The Moor of Peter the Great

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The Moor of Peter the Great
AuthorAlexander Pushkin
Original titleАрап Петра Великого
CountryRussian Empire
GenreHistorical novel
Publication date
Published in English
Media typePrint

The Moor of Peter the Great (Russian: Арап Петра Великого, Arap Petra Velikogo, literally The Arap of Peter the Great, also translated as The Blackamoor of Peter the Great or The Negro of Peter the Great) is an unfinished historical novel by Alexander Pushkin. Written in 1827–1828 and first published in 1837, the novel is the first prose work of the great Russian poet.


Pushkin started to work on the novel towards the end of July, 1827 in Mikhailovskoye and in spring 1828 read some drafts to his friends, including poet Pyotr Vyazemsky. During Pushkin's lifetime, two fragments were published: in the literary almanac Severnye Tsvety (1829) and in the newspaper Literaturnaya Gazeta (March 1830). All the extant parts were first published after Pushkin's death by the editors of the journal Sovremennik in 1837, who also gave the novel its current title.

The main character of the novel, Ibrahim, is loosely based on Pushkin's maternal great-grandfather, Abram Petrovich Gannibal, a black African who was brought to Russia during the reign of Peter the Great. Pushkin's interests in history and genealogy combined to depict the transformation of Russia at the beginning of 18th century; the period of Russian history to which Pushkin returns in the narrative poem Poltava in 1829. The influential Russian literary critic Vissarion Belinsky maintained that "had this novel been completed... we should have a supreme Russian historical novel, depicting the manners and customs of the greatest epoch of Russian history."

The reasons why Pushkin left the novel unfinished are not known and no outline in Pushkin's hand has survived to show how he intended to develop the plot. According to a friend of Pushkin, A. Wulf: "The main intrigue of the novel, as Pushkin says, will be the sexual infidelity of the Moor's wife, who gives birth to a white child, and is punished by being banished to a convent." (A.S. Pushkin v vospominaniyah sovremennnikov, Moscow, 1950, pp. 324–325).

Plot summary[edit]

The novel opens with a picture of morals and manners of the French society of the first quarter of 18th century; with the Moor's life in Paris, his success in French society, and his love affair with a French countess. But "summoned both by Peter and by his own vague sense of duty" Ibrahim returns to Russia. The following chapters, full of historical color and antiquarianism, sketch the different strata of the Russian society: ball at the Winter Palace and boyars' dinner at the boyar Gavrila Rzhevsky's place. The latter is interrupted by the arrival of the Tsar, who wants to marry Ibrahim to the Gavrila's daughter, Natalia.


Translation history[edit]

  • 1875 – The Moor of Peter the Great (translated by Mrs. J. Buchan Telfer) in Russian Romance, London: H. S. King.
  • 1892 – Peter the Great’s Negro (transl. by Mrs. Sutherland Edwards) in The Queen of Spades and Other Stories, London: Chapman & Hall.
  • 1896 – Peter the Great’s Negro (translated by T. Keane) in The Prose Tales of A. Pushkin, London: G. Bell and Sons.
  • 1933 – Peter the Great’s Negro (transl. by Natalie Duddington) in The Captain’s Daughter and Other Tales, London: J. M. Dent & Sons, (Everyman's Library).
  • 1960 – The Negro of Peter the Great (transl. by Rosemary Edmonds) in The Queen of Spades and Other Stories, London: Penguin, (Penguin Classics).
  • 1962 – The Negro of Peter the Great (transl. by Gillon Aitken) in The Captain's daughter and other stories, London: The New English Library Limited.
  • 1966 – Peter the Great's Blackamoor (transl. by Gillon R. Aitken) in The Complete Prose Tales of Alexandr Sergeyevitch Pushkin, London: Barrie & Rockliff.
  • 1983 – The Blackamoor of Peter the Great (translated by Paul Debreczeny) in Complete Prose Fiction, Stanford: Stanford U.P.
  • 1999 – Peter the Great's Blackamoor (transl. by Alan Myers) in The Queen of Spades and Other Stories, Oxford: Oxford U.P., (Oxford World Classics).
  • 2016 - The Moor of Peter the Great (transl. by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky) in Novels, Tales, Journeys: The Complete Prose of Alexander Pushkin, New York: Alfred A. Knopf.


  • Debreczeny, Paul. “The Blackamoor of Peter the Great: Pushkin’s Experiment with a Detached Mode of Narration.” Slavic and East European Journal. 18.2 (1974): 119–31.
  • Nicholas V. Riasanovsky. The Image of Peter the Great in Russian History and Thought. Oxford, Oxford UP, 1992.

External links[edit]