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. Bankim Chandra Chatterjee was only twenty-seven when he won a permanent place in the history of Bengali literature with his first novel in his mother tongue, Durgesh-Nandini, 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 Bankim Chandra Chatterjee 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 theHindoo 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 Bankim Chandra Chatterjee is now made accessible to a wider circle of readers than could possibly consult the files of the long-defunctIndian 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 Chapter I to III.
Brajendra Nath Banerji