The name Nikolai Kostomarov to me meant “prominent nineteenth-century historian,” one who’s still read by people directly interested in the historical events he writes about, rather than what nineteenth-century historians thought about those events. That, and the story of him being more scared about losing issues of The Bell than Panaev and Nekrasov thought was warranted.
But I knew nothing about his origins. According to Russian Wikipedia, his father married a serf. But Nikolai was born before they were officially married, which made him, legally speaking, his own father’s property (cf. Afanasii Fet, whose illegitimacy meant he was considered legally a foreigner). Later his father was killed by his house slaves, who took his money, and Nikolai passed into the possession of his father’s heirs. These heirs then bargained with Nikolai’s father’s widow, the ex-serf, offering her 50,000 paper rubles and her son’s freedom for some large amount of land she had inherited as widow, and she took it. Various nineteenth-century writers wrote sympathetically about, say, babies becoming their own father’s slaves, or heirs breaking up slave families at the division of an estate, or noblemen who try to marry slaves being confounded by their relatives. However, I figured prominent writers weren’t likely to start out their own lives this way any more than they were likely to personally be prostitutes (whose sufferings were also much written about).
And Kostomarov was a poet too, evidently writing in Ukrainian under the name Ieremiia Galka.