GAIL, MARZIEH (b. near Boston, Mass., 1 April 1908; d. San Francisco, 16 October 1993; Figure 1), Persian-American Bahaʾi author, essayist, and translator. She was the second child of ʿAliqoli (Ali-Kuli) Khan Nabil-al-Dawla, the Iranian consul in Washington, and Florence Breed of Boston; their marriage was the first Persian-American marital union in the Bahaʾi community. ʿAliqoli Khan was from Kashan; his father met the Bab in 1845 and became a Babi and later a Bahaʾi (Gail, 1987, p. 6). Florence Breed became a Bahaʾi through her husband. In 1912, at the age of four, Marzieh met ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ, then head of the Bahaʾi Faith, during his journey to the West. He is said to have remarked that the child had āteš (fire) and namak (salt; Gail, 1991, p. 87). She grew up “half Eastern and half Western, neither this nor that and yet both” (Gail, 1991, p. 273).
Marzieh’s education was conducted by a series of private tutors, since her father's diplomatic work meant that the family had to move frequently, living in Washington, D.C., Paris, Tehran, Istanbul, and Tbilisi. While living in Iran as a child, she observed at close range court life in the waning years of the Qajar era, although she avoided events where she would have to go veiled, which she disliked. Her family were often guests at the opulent royal residences including the Kāḵ-e Ṣāḥebqarāniya, where, as a child, she once had a comic debate with the young Aḥmad Shah (r. 1909-24; Gail, 1991, p.136). When she was fifteen, her parents received a marriage proposal for her from the shah himself. Her parents declined, because they were determined to see their daughter educated. She later wrote that they thus saved her from “that quicksand” (Gail, 1991, p. 246). Her father, who had been appointed minister of the court of Crown Prince Moḥammad-Ḥasan Mirzā (Gail, 1991, pp. 254-55), frequently received death threats; the family was denounced by the clerics from the pulpit of the mosques for being “Babis” and because the daughters were known to appear in public unveiled. The family felt, however, that the attacks were instigated by foreign sources seeking to block his efforts at economic development and fiscal reform (Gail, 1991, p. 254).
In 1924 the family returned to the United States. Marzieh began her studies at Vassar College and graduated from Stanford University in 1929. Shortly afterwards, she married Howard Carpenter, a medical student at the same university. In 1932, she received a master’s degree in English from the University of California at Berkeley.
Marzieh had first met Shoghi Effendi Rabbani (Šawqi Effendi Rabbāni) in France in 1920, just before he became head of the Bahaʾi Faith. She was devoted to him, writing that the moments she spent in his presence were “the only really important times of [her] life except for the moments with ʿAbdu’l-Bahá” (Gail, 1991, p. 301). For his part, Shoghi Effendi greatly valued and constantly encouraged her. In 1933, at Shoghi Effendi’s request, Marzieh and Howard went to live in Iran, and Marzieh was hired as the first female reporter to serve on the staff of a Tehran newspaper (Chen, p. 137); but when Howard contracted poliomyelitis and became paralyzed, they returned to the United States, where he died. In 1939, she married Harold Gail, a manufacturer of springs, and in 1954 the two went to live in Europe as Bahaʾi pioneers, helping to establish Bahaʾi religion first in France and later in Austria and the Netherlands.
Marzieh Gail’s literary career began with essays she wrote for the Bahaʾi magazine Star of the West when she was a student at Stanford University. In 1951 she published Persia and the Victorians, followed by several works on Bahaʾi subjects and three books (including one for young readers) about fourteenth-century Europe. She also published newspaper articles under the pen name V. Ives. She was known for her irrepressible sense of humor, which permeated her writing. A reviewer of The Three Popes found it “disconcerting” that she treated “the record of human experience as something of a comic opera provided for the delectation of posterity” (Kirkus Reviews, p. 543).
While in Iran in the 1930s, she began to translate Bahaʾi scriptures into English. Shoghi Effendi commissioned her to translate the “Questions and Answers” appendix to Bahāʾ-Allāh’s Ketāb-e aqdas and then the text of the book itself, which she worked on in collaboration with Bahaʾi scholar Mirzā Asad-Allāh Fāżel Māzandarāni. Later she published a translation of Bahāʾ-Allāh’s Haft wādi and Čahār wādi, followed by translations of ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ’s treatise on modernization and reform, Resāla-ye madaniya, and his Taḏkerat al-wafāʾ. She contributed translations to the volume Selections from the Writings of ʿAbdu’l-Bahá and also translated the memoir Zendagi-e Ostād Moḥammad-ʿAli Salmāni.
Marzieh Gail and her husband returned to the United States in 1964 and lived in Keene, New Hampshire. Her later years were devoted to writing a series of biographical and autobiographical works. Her husband did the household chores so she would be free to write (Chen, p. 138). In 1981 they moved to San Francisco, where she died in 1993.
“Bahá’ulláh’s Epistle to the Son of the Wolf,” World Order 12/2, 1946, pp. 33-39.
Persia and the Victorians, London, 1951.
Six Lessons on Islam, Wilmette, Ill., 1953.
Baháʾí Glossary: A Glossary of Persian and Arabic Words Appearing in the Baháʾí Writings, Wilmette, Ill., 1955.
The Sheltering Branch, London, 1959.
Avignon in Flower: 1309-1403, Boston, 1965.
“Notes on Persian Love Poems,” World Order, 1968, pp. 16-24.
Life in the Renaissance, New York, 1968.
The Three Popes: An Account of the Great Schism When Rival Popes in Rome, Avignon and Pisa Vied for the Rule of Christendom, New York, 1969.
Dawn over Mount Hira and Other Essays, Oxford, 1976.
Khanum: The Greatest Holy Leaf, Oxford, 1981.
Other People, Other Places, Oxford, 1982.
Summon up Remembrance, Oxford, 1987 (based on a memoir left by Aliqoli Khan and other family papers).
Arches of the Years, Oxford, 1991.
Bahāʾ-Allāh, Haft wādi and Čahār wādi, as The Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys, Wilmette, Ill., 1945.
ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ, Resāla-ye madaniya, as The Secret of Divine Civilization, Wilmette, Ill., 1957.
Idem, Taḏkerat al-wafāʾ, as Memorials of the Faithful, Wilmette, Ill., 1971. Selections from the Writings of ʿAbdu’l-Bahá, Haifa, 1978.
Moḥammad-ʿAli Salmāni, Zendagi-e Ostād Moḥammad-ʿAli Salmāni, as My Memories of Baháʾu’lláh, Los Angeles, 1982.
Constance Chen, “Obituary: Marzieh Nabil Carpenter Gail (1908-1993): Translator and Author, ‘Patron Saint’ of Women Baháʾí Scholars,” Baháʾí Studies Review 6, 1996, pp. 135-39.
Kirkus Reviews 37/9, 1969, pp. 543-44.
Originally Published: November 21, 2016
Last Updated: November 21, 2016Cite this entry:
Wendy Heller, “GAIL, MARZIEH,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2016, available at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/gail-marzieh (accessed on 21 November 2016).