Rajmohan’s wife – First Indian English Novel

Rajmohan’s wife, it seems, is the first published English novel by an Indian. It has also the distinction of being Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s debut novel as a writer. It is valuable in the sense that he never wrote in English again and turned to Bengali, to become one of the most influential Bengali writers with great works like – Durgesh Nandini, Anandamath etc, which stirred nationalist feelings in the then public. They made him timeless and are still being read by lots of people all over India in various languages. The novel is first serialized in 1864, but did not appear as a book until 1935. The very story from revival of all the chapters of this book till its first appearance as a book is interesting in itself. I think I wrote about it in this post. It has the capability to become a small novella in itself!


Coming to the story, I am not very sure why it was particularly named after Matangini, Rajmohan’s wife. But, it is an interesting read, talking about the plot. Rajmohan is one of the aids of Mathur Ghose who plans to attack his cousin Madhav Ghose. Matangini overhears Rajmohan discussing his plans to attack Madhav’s house with his friends Bhiku and Sardar. She is worried as she has a great deal of affection for Madhav and his wife Hema, who happens to be Matangini’s own sister. Concerned, she ventures out to Madhav’s home and informs him the situation, thus saving them from an attack planned at that very moment. She is welcomed by a furious Rajmohan as she returns home. Rajmohan rushes forward to kill her. At that very moment, Bhiku and Sardar arrive. In the brief interlude, Matangini escapes from the house. By the quirk of fate, she ends up taking shelter in Mathur Ghose’s house, which is nearer to Rajmohan’s house. Dramatically, she disappears when she is sent back to her husband, on his request.

Madhav is held captive by the person who eyes his property. I am tempted to write the full story here, but… in case you want to read it sometime, I don’t want you people to curse me for telling the story from beginning till the end. Better read a book than read about it.


Hmm… I can’t say the book is a very great book. But, yeah, it was a good read. It was gripping enough. However, the language appeared a bit archaic for me. Somehow, after around 150 years since its birth, I think bookish English changed a lot. The style of frequently trying to put on a conversation with the reader like – “my dear reader…” reminded me of my horrible experience with Kanthapura. However, this had such conversations only occasionally. Perhaps, that was why it was readable. The descriptions were greatly elaborate. Sometimes, this elaborate-ness bored me. Who will tolerate those descriptions which appear to be infinite, when one is thinking about what’s going to happen in the next scene?

My final verdict: It can be read for three reasons:

  1. For its historical significance

  2. For its considerably readable plot

  3. A very well written preface and after word by Meenakshi Mukherjee

Thanks to the library, I read India’s first English novel! Thanks to IISc, at which I read this novel taken from my college’s library , for it gave me ample time to read and write about it. Thanks to Microsoft Research too, but for whom, I would have never found this solitude to read it peacefully!

Published in: on May 23, 2007 at 8:15 am  Comments (14)  

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14 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. It was nice to read this article on Rajmohan’s Wife. I believe you will find my article on the origins of Indian English literature interesting.

  2. Thank you for your thoughtful comment on my article. Initially, my plan was to write a few more in this series of Indian English literature, but, somehow, my whims have been diverted!

    In this article, I only mentioned the very beginners of Indian English writing. That is why the likes of Mulk Raj Anand and R K Narayan are not included. As far as Rajarao is concerned, I don’t know who he is . . . . unfortunate perhaps, but true.

    Rajmohan’s wife was indeed Bankim’s only English novel. I linked to the other articles on Bankimchandra Chatterjee because (a)all his writings are available in translations in many languages, and (b) even though his writings were in Bengali, their impact was at least national. I agree that they are not relevant to the title of the post.

    I thank you again for your discerning remarks. And I shall now begin the day by trying to find out more about Rajarao.

  3. want the synopsis of rajmohans wife

  4. I was expecting for the whole summary of the story but it did not continue.

  5. Hi! I wanted to address your query on why it was called ‘Rajmohan’s wife’. This is centered around the female protagonist Matangini. The strength of a suppressed woman in an incompatible marriage and yet full of love for her broteher-in-law…. 150 years ago, it would have been almost as blasphemous as D.H. Lawrence.

    Considering Bankim Babu wrote this as a fresh graduate from and English college, he tried to inculcate some idea of the Victorian novel in his work. This is why he makes only a half hearted attempt to explain the Bengali cultural references.

  6. I want full summary. Please if you have give me.

  7. I want the comparision between Rajmohan’s wife with The Guide of R. K Narayan

  8. A Note on the Use of Language in Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s Novels

    Any good novel is always full of a pace which contributes to the liveliness of both the character and the story itself. Bankim Chandra’s greatest tool in achieving this pace was his language. Generally speaking, his novels are written in the standard or literary Bengali, known as the sadhubhasa. And this sadhubhasa is characterised by the unmistakable presence of the words of Sanskrit origin, lengthy compound-words in the Sanskrit fashion, lengthy syntax, etc. True, Bankim’s language shows these symptoms of a ‘standard’ Bengali indubitably, but this is not the end. He uses words of Arabic and Persian origin to a great extent (if not equally). Often he does not even hesitate to use words, phrases and expressions which are altogether colloquial. All these have a motley effect on the reader’s mind. Normally when we read a piece written in Sanskritised Bengali we hardly expect to become one with the theme or the characters. This is because of the deep chasm lying between the language of reality – the language we speak and the language of fiction – the language we write. In his novels, often the beauty of nature or a nostalgic and romantic episode or description is expressed by Bankim in this grandiose sadhubhasa. But when the author wants his readers to take a trip to the world of conflicts that sway the characters or the story itself both within and without his sentences become often shorter in length, more direct, closer to the colloquial pattern. However, even in such sentences the verb-form is always retained in the sadhu, which lends a musical and poetic effect to these apparently banal constructions. Many of Bankim’s novels have quite a simple or thin storyline or plot, but its mirth is not marred because of the extremely powerful and balanced language in which it is embedded. Again in such works as Radharani, it is the movement of the language which alone contributes to the characters’ being on the move. The conflicting, unseemly character of the Babu class in Bishabriksha (The Poison Tree) is underlined by the mixed language, and such English expressions as ‘Hurrah! Three Cheers for Heera!’ The keynote of political tension in Anandamath is brought out by the contrasting use of ‘Hare Murare’ cry of the Santans and ‘Hurrah’ of the English soldiers and the blow of their cannons. The latter is expressed by the author with the help of the onomatopoeia – ‘gudum, gudum, gudum’. Bankim’s naming of the individual chapters of his novels is also noted for their linguistic originality and they are often derived from Sanskrit philosophical literature (as in Bishbriksha, Mrinalini, etc.) or everyday speech. Their often perfunctory appearance helps realise the immediacy of the theme better. So it is the dialectics of words-as-sound and such innovative linguistic ‘deviations’ in Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s novels which underlines, reinforces and sustains the dialectics of thought and ideas. And this ultimately endorses Bankim’s literary craftsmanship of the highest order.

  9. thanks for the article ..it helped me a lot….

  10. Not sufficient but introductory like it is.

  11. Thanks for the article, it was informative. Give always in English. How to translate from Telugu?

  12. Thank you very much for your informative writing.

  13. a note on use of language by sudipta munsi is too useful content as the main article is for the readers. it will be very much helpful to the students who are studying indian english literature. thanks to both of u guys.

  14. Want some more information on the title. Plz do provide

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