It is not all about Russian spies! While some Trinity Hall alumni went on to become spies for Russia, bringing notoriety and dishonour to their College, one notable alumnus forged an honourable connection with Russia in the twentieth century through his distinguished scholarship. Anthony Cross (TH 1957-61) studied Russian at Trinity Hall and became the third Professor of Slavonic Studies, 1985-2004.
Professor Cross is internationally known for his work on eighteenth-century Russia and Anglo-Russian relations. Among numerous honours, he received an Honorary Doctorate from the Institute of Russian Literature of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Pushkin House) in 2010.
Throughout his career Professor Cross has built up a remarkable personal library and the Jerwood Library Trinity Hall has been the fortunate recipient of his fine collection of about 500 books on Pushkin and his age. Although the collection contains some works written in English, the majority of the books are rare volumes in Russian. These were either purchased, mainly during the time of the Soviet Union, or collected by gift.
Alexander Sergievich Pushkin (1799-1837) is the national poet of Russia. He was born in Moscow and came from an aristocratic family, of which he was very proud. He was no less proud of Abram (Ibrahim) Gannibal (1696-1781), his great- grandfather on his mother’s side, who was an African slave brought over to Russia to serve as a page in the court of Peter the Great and who later rose to a prominent position in Russian society.
Pushkin showed promise as a poet at a young age and was educated at the prestigious Tsarskoye Selo Lyceum, an exclusive boarding school attached to the Catherine Palace, near St Petersburg. He published his first poem at the age of 15 and had made a name for himself in literary circles by the time of his graduation. His first long poem “Ruslan and Lyudmila” appeared in 1820 and he went on to write many classics of Russian literature including the verse novel “Eugene Onegin”, the tragedy “Boris Gudonov” and the novel “The captain’s daughter”, amongst others.
Pushkin had a short and tempestuous life. He was exiled several times for his liberal views, he was an inveterate gambler and fought as many as 29 duels. Most tempestuous of all was his relationship with the beautiful Natalya Goncharova whom he met in 1828 and married in 1831. The couple moved in court circles, but Pushkin’s pride was hurt because the Tsar awarded him the lowest court title. As a result Pushkin came to believe that he was only accepted at court on account of his wife’s beauty.
After several years of marriage, rumours began to circulate about Natalya’s close relationship with her brother-in-law Georges d’ Anthès. In February 1837, Puskin challenged d’ Anthès to a duel in order to defend his wife’s honour. The duel proved fatal for Pushkin and he died of his wounds two days later on 10 February 1837. One hundred years after Pushkin’s death, the town of Tsarskoye Selo was renamed “Pushkin” in the poet’s honour.
This fine collection of books on Pushkin and his age is housed in the Jerwood Library Trinity Hall and is a valuable resource for researchers and scholars.
Professor Anthony Cross is Emeritus Professor of Slavonic Studies and a Fellow of Fitzwilliam College Cambridge. He has written widely on Russia and his latest publication is a bibliography of travel writing about Russia under the Tsars “In the lands of the Romanovs: an annotated bibliography of first-hand English-language accounts of the Russian empire (1613-1917)”.
Biography of Professor Anthony Cross http://www.mml.cam.ac.uk/slavonic/staff/agc28/
In the lands of the Romanovs: an annotated bibliography of first-hand English-language accounts of the Russian empire (1613-1917) Cambridge: Open Book, 2014 (ISBN 9781783740574)
Wikipedia for biographies of Pushkin and his circle