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||Sadeq Hedayat (1903-1951)|
Iranian short-story writer, novelist, playwright, and essayist, the most important Persian author of the 20th century. Sadeq Hedayat's short stories reflect his deeply pessimistic world view and his love for the heritage of his country. His most famous tale is Buf-e Kur (1937, The Blind Owl). Hedayat died tragically in Paris in 1951.
"What is love? For the rabble love is a kind of variety, a transient vulgarity; the rabble's conception of love is best found in their obscene ditties, in prostitution and in the foul idioms they use when they are halfway sober, such as "shoving the donkey's foreleg in mud," or "putting dust on the head." My love for her, however, was of a totally different kind. I knew her from ancient times--strange slanted eyes, a narrow, half-open mouth, a subdued quiet voice. She was the embodiment of all my distant, painful memories among which I sought what I was deprived of, what belonged to me but somehow I was denied. Was I deprived forever?" (in 'The Blind Owl' translated by Iraj Bashiri)
Sadeq Hedayat was born in Tehran in 1903, the son of Hedayat Gholi Khan-e Hedayat, and Ozra-Zivar-Ol-Moluk Hedayat. He came from an old aristocratic family. Among his ancestors were many prominent men of letters and statesmen. Reza Qoli Khan (1800-1871), his great-grandfather, was famous as a poet and historian. Hedayat's eldest brother was appointed a judge of the Supreme Court, and another brother became a general and a commander of the Military Academy.
the age of 15 Hedayat suffered from a severe eye problem; this
interrupted his education for a period. After
attending the Dar-al-Fonun, the first Iranian polytechnic school
established in the middle of the 19th century, Hedayat entered
the prestigious École St Louis, a French missionary school,
where he spent much of his time reading French literature. Although he
had broken with his family, he had a room in his father's house, which
he occupied for most of his life in Iran. Hedayat graduated in 1925.
While still a student, Hedayat published a study of Umar Khayyam's Ruba'iyyat. He argued that Khayyam's reflections on the fragility of life and especially his observation of injustice, and the hypocrisy of the people around, led him from scepticism to pessimism – Hedayat was perhaps speaking as much of himself as of Khayyam.
Originally Hedayat was sent to Europe to study engineering by Reza Shah, but after failing to cope with the advanced mathematics he eventually gave up his studies. Moreover, he missed home, there were delays in receiving in his monthly grant, and he had difficulties in maintaining his vegatarian diet, which he had adopted in his youth. After leaving Ghent Port Univesity, Belgium, he moved to Paris, then to Reims to Besancon, and back to Paris. In Berlin he wrote an essay entitled The Benefits of Vegetarianism, which defended the rights of animals.
While in Europe Hedayat he regularly
frequented cinemas, theatres, art galleries, and read the
works on Edgar Allan Poe, Guy de
Maupassant, Anton Chekhov, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and his contemporary Kranz Kafka.
He also translated many of Kafka's works and other European writers, especially in the late
1940s. For Kafka's short
story 'In the Penal Colony' he wrote an introduction called 'Payam-e
Kafka' (Kafka Message). Hedayat wrote in it: "This world is not fit for
living. It is stifling. That is why [Kafka] goes in search of "the
land, and the air, and the law" which can accommodate a decent life." (Sadeq Hedayat: His Work and His Wondrous World, edited by Homa Katouzian, 2008, pp. 130-131)
Possibly Rainer Maria Rilke's prose work The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge and Rilke's fascination of death inspired Hedayat to write his own commentary entitled Marg (death), which was published in Berlin in the periodical Iranshahr in February 1927. However, Homa Katouzian has argued that there is no evidence that Hedayat had read any Rilke at the time. (Sadeq Hedayat: The Life and Literature of an Iranian Writer by Homa Katouzian, 1992, p. 40)
in April in 1927, Hedayat made a suicide attempt by jumping
into Marne from a bridge. He was rescued by a young man, who
was by coincidence on a boat with a girl right under the bridge and
jumped into the river and took him out. "I did something really crazy," he just said in a letter to his brother. (The Life of Sadeq Hedayat by Dr. Iraj Bashiri, 2019, p. 3)
It is a mystery, why he tried to end his life. "No, no one decides to
commit suicide. Suicide is within some people. It is in their very
nature, they can't escape it," Hedayat wrote in the short story
'Zendeh beh Gur' (1930, Buried Alive). (Three Drops of Blood by Sadeq Hedayat, translated by Deborah Miller Mostaghel, edited by Nushin Arbabzadah, 2008, p. 100)
A recluse by nature, sleeping in a college dormitory didn't suit Hedayat at all. He
wrote to his friend Taqi Razavi:
"Worse than any possible torture is this incredible Turk who is
sleeping next to me. That he says his prayers five times a day is his
own funeral. That he fasts during Ramadan is also his own bloody
business. Good God he goes to bed at 9 o'clock, and gets up in the
morning, and all the while he snores as if they've been shitting right
inside his dirty mouth." ('Chapter Four: Satire in Persian Literature, 1900-1940' by Homa Katouzian, in Literature of the Early Twentieth Century: From the Constitutional Period to Reza Shah, edited by Ali-Asghar Seyed-Gohrab, 2015, p. 237)
Returning to Tehran in 1930, Hedayat published his first
collection of short stories, Zinda be-Gur (Buried Alive)
and the first of his three plays, Parvin dukhtar-e Sasan (Parvin
the Sassanian Girl). With Mojtaba Minovi, Mas'ud
Farzad and Bozorg Alavia he founded in 1932 an antimonarchial, anti-Islamic literary club called Rab'a or "fourssome," which
attacked conservative literary establishment. At the same time Hedayat began to develop his interests in Iranian
history, folklore, and traditional beliefs. Usually, the members of the club met in downtown teahouses and restaurants.
Hedayat's second collection of short stories, Se Qatreh Khun (1932), was followed by Sayeh Rowshan (1933). They dealt with his feelings of alienation and the idea of self-destruction – themes that ran throughout his work. With Afsaneh-ye Afarinesh (1946, The Myth of Creation) Hedayat tried his skills as a satirist. The story, written in 1930, was about Adam and Eve. Though vulnerable to bouts of moodiness and depression, Hedayat's sense of humor came to his rescue.
To earn his living
Hedayat worked at the National Bank of Iran, the Chamber of Commerce,
and the General Department of Constructions.
For Hedayat, his intellectual pursuits were more important than
his daily work. Eventually his antimonarchical opinions and his
critic of a society that fears advancement drew the attention of the
authorities. To get away from Iran after Rab'a was disbanded and some
of its members were put to jail, he went to
India – Hedayat had been for a long time interested in
Buddhist philosophy, Zoroastrianism, and Hinduism. He lived in the
Parsee Zoroastrian community in Bombay. During this period he finished Buf-i
(The Blind Owl), a surrealistic novella about frenzy and
disappointment. Copies of the first print – only 50 copies – were sent to his
friends to Europe, but Hedayat's masterpiece was not published in Iran
until 1941. The novella is divided into two parts. Seemingly they have
little in common, but the same images and archetypal figures appear
repeatedly in both narratives in a form or another.
the first story a painter sees in his murderous, feverish
nightmares that "the presence of death annihilates all that is
imaginary. We are the offspring of death and death delivers us from the
tantalizing, fraudulent attractions of life; it is death that beckons
us from the depths of life. If at times we come to a halt, we do so to
hear the call of death... throughout our lives, the finger of death
points at us." The narrator writes to his shadow, which looks like an
owl and witnesses his confessions like the raven in Poe's famous poem.
A woman dressed in black had visited him. When he had touched her, he
had realized that she was dead. The narrator had dismembered her body,
and put the parts in a suitcase to cart them away for burial. In the
second part the narrator – a potential Jack the Ripper type character –
tells of his unhappy marriage and how he kills his whorish wife with a
Back in Tehran, Hedayat went to work again at the National Bank and then joined the State Office of Music and edited Journal of Music. (Of all Western classical composers, he loved especially Beethoven and Tchaikovsky.) In 1944 Hedayat travelled in Soviet Uzbekistan. Sag-i Velgard (1942, The Stray Dog), a collection of eight short stories, were written mostly before his trip to India. In the title piece Headyat tells about rejection through the eyes of a Scottish setter. The dog lives on an alley and longs in vain for kindness and attention it enjoyed before.
"All his efforts were pointless. He didn't know why he had run and or where he was going. He could neither go ahead nor back. He stopped, short of breath, his tongue hanging out. His eyes darkened. With bent head and with much labor, he pulled himself out of the middle of the road and went and laid his belly on wet and hot sand near a ditch on the edge of a field. By means of his instinct that had never lied to him, he felt that he would never be able to move from that place." (in 'The Stray Dog')
Hedayat welcomed a more open society after Allied forces
invaded the country in 1941 and Reza Shah's regime collapsed,
but eventually his optimism turned into pessimism. The Office of Music and its journal were closed down. Hedayat ended up at the Faculty of Fine Arts of Tehran
University, where he worked in various capacities. His last work
of fiction, Farda (tomorrow) appeared in 1946. Hedayat's
restless final years were shadowed by his drug addiction and alcohol
problems. He kept a close contact to the Tudeh Party, which he hoped would free the country from the Pahlavis, Western overlords, and the bondages of Islam.
Frustrated with the cultural and political atmosphere of
country, Hedayat left Iran at the end of 1950 and settled in
Paris without money or job. On April 4, 1951, he took his own life by
gassing himself. The
circumstances of his death are still under debate. Many of his
characters in his fiction commit suicide, as in 'Abji Khanom',
'Whirlpool', and 'Buried Alive'. Nevertheless, he also wrote in a
letter to a friend in Paris: "I have taken my decision. One must
struggle in this cataract of shit until disgust with living suffocates
us." ('Sadeq Hedayat: His Life and Works' by Homa Katouzian, in Three Drops of Blood by Sadeq Hedayat, translated by Deborah Miller Mostaghel, edited by Nushin Arbabzadah, 2008, p. vii) Hedayat was buried
in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. He never married. Iraj Bashiri mentions in The Life of Sadeq Hedayat (2019) that he had female friends.
The Sadeq Hedayat's Centenary Conference was held at St Antony's College, Oxford, in March 2003. The conferfence was organized by the Iran Heritage Foundation and by the Oriental Institute and St Antony's College. Many of his works were banned by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's regime. In 2008, Iran Open Publishing Group began to publish Hedayat's Complete Works in Farsi language.
For further reading: The Life of Sadeq Hedayat by Dr. Iraj Bashiri (2019); 'Blind Owl' by David Brottman, in The Facts on File Companion to the World Novel: 1900 to Present, ed. Michael D. Sollars (2010); Mute Dreams, Blind Owls, and Dispersed Knowledges: Persian Poesis in the Transnational Circuitry by Michael M.J. Fischer (2004); A History of Literary Criticism in Iran, 1866-1951: The Lives and Works of Akhundzadeh, Kermani, Malkom Khan, Talebof, Maraghei, Kasravi and Hedayat by Iraj Parsinejad (2002); Sadeq Hedayat: The Life and Literature of an Iranian Writer by Homa Katouzian (1992); Les Affinites Francaises de Sadeq Hedayat: Etude Comparative Avec Les Oeuvres de Nerval, Baudelaire Et Sartre by Derayeh Derakhshesh (1991); Hedayat's Blind Owl As a Western Novel by Michael Beard (1990); Hedayat's "The Blind Owl" Forty Years After, edited by Michael Hillmann (1977); Hedayat's Ivory Tower: Structural Analysis by I. Bashiri (1974); Modern Persian Prose Literature by H. Kamshad (1966)