Iran Literature – Modern Age Part I

By | December 16, 2021

With the 16th century classical literature has completed its cycle, and settles into the mechanical repetition of trite themes and motifs. This decline lasted until the 19th century, with the exception of the popular genre of the sacred drama ta‛ziya. As regards the literature of the modern age, 5 periods can be distinguished, linked to the historical-political evolution of the country.


Historically located at the beginning of the nineteenth century, it meant the end of the isolation of the Iran, which opened up to European influences thus creating the premises for a progressive and rapid change in the political-religious structures of cultural life. Literature and men of letters then came out of court circles and many young people were sent to study in Europe (in 1816-17 the first printing press was opened in Tabriz and in 1834 the first newspaper Rūznāme-i akhbār-i wakāyi ‛ ” The gazette appeared in Tehran of events “). The flourishing of the travel relationship genre, of which Nāṣir ad-dīn Shāh himself was the author, favored the spread of prose. The creation of a sort of European-style university (Dār al-funūn «House of the Arts»), inaugurated in Tehran in 1852, allowed the formation of a new intellectual body, as well as favoring the birth of a translation business (works by Voltaire, A. Dumas, F. Fénélon, Molière, D. De Foe etc.) which provided new literary models far from the courtly and traditional style. It is indeed strong in the 19th century. the tendency to simplify the language and style of prose (Qā’im-maqām Farahānī) and poetry (Giandaq’s Yaghmā). For Iran 2005, please check

As for the theater, great attention was paid to ta‛ziya, as well as to the popular tradition of puppet and farce theater. Traditional theater, on the other hand, during the nineteenth century, was influenced by the European model.


It coincides with the years of the first unrest (1890) and with the struggle for the Constitution (1905-11); saw the maximum flowering of the arts in general; political evolution put an end to court poetry, generating a literature close to the events of Iran and Europe. A taste for historical re-enactment and for partly new concepts, such as nationalism, democracy and social problems, was established, as evidenced by the flourishing of the novel genre. Among the first novelists we remember the Azerbaijani Ṭālibūf Ḥāggī Mīrzā ‛Abd ar-Raḥī, who devoted himself above all to the popularization of modern sciences in a more accessible literary form; Zain al-‛Abidīn of Marāgha, who in his novel Siyāḥat-nāme-i Ibrāhīm Beg (“The travelogue of Ibrāhīm Beg”, 1888) describes the deplorable state of the Iran in the time of the Qāgiār. There was also the development of publications, often linked to political and literary circles. Intellectuals supported the struggle for the Constitution in newspapers and periodicals.

Even the poetic production bent to new formal experiences following two paths: the first saw the classical forms bend to typical contents of the modern age with MT Bahār; it also took on political connotations, as in the case of Abū l-Qāsim Lāhūtī. The second, that of formal renewal, was undertaken by M. Riḍā ‛Ishqī, author of strophic compositions and rhymes strongly influenced by French Romantic and Symbolist poetry.

For the theater of this period, the first performances were in Tabriz (the actors were mostly non-Muslim and the female roles were played by men) and numerous translations of European plays began to spread.


It coincides with the rise to power of the first ruler of the Pahlavī dynasty, Riḍā Shāh (1924-41). In 1921, Giamālzāde’s Yakī būd yakī nabūd (“Once upon a time”) was published, a collection of satires that marked the first real success of a new narrative technique. From the same year is Nīmā Yūshīǵ’s poem Afsāne («The fairytale»), one of the first attempts to create a kind of verse free from any stylistic canon. But the path of poetic experimentalism was hindered by the continuous controversy with the traditionalists and with the followers of classical poetry. Among these stands out M. Iqbāl, the Persian-language author of Giāvīdnāme (“The eternal poem”, 1932). The novel of social content evolved into the novel of manners, characterized now by a journalistic and committed attitude with Dihātī (pseudonym of the writer M. Mas’ūd), now by a politely descriptive approach with M. Ḥigiāzī. But the nationalist government propaganda of Riḍā Shāh, despite the efforts of numerous reformists, took root above all in the historical vein; then proliferated the works with nostalgic tones aimed at the exaltation of the greatness of the Iran pre-Islamic. The writer who best reflects the intellectual torment of an entire generation is Ṣ. Hidāyat: his short story Būf-i kūr (“The blind owl”, 1937) made him the leader of the young emerging prose writers. From the same literary school we remember B. ‛Alawī, author of the novel Ciashmhāyash (“His eyes”, 1952). As for the theater, which has only now been elevated to a literary genre, an innovative vein with satirical tones was established, which however quickly ran out due to government censorship. However, it is in these years (1939) the birth of a training school for actors, Hunaristān-i hunarmandān, and the most representative character is the author-actor S. ‛A. Naṣr.

Iran Literature - Modern Age Part I