Hajji Baba of Ispahan

views updated


Title of the first and most famous of four travel novels about Persia by an Englishman who had spent time there in the British diplomatic corps.

Hajji Baba of Ispahan (1824) by James Justinian Morier (c. 17801849) appealed to contemporary interest in things oriental and gave readers a satirical look into Persian society of the early Qajar period (the Qajar dynasty, ruled 17951925). Its title character and picaresque narrator is a barber whose desire to get ahead, and cleverness in so doing, leads him from his hometown of Ispahan (now Isfahan) to Mashhad, to life with a band of Torkamans (Turkmen), Tehran, Qom, Karbala, Baghdad, Constantinople (Istanbul), and finally back to Ispahan as a wealthy representative of the shah. In these places and situationsin the bazaar and the royal court and among dervishes and clericsHajji Baba satirically depicts Iranian ways and offers entertaining observations on human nature.

Hajji Baba of Ispahan has played a role in modern Persian literature insofar as its Persian translation in 1905 became a popular model for a type of narrative for which indigenous precedents did not exist. Readers in Iran have even given Morier the ultimate tribute, by alleging that the Persian version was the original and Morier's the translation. They thought the book was so accurate and detailed in its depiction of culture-specific situations and behavior that only an Iranian could have written it.

See also literature: persian; qajar dynasty.


Johnston, Henry McKensie. Ottoman and Persian Odysseys: James Morier, Creator of Hajji Baba of Ispahan, and His Brothers. London and New York: British Academic Press, 1998.

Morier, James. The Adventures of Hajji Baba of Ispahan. London: Cresset Press, 1949.

michael c. hillmann