By Kayvan Tahmasebian
With Rebecca Ruth Gould, Kayvan Tahmasebian is the author of ‘The Translatability of Love: The Romance Genre and the Prismatic Reception of Jane Eyre in Twentieth-Century Iran‘, in Prismatic Jane Eyre: Close-Reading a World Novel Through Languages (2013).
During my research for the Prismatic Jane Eyre project, I discovered many wonderful ways in which Charlotte Brontë’s novel is integrated into the Iranian publishing industry. One of my tasks was to make a list of the translations of Jane Eyre into Persian. In preparing the list, I relied on the National Library and Archives of I. R. Iran (NLAI) database (nlai.ir). At that moment (September 2022), with a simple search of the Persian title, ‘جین ایر,’ fifty different translations come up under the title Jane Eyre. This number includes full translations, abridged translations, translations of illustrated versions, rewritten versions (including rewritings directly in Persian or translations of English rewritings), and abridged bilingual versions (usually used for educational purposes).
The first Jane Eyre in Persian appeared in 1950. It was an abridged version by Masud Barzin, Iranian journalist and the last Director General of the National Iranian Radio and Television before its closure during the Iranian revolution of 1979. This was the only version of Jane Eyre available in Persian until the early eighties. All the other translations of Jane Eyre appeared after the revolution. The popularity of Jane Eyre in the post-revolutionary Iranian publishing market is not unexpected. As Rebecca Ruth Gould and I have remarked in our co-authored chapter on the Persian translations of Jane Eyre, ‘Victorian novels like Jane Eyre do not usually contain material—such as sex, drinking, extra-marital affairs, and obscenities—that often trigger the pre-publication reviews that are part of the government censorship apparatus, determining what can and cannot be published. For this reason, translations of Victorian novels are less likely to attract heavy government oversight.’
However, what struck me most was the popularity of Brontë’s novel among the Qom-based publishers. Located 140 kilometers to the south of capital city Tehran, Qom is one of Iran’s most religious cities. It is the largest city of Shiʿite scholarship in the world and the Qom Seminary is the largest Shiʿite theology school in Iran. The city is well-equipped with modern technologies of printing to facilitate the access of large numbers of Shiʿite scholars and students living in this city to their sources and educational materials. Due to the unrivalled advanced facilities of publication, book printing in Qom is significantly cost-effective, which makes the city an attractive destination for book publishing. Many publishers in big cities like Tehran and Isfahan prefer to have their books produced in Qom’s printing houses. NLAI records showed that eight publishers in Qom have published a Jane Eyre in Persian.
Out of the fifty Persian translations of Jane Eyre that were recorded on NLAI, some have been published only once, some more than once, and some have yet to be published. The as yet unpublished ones may appear someday in the future or will never end up in publication. Not all of the books that have been recorded on the database are likely to be published. Some of them have received the publication permission (that is why they have a record on the database) but for some reason remain unpublished. In Iran, books require permission from the state before they can be published. The license is granted after the book is inspected by state officers and the censorship required is implemented by the publisher/author/translator. Without this permission, any published book is considered ‘illegal.’ The office in charge usually inspects the books submitted for content that is sensitive in religious, political, or sexual terms. Classics like Jane Eyre, set in what Foucault described as ‘monotonous nights of the Victorian bourgeoisie,’ usually pass the censorship.
Not only authors and translators need to receive a license for their works to be published; publishers need a license to be identified as ‘legal’ publishers. Moreover, according to the rules, the licensed publishers need to publish a certain number of works in a certain period of time to be deemed ‘active’ publishers. In case of inactivity, the publisher’s license will be revoked. In some cases, this situation forges a plagiarist bond between people who need to be identified as translators (e.g. for social prestige, for academic job promotions) on the one hand, and publishers who need a minimum number of published books in order to retain their license for publications, on the other hand. A translation is ordered to the publisher, and this is where classics like Jane Eyre turn up as perfect targets for what is known as ‘book-fabrication [kitab-sazi]’ in Iranian publishing terminology. As these classics exist in numerous translations, with some of them out of print for a long time, they provide a better opportunity for plagiarism in a country that does not abide by international copyright laws and follows its own domestic laws. Some of these translations will never see the real market but are published in limited numbers for the translators to present them where they should.
During my research, I came across Persian Jane Eyres that were recorded on NLAI database with no other records for example in public libraries, or on social media, without any reviews, not even a book cover image. I came across a translation of Jane Eyre that completely plagiarized a previously published translation. I found the records of a translation of Jane Eyre that was published in the same year by three members of the same family, though with different publishers; and I saw the records of a translation that was published by three different publishers in the same year and by the same translator. I came across a Persian Jane Eyre that was translated by ‘a group of’ translators.
In our chapter on Persian translations of Jane Eyre, Rebecca Ruth Gould and I examined how twentieth century Iranian readers situated Charlotte Brontë’s novel within the classical genre of romance literature (adabiyāt-i ʿāshiqāna), originating from the tradition of love narratives in verse (ʿishq-nāma). Working on Persian Jane Eyres, however, opened new doors to the wonderful ethics, politics, and economics of publishing industry in contemporary Iran.