Sadiq Hidayat (1903-1951) is considered the father of modern Persian fiction. Although his works show a variety of literary forms, he was essentially a short-story writer.
Only since the beginning of the 20th century, because of the development of journalism and the influence of the West, has Persian prose been given the same status as poetry. Sadiq Hidayat contributed greatly to this literary revolution.
Hidayat was born on Feb. 17, 1903, in Teheran, Persia, to an aristocratic family of great landowners from the northern province of Mazandaran. His ancestors gave Persia (especially in the 19th century) many prominent statesmen and men of letters, and his family played an important role during the constitutional revolution of 1906, in this period of confrontation of the past with the new.
Very little is known about Hidayat as an individual, as he preferred to live modestly and in solitude. However, it is known that he cared for the underprivileged and the humble people of his country and that he was a patriot, but at the same time he was obsessed with an idea of self-destruction, of suicide.
In his 20s Hidayat went to France to study dentistry but soon changed to engineering. His engineering studies did not last long as he got interested in the study of pre-Islamic Persia. He turned to writing and in 1927 published The Advantages of Vegetarianism, a second attempt (the first was a short book, Man and Animals, an unsuccessful literary debut) to show man's cruelty to animals. The first sign of his new, simple style is seen in his short play, The Legend of Creation.
Hidayat returned to Persia in 1930, and his first collection of short stories, Buried Alive, was published that year. The Blind Owl (1937), his masterpiece, is his self-analysis. Through Kafka-like dream technique, Hidayat brings about unreality. The hero of the book seeks an escape from his misery and poverty in alcohol and opium, which cause his dream life. The atmosphere of The Blind Owl reminds one of the grimmest passages of E. A. Poe, F. Kafka, F. Dostoevsky, C. Dickens, and E. Zola. The recurring motif in Hidayat's stories is the vanity of human existence and its uselessness and absurdity.
During the 1930s Hidayat not only published eight other important works but was engaged with other progressive artists and writers in the movement against the old-fashioned bombastic style. His interest in Persian studies can be seen in the writing of this period as he tried to show the continuity of long Persian civilization and its glorious past. At the same time Hidayat was one of the pioneers in bringing folklore into his literary works. He was still under the influence of the famous Persian writer Omar Khayyam. Hidayat devoted three books to Khayyam and his philosophy, which touches on the everlasting puzzles of humanity.
The characters in Hidayat's short stories are mostly small people with their problems, sorrows, hates, and weak-nesses—sympathetic yet repulsive. But as Henry D. G. Law writes: "Hidayat does not write objectively; with his reckless soaring genius he infuses into each of his tales his own personality, his own mood of pity, indignation, or tenderness, so that you may enter fully into the mind and thoughts of his characters, whoever they may be—seeing them as he sees them. They live and they haunt you long after you have closed the book."
In his stories Hidayat paints the abnormalities of human characters, who in most cases suffer from suicidal temptations. The satirical tone in some of his short stories in indirect criticism of the society which obstructs the education and advancement of the masses. Hidayat is particularly sympathetic toward the position of women, and the women in his stories are symbols of revolt against backwardness.
Hidayat's search for the glorious past of Persia led him to India, where he studied with Parsee scholars. But India did not cure him of his melancholy and gloomy pessimism. After returning to Persia, he published new collections of his grimmest short stories, The Stray Dog and The Dead End, which show his belief that man cannot liberate himself from his fate. Hidayat committed suicide in Paris on April 9, 1951.
Hidayat is considered in two studies that also provide useful background: Hassan Kamshad, Modern Persian Prose Literature (1966), and Jan Rypka, written in collaboration with Otaker Klima and others, History of Iranian Literature (1968).
Bashiri, Iraj., The fiction of Sadeq Hedayat, Lexington, Ky., USA: Mazdea Publishers, 1984. □