Canadian Feminist Novels in Persian Translation after the 1979 Iranian Revolution


  • Sima Sharifi School of Translation and Interpretation, University of Ottawa


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I completed my BA and MA in Linguistics at SFU, and PhD in Translation Studies at the University of Ottawa.


The patriarchal legal system and the socio-cultural institutions of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) relegate Iranian women to second-class citizens. Yet, Canadian feminist texts such as Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale (1985) and Carol Shields's Unless (2002) have been translated into Persian, in 2003 and 2005 respectively. Moreover, they circulate freely and are found in Iran’s National Library. This seeming discrepancy needs a systemic and contextually-based explanation. Four questions guide my dissertation: What happens to the texts as they cross the cultural boundaries into the receiving society? Specifically, which features of feminist texts are most vulnerable to censorial interventions and what does that reveal about the interplay of the hegemonic theocratic-patriarchy and translation? Finally, how is the Persian translation of feminist texts even possible, given Iran’s legal, political and socio-cultural antagonism toward women’s autonomy? In other words, what factors mitigate such translations? 

To answer these questions, I outline the legal representation of women in the legal discourse and the socio-cultural attitudes towards women’s rights in Iran subsequent to the (1906-1911) Constitutional Revolution and the 1979 Revolution, which led to an Islamist government. I examine the impacts of the IRI’s androcentric legislations on women’s rights, and the censorship mechanisms on Persian and imported feminist literature. I explore the types and extent of resistance to censorship, and I study the representation of women in school textbooks, cinema and Persian literature to analyze the impact that the interaction between the legal discourse, censorship and resistance has on cultural products. I conduct a comparative text analysis using theories of feminist linguistics and descriptive translation studies (Toury 1995; Cameron 1985, 1995) to investigate the extent to which patriarchal mechanisms influence the translation of the two novels. The goal is to determine how the legal and socio-cultural discourses of the target society affect the form and meaning of the translation, and to identify translation strategies that undermine the very features that make a novel female-centric. I demonstrate how these translation strategies consistently produce target texts that conform to the state-sponsored patriarchal agenda, and synchronize with the gender values and norms of the IRI


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