Stephanie Merkel, Ohio Wesleyan University
Most of us have encountered the word xalat and its many derivatives in reading Russian literature. Except for two short lexical inquiries by V. V. Vinogradov and Ju. S. Sorokin, respectively, few have taken note of its tremendous significance in Russian culture. Even these two eminent scholars did not fully understand what can be called the romantic culture of xalat and its origins in the first three decades of the nineteenth century.
In my dissertation, I focused initially on the xalat poems of P. A. Vjazemskij, A. S. Pushkin, A. A. Del'vig, and V. A. Zhukovskij, which comprise an ongoing discussion of the appropriately dressing-gowned attitude of the poet. Each participant alters xalat slightly each time it appears, until finally a composite portrait of the Russian romantic emerges. A parallel development in the visual arts, authorial xalatnye portrety (a term not invented by me, but used for this subgenre of the kamernyj portret) of these same poets were painted at this time by Zontag, Tropinin, and Kiprenskij.
Poet Boris Sluckij exhibits an intimate acquaintance with this romantic culture of xalat in his 1975 poem, "Vo buxarskom xalate." As in the earlier exchanges, an attitude of self-parody prevails. In my discussion of Sluckij's poem, I will cover the following points:
1. Sluckij picks up the modifiers and rhymes associated with xalat in Pushkin's "K Galichu" (1815) and "Orlovu" (1819), Vjazemskij's "Proshchanie s xalatom" (1817), and Del'vig's "K xalatu" (1819).
2. Sluckij's late twentieth-century vocabulary (kooperativnaja kvartira, Xeminguej) is in accord with the use of prosaic words such as xalat in the poems of the Pushkin Pleiad (Raich, Polevoj, and others objected specifically to the use of xalat).
Conclusion: The question arises from these observations, "Why did Sluckij pick up the threads of this particular conversation among poets which had trailed off more than a century before?" I believe that Sluckij's resort to xalat is motivated by concerns similar to those of the Pushkin Pleiad in taking up Denis Diderot's robe de chambre. Diderot had written his literary miniature Regrets sur ma vieille robe de chambre (1767) as a declaration of his independence as a writer in the service of Russian autocrat Catherine II; Vjazemskij translated Regrets as one of the most important Diderotian texts for Russia at a time when the prince himself was under virtual house arrest for criticizing Tsar Alexander I. In light of the strong message of the writer's independence in the face of political oppression associated with the dressing gown in literature, we must reexamine the current critical opinion of Sluckij's poetry that faults him with "spiritual poverty, wary vagueness, and the shiftiness of the political worker" (in Terras, Victor, Ed. Handbook of Russian Literature. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985).