was an issue. Throughout his life, his pronounced African features-thick lips, dark skin and kinky hair-remained an issue and Pushkin was acutely aware of them. Yet, he always took pride in his African ancestry."

Pushkin's great-grandfather was Abram Petrovich Gannibal (1696–1781), a Black African page raised by Peter the Great (see more on him in last week's post, or check out the link that follows). This information is from Cudjoe's article Pushkin: Russian African Genius:

...Pushkin suffered from a sense of his own "ugliness" and the taunts of his classmates. At the lycee where he studied when he was 12, he was nicknamed "monkey". However some of his school friends called him "the Frenchman" because they thought he was a "mixture of a monkey and a tiger".

This "stain" of his blackness remained with him. In 1827, he returned to his family mansion in Mikhaylovskoe where he began his unfinished novel, The Negro of Peter the Great, based on the life of his great grandfather. In this highly fictionalized account of his ancestor Grannibal, Pushkin centered his story on "a Negro's wife, who is unfaithful to her husband, gives birth to a white child and is punished by being shut up in a convent". Even as he tells this gripping story, the sexual prowess of the black man in a white world assumes much importance.

Perhaps, it is wise that Pushkin did not finish telling this story. It would have had to come up against the scurrilous attacks of those who preferred to believe that he came from a slave background. In fact, he was forced to defend Abram's honor against the calumny of Fruddy Bulgarin, a crusading journalist. Putting the question in verse, Pushkin said: "Filyarin says he understands/That my black granddad, Gannibal/ Bought for a bottle of rum, once fell/Into a drunk sea captain's hands." To this, he responded: "My grandfather, so cheaply bought,/ The Tsar himself treated with trust/And gave him welcome at his court./ Black, but never again a slave."
Pushkin died young.  Notorious about defending his honor, he fought a total of twenty-nine duels.  Though rumored to be a womanizer, when it was reported that his wife's brother-in-law, Georges-Charles de Heeckeren d'Anthès had made attempts to seduce Pushkin's wife, Pushkin challenged d'Anthès to a duel.  Pushkin died two days later, having been shot through the spleen.  He was 37.

Are any of these facts new to you? Also, have you read any Pushkin? Thanks for visiting and have a great week! 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Pushkin and Stroganoff

Today I thought it was about time to post another recipe. What follows is a very easy and delicious beef stroganoff for the slow cooker. However, since I'm posting a Russian recipe, I thought it fitting to share a little something about Alexander Pushkin, the great Russian poet and founder of modern Russian literature.

The first installment (Escape) of my trilogy, Unchained, is now available. It's a family saga that involves an average white guy learning of his African-American ancestry.  Near death, his one hundred year old grandmother reveals the secret that her grandmother was a black woman, born a slave.

Now what does Alexander Pushkin have to do with any of this?  Seems he was in a similar situation, though his ancestry wasn't a secret. Here's some interesting information from the blog Race and History posted by Selwyn Cudjoe.

...Abram Petrovich Gannibal, Pushkin's great-grandfather, born in Northern Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in the 1690s, was of royal stock. Pushkin claimed that his great grandfather was a prince who lived a luxurious life. He was abducted from Ethiopia when he was eight years old by a "Frenchman collecting animals and other curiosities for Louis XIV" of France. Shipped to Istanbul, he was placed in the Sultan's seraglio where the Russian ambassador found him and sent him back to Russia as a present to Peter the Great.

In the Russian court, Abram became a great favourite of Peter the Great. The Tsar became so attached to this precocious and intelligent child that he had him baptised into the Orthodox Church at Vilno where the Tsar himself became his godfather and the queen of Poland his godmother.
As he grew up, Pushkin took great pride in his great-grandfather and his Africanness which he  openly embraced and celebrated in Eugene Onegin.
Pushkin led a fascinating life, so I'll post more on him next week, but now on to stroganoff! This recipe is from Mabel Hoffman's Crockery Cookery, one of my favorite cookbooks! Hope you enjoy it.

Beef Stroganoff

2 lbs round steak
1/2 t salt
1/8 t pepper
1 onion sliced
1/4 t garlic salt
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1/2 t paprika
1 (10 1/2-oz.) can condensed beef broth
1 T ketchup
2 T dry red wine
1/4 lb fresh mushrooms, sliced
3 T cornstarch
1/4 cup water
1 cup sour cream
Cooked rice or noodles

Cut steak into 1/4 inch strips.  Season with salt and pepper.  Place steak and onion in slow cooker.  Mix garlic salt, Worcestershire sauce, paprika, broth and ketchup in a bowl.  Pour mixture over steak. cover and cook on LOW 6 to 7 hours or until steak is tender.  Turn control to HIGH.  Add wine and mushrooms.  Dissolve cornstarch in water in a small bowl.  Add to meat mixture, stirring until blended.  Cover and cook on HIGH 15 minutes or until slightly thickened.  Stir in sour cream; turn off heat. Serve with rice or noodles.

Happy eating! Do you have a favorite version of beef stroganoff? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Fascinating Movie Find: I Passed For White

I'm an old movie buff, so over the weekend when my writer friend, historical fiction author Michele Stegman, asked if I'd ever heard of the movie I Passed for White, I was flabbergasted, because I hadn't! I said, "I've seen Imitation of Life, but not that one." Though I was thinking to myself, she must be mistaken, because I know my movies, Michele assured me that she'd seen it as a kid.

So this morning, I looked it up, and sure enough, I found I Passed For White, with a trailer available on Youtube! I was even more surprised to find that this film stars one of my favorite actors, heartthrob James Franciscus, in one of his very early roles.

The movie is based on the memoir of the same name by Reba Lee (a pen name), as she told it to Mary Hastings Bradley, a prolific author of mysteries, travel books and short fiction.

Wikipedia provides the information about the book from its dust jacket:

Reba Lee is a young Negro woman whose skin is almost white. Brought up in Chicago's vast colored neighborhoods, she knew quite early that something made her different from her darker family and schoolmates. Finally, grown-up and with a job, she ran away from home to another city and passed herself successfully as a white girl. Now began a difficult and tense, although fascinating, life for Reba. Intelligent and quick-witted as well as beautiful, she soon made a circle of friends for herself; listening, watching, imitating, she began to learn the knack of living in a white world, and outwardly at least, she was as assured and poised as any of the people she met. And then she met a man and fell in love with him and he with her. They were engaged, married.
 Fighting to keep her hard-won happiness, the secure happiness of being a white woman married to an attractive white man, Reba kept at bay the strain of a life of constant lying and an ever-present sense of danger. Until, with the knowledge that she was pregnant, came the enveloping terror that the baby might be dark-skinned. "Reba Lee", naturally, is a pen name. Mary Hastings Bradley, well known in America for her mystery stories and travel books, has set down Reba's story as it happened, simply and with its considerable natural suspense, making only the changes necessary to protect all of the people concerned.

After reading the dust jacket description and watching the trailer, I'm dying to read the book and see the movie!

Are you familiar with either one?  Also, have you ever known or heard of anyone who "passed for white"?  Not necessarily black to white, but anyone of a non-Anglo group who passed for Anglo.

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Harriett Beecher Stowe: Her Impact on the Nation

Legend has it that upon meeting Harriett Beecher Stowe at the White House, Abraham Lincoln said, "So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war."  We'll never know if that's what Lincoln really said, because not much is known about that conversation. According to sources at Wikipedia:

Stowe's daughter Hattie reported, "It was a very droll time that we had at the White House I assure you... I will only say now that it was all very funny—and we were ready to explode with laughter all the while." Stowe's own letter to her husband is equally ambiguous: "I had a real funny interview with the President."

Regardless of whether or not Lincoln made that remark, it's a fascinating piece of folklore.  Harriett Beecher Stowe probably never realized the impact Uncle Tom's Cabin would have on the United States. On March 9, 1850, Stowe wrote to the editor of a weekly antislavery journal called National Era.  She explained that she planned on writing a story about the problem of slavery.

In her letter she said: "I feel now that the time is come when even a woman or a child who can speak a word for freedom and humanity is bound to speak... I hope every woman who can write will not be silent."

In June of 1851, National Era published the first installment of Uncle Tom's Cabin. The Installments were published weekly from June 5, 1851, to April 1, 1852. In March of 1852, the story was published in book form with an initial print run of 5,000 copies. In less than a year, the book sold three hundred thousand copies!

Stowe's work presented an emotional portrayal of slavery that caught the nation's attention.  At a volatile time in history, Uncle Tom's Cabin added to the heated debate about abolition and slavery, arousing opposition to it in the South. Her story inspired and impacted many.
Have you ever read Uncle Tom's Cabin?  In my new release Escape (yes, it's time for a little shameless self-promotion), my protagonist, Daniel Taylor, is an abolitionist inspired by Uncle Tom's Cabin.  What story or person has inspired you lately?

Thanks for visiting!