BANKIMCHANDRA CHATTOPADHYAY (1838-1894) was born in Kanthalpara, West Bengal. In 1858, he became the first Indian to earn a BA degree. He served in the Indian Civil Service as Deputy Magistrate and Deputy Collector between 1859 and 1891.
Rajmohan's Wife was Bankimchandra's first novel, written in English. His first Bengali novel, Durgeshnandini, appeared in 1865. He went on to write thirteen more novels, of which Kapalkundala, Mrinalini, Bishabrikska, Krishnakanter Will, Kajani, Rajsingha and Devi Choudhurani are the most famous. The epoch-making Anandamath appeared in 1882; the verse 'Vande Mataram' from the novel became the anthem of nationalists during the freedom movement, and is now the national song of India.
Apart from his novels, Bankimchandra has to his credit a considerable body of non-fiction. He was the editor of Bangadarshan, perhaps the most influential literary magazine of its time, which began publication in 1872.
With an Introduction, Notes and Afterword by
RAVI DAYAL Publisher
|The Drawers of Water||1|
|The Two Cousins||7|
|The Truant's Return Home||11|
The History of the Rise and Progress of a
|A Letter—a Visit to the Zenana||23|
|Love Can Conquer Fear||37|
|Forewarned and Forearmed||45|
|We Meet to Part||53|
|When Thieves Fall Out||63|
|The Friends and the Stranger||69|
|Between Rival Charmers||80|
|Consultations and Council||89|
|What Befell Our Hero||95|
|The Vigilance of Love||99|
|Captors and Captive||104|
|Madhav and Tara||113|
|Some Women Are the Equals of Some Men||119|
|The Last Chapter in Life's Book—and In This||123|
sometime in 1864, a twenty-six-year-old deputy magistrate posted in Khulna district (Bengal Presidency) wrote a novel in English called Rajmohan's Wife. It was serialized in a short-lived weekly magazine published from Calcutta, but did not appear as a book in the author's lifetime. As the first Indian novel in English, Raj mohan's Wife has for well over a century been a text more heard of than read. The present edition is an attempt to make this unusual but neglected novel available to the general reader who may read it for the mere pleasure of the narrative and also, hopefully, to enable the specialized reader of literature situate it in the genealogy of the novel, a genre shaped in India by the contending pulls of colonial education and indigenous traditions of storytelling.
This early fictional work of Bankimchandra Chatterjee/ Chattopadhyay (1838—94) subsequently got overshadowed by the fourteen novels he wrote in Bangla—Durgeshna'ndini (1865), Anandamath (1882) and Rajsingha (1893) among them— which were widely read, emulated, discussed and translated into many other Indian languages. Rajmohan's Wife never had that kind of visibility, partly because the book was not easily accessible, but also because most commentators and critics of Bankimchandra have regarded his foray into English writing as 'a false start' after which he is supposed to have found his true metier in Bangla.
Read today, after one hundred and forty-six years of its first appearance, Rajmohan's Wife remains a fascinating text for a number of reasons. In India, the novel as a genre was in its infancy in 1864 and, while romance was acceptable as a narrative mode, there was no precedent as yet of mimetic rendering of domestic life in fiction, or of weaving a plot out of contemporary social and familial situations. Yet Rajmohan's Wife is very nearly realistic in its representation of East Bengal middle-class life. The story of the beautiful and passionate Matangini married to a villainous man is astonishingly rich in vivid details in the description of interiors and the quotidian routine of women's lives. It goes beyond realism in the evocative use of nature—as, for example, in the description of Matangini's secret journey through a dark and stormy night, which uses the descriptive conventions of Vaishnava love poetry, and in anticipating several of BarJdmchandra's more mature novels where landscape and nature are employed as narrative motifs.
There is also an attempt in Rajmohan's Wife to foreground the ways in which the home and the world are inextricably linked—a connection which happened to be of some concern to the classic realist novelists of nineteenth-century Europe also—by locating the drama within the conjugal and domestic space in relation to the external arena of property, legality, crime and the colonial administration. Inscribed in the text we also find an early statement about the helplessness and claustrophobia of women in incompatible marriages that was going to be a recurrent concern of Indian fiction for many years to come. Given the rigidness of the power structure within the family among upper-caste Bengalis in the nineteenth century, it seems surprising that the first Indian novel in a contemporary setting should have focused on a woman of uncommon vitality who refused to be completely subjugated either by her brutal husband or by the expectations of society. Matangini's unrequited love for her own sister's husband is presented with authorial sympathy, but the abruptness and the ambivalence of the ending may be the result of an anxiety such women of energy generated, by posing a threat to the social order and creating a moral dilemma for the author.
The other aspect of the novel that specially intrigues us today is the language. Now, in the first decade of the twenty-first century, when many more Indians are writing in English than ever before, we are so accustomed to this literary phenomenon that we seldom pause to reflect on why, and for which audience, a Bengali or a Marathi or a Tamil writer should want to write in English. When Bankimchandra, who was in the first graduating batch of the newly founded Calcutta University, began to write Rajmohan'sWife, he must have known that the English-reading population of Bengal was not very widespread. Did he visualize very clearly who was going to be his reader? The half-hearted attempts at textual explanations of cultural details indicate a vague awareness of readers who may be outsiders to the Bengali way of life—possibly the British administrators in India—but given the historical circumstances and the place of publication, this could not have comprised a sizeable readership. His subsequent decision of never again writing fiction in English may have had as much to do with his realization of the illusory nature of his audience as with his nationalist ideology, or his honest artistic self-appraisal. In Rajmohan's Wife Bankimchandra's attempt to negotiate the semantic and connotative hurdles that are involved in rendering an Indian (in this case Bengali) ethos in the English language, without any previous model whatsoever, forces us to think about the interconnectedness of culture and language, narrative voice and implied readership—issues that have not ceased to be relevant. It also makes us go beyond literary questions about how well one writes in English to non-literary enquiries regarding the publication, distribution and marketing of a literary product in the local, national or global market. It is indeed worth considering the complex circumstances that made Bankimchandra shift from English to the mother tongue before he could gain national recognition, while in early twenty-first-century India one would expect the process to be reversed.
The present text is reprinted from the 1935 version edited by Brajendra Nath Banerji, whose Preface is also included here. The history of the text is as follows. It was first serialized in Indian Field, a small-circulation journal edited by Kishori Chand Mitra, who, like Bankimchandra, had been in the Bengal Civil Service, but for reasons I have not been able to trace, lost his job in 1858. Issues of this weekly were not easily available even in 1935, and are certainly not available now. When Brajendra Nath Banerji located all but the first three chapters (see the Preface by Banerji), these missing chapters were retranslated (probably by Banerji) from a Bengali translation of the English novel that Bankimchandra himself had begun. This reconstructed whole was published in The Modern Review (1935) and also appeared as a book in the same year from Calcutta. Subsequently, it was included in Volume III of the collected works of Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay (Bankim Rachanabali) edited by Jogesh Chandra Bagal and published by the Bangiya Sahitya Samsad in 1969. The footnotes from these earlier editions have been omitted in the present edition. These annotations were somewhat arbitrary and casual, because, while some Bangla words were explained, others were left untouched. The Notes in the present edition are provided by me and not all of them are explicatory. They also seek to comment on the text and speculate on authorial intention. The critical essay at the end of the volume ('Afterword') raises questions that are both textual and cultural, and is aimed at those who would like to place Rajmohan's Wife in a literary/ historical perspective. I am thankful to two friends—Rajeshwari Sunder Rajan and Harish Trivedi, whose opinion I value—for having gone through an earlier draft of the essay patiendy and making detailed suggestions. If the Afterword still remains fragmentary and tentative, I accept the blame for that.
strangely enough, bengal's first great novelist, like Bengal's first great modern poet, made his debut in the field of literature in the English language. Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay was only twenty-seven when he won a permanent place in the history of Bengali literature with his first novel in his mother tongue, Durgeshnandini, published in 1865. Two years before that he had completed a novel in English. This was entitled Rajmohan's Wife and was published as a serial in 1864 in the weekly periodical, the Indian Field, edited by Kishori Chand Mitra. The files of the Indian Field being now almost unobtainable, the existence of a complete English novel by Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay was almost forgotten, and even his biographer and nephew, Mr Sachis Chandra Chatterjee, has stated that Bankim did not finish this English novel. A happy chance has, however, enabled me to recover the complete story with the exception of the first three chapters. I had occasion, in connection with a different line of investigation, to go through the files of the famous Anglo-Bengali paper Hindoo Patriot for 1864, facilities for consulting which were very kindly obtained for me by Sir Jadunath Sarkar from Mr Sitanath Pal, a grandson of the great Bengali publicist, Kristodas Pal. With this volume of the Hindoo Patriot was found bound by chance all but three of the issues of the Indian Field in which Bankim's novel had appeared. Thus the historian of Bengali literature has reason to be grateful for a binder's mistake.
This first serious work of Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay is now made accessible to a wider circle of readers than could possibly consult the files of the long-defunct Indian Field. As regards the missing first three chapters of Bankim's original, it has been possible to substitute for them a version as close to Bankim's own as could be desired. At a later period of his life Bankim himself had begun to prepare a Bengali version of his first novel. But he did not proceed further than the first seven chapters of the English original. This fragment was completed in his own way by his nephew, Mr Sachis Chandra Chatterjee, who did not know that the fragment was actually a Bengali rendering of the English original, Rajmohan's Wife. He, on the contrary, believed it to be an entirely new work and gave to the joint production the name of Vari-Vahini. It is by means of a translation of the first three chapters of this Bengali book that the missing beginning of Bankim's English novel has been here supplied. Rajmohan's Wife, as published by us now, thus comprises Bankim's own original English from Chapter IV to the 'Conclusion', and our English rendering of Bankim's Bengali version from Chapters I to III
Brajendra Nath Banerji
The first Indian novel in English
Rajmohan's Wife, first serialized in 1864, marked Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay's debut as a writer. He went on to write fourteen novels in Bengali, including the epochal Anandamath and the verse 'Vande Mataram', which became the national song of India.
The beautiful and passionate Matangini. married to a villainous man and in love with her sister's husband, represents the vitality of women who remain strong in the face of brutality and the confining expectations of middle-class society. Bankimchandra's vivid descriptions of the routine of Bengali households provide a revealing portrait of life in the nineteenth century.
Rajmohan's Wife continues to be relevant for its universal themes of love and romance and resonates even today for its portrayal of strong women.