Bankim Chandra Chatterjee: Colonialism and National Consciousness in Rajmohan’s Wife

  • Makarand R. Paranjape
Part of the Sophia Studies in Cross-cultural Philosophy of Traditions and Cultures book series (SCPT, volume 2)


This chapter is about the first novel written by an Indian in English, Rajmohan’s Wife (1864) by Bankimchandra Chatterjee, who was also India’s, certainly Bengal’s, first important novelist. Indeed, it is not at all unusual to read Bankim as one of the creators of Indian nationalism, who used devises such as allegory and personification extensively to convey his ideas. Sri Aurobindo made such an interpretation in the essays that he wrote as early as 1894, the year of Bankim’s death, in Indu Prakash, arguing that what Bankim was trying to create was nothing short of “a language, a literature and a nation.” Anandamath (1882), despite Bankim’s additions of pro-British statements in the second edition of 1883, inspired generations of Indian freedom fighters. Both a national song and a battle cry, it influenced generations of revolutionaries as well as moderates. I would like to suggest that though the pronounced nationalism of Anandamath belongs to a later phase in Bankim’s career its beginnings may be found in Rajmohan’s Wife. This is because Bankim’s larger project was nothing short of the task of imagining a nation into existence through his fictional and non-fictional writings. Consciously or unconsciously, that is what he strove to accomplish. It is only in the “mythic discourse” of novels that such a task can be accomplished. Kaviraj calls this discourse of Bankim’s “imaginary history,” after Bhudev Mukhopadhyay’s famous phrase “Swapnalabdha Bharatvarser Itihas,” the title of an influential essay. The phrase is felicitous because of its multiple semantic possibilities: not only does it mean the more obvious history of India as revealed or obtained in a dream, but it also suggests that the Bharatvarsha or India that it refers to is itself revealed or obtained in a dream—and therefore imaginary. These and many other reasons tempt us to read Rajmohan’s Wife as an imaginary history of modern India, as a sort of “national allegory,” to use Jameson’s phrase. By setting itself up as a sort of originary exemplar of a certain cultural encounter, the novel seems to promise much. However, the only exemplary value that most critics have derived from it is to regard it as a “false start,” the road that should not have been taken—an Indian writer beginning in English but rightfully returning to his native tongue. Instead, I would prefer to see it as a work in progress, rather than a false start. Rajmohan’s Wife negotiates one path for India’s future growth and development. In this path, the English-educated elites of the country must lead India out of bondage and exploitation.


National Culture British Rule False Start Perfect Flower Literary Convention 
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Copyright information

© Makarand R. Paranjape 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Makarand R. Paranjape
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for English Studies School of Language, Literature, and Culture StudiesJawaharlal Nehru UniversityNew DelhiIndia

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