Literary Career and Fiction of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee

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Literary Career and Fiction of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee

Literary Career

Prose must be written in language that is well understood by its readers. The world would hardly miss those literary works that are mastered by only half-a-dozen pundits.

Bankim Chandra in due course emerged as a great writer in Bengali. He wrote novels and poems. He wrote articles, which stimulated impartial thinking. He became well known outside Bengal, also. His novels have been translated into many Indian languages. He was an exceptionally intelligent man. He read with interest books by all established authors.

Bankim Chandra belonged to an orthodox family. So he was familiar with the Ramayana and the Mahabharatha right from his childhood. These epics made a lasting impression on him. A variety of experiences – some of them sweet, and some bitter – came to him in his life. And these must have been stored in his memory. He had traveled widely. He worked in several offices. So he came across many types of people. They were of different kinds – some good, some bad, some humble, some snobbish, some intelligent and some dull. This vast knowledge of life and men is very well reflected in the characters he created in his novels.

Though Bankim Chandra did not start writing at this time yet this sensitive and creative mind could not remain satisfied with the unpolished and vulgar language of one of two books of this period. In his speech delivered in 1870 a “Bengal Social Science Association” and in an article published in “Calcutta Review” in 1871, he criticised the behaviour of the Bengali young men educated in English and the crude, rough and slang language used in Bengal literature.

At that time many people made the mistake of thinking that he nourished a hatred against the Bengalis and Bengali literature. But later in every page of Banga Darshan, his deep love for the Bengalis and Bengali language and literature was vividly expressed. He thought deeply for the development of the Bengali language and literature, He laid stress on the use of a clear, easy and logical language in literature. All his arguments, remarks and opinions show this penchant. He was surely in favour of English education but nowhere he humiliated or spoke ill of, the Bengalis or the Bengali language.

At this time in Bengal as well as in the whole of India a new wave of awakening came in all aspects of life, through changes in social, religious matters and also in language and literature. Bankim Chandra was also greatly influenced by this awakening of national consciousness. At this time he was transferred to Berhampur in Murshidabad. When he was working at Berhampur in 1869-74 his literary talent truly came to light. In this changed situation of the country, Bankim Chandra proceeded to serve his country and his people through the medium of his mother tongue.

He started publishing a magazine Banga Darshan in 1872 for the upliftment and development of his country, his people, and the culture and literature of the country. Under his leadership and centering around Bo/igcr Darshan a powerful group of writers grew up.

When Bankim started writing, there was a new spirit, an awakening all over Bengal. People thought along new lines. The conditions of our country must improve; we must realize ourshortcomings and improve ourselves – such were the thoughts of the people. Some persons toiled hard to translate these wishes into action.

Raja Rammohan Roy was one such reformer. He worked for a new system of education, for a free flow of new ideas from outside the country and to wipe off the blind beliefs of the people.

Another great son of Bengal, Ishwarachandra Vidyasagar, worked for the progress of Bengali language and society. Many were the people who worked with similar ideas to improve the country. Patriotism grew stronger and a new enthusiasm was in evidence every where. Thus the very atmosphere was inspiring.
Literary Career and Fiction of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee 1
Bankim first wrote poems. Then he wrote a novel in English. But after this he began to write novels in, Bengali. He wrote while still in service. Because of constant pinpricks, he grew weary of service. He felt that government service curbed his freedom and challenged his self-respect. So he sought permission to retire, though he was only fifty-three years old.

But his superior officers were displeased with him. So they would not even allow him to retire. When a new Lieutenant Governor, Charles Eliot, was posted, Bankim approached him. He told him that he wished to write books and needed leisure. Eliot agreed. At last Bankim was free. He was retired on a pension of four hundred rupees a month.


When, O Master, when shall we see our Mother India in this garh again—so radiant and so cheerful? Only when all the children of the Motherland shall call her Mother in alt sincerity.

Bankim Chandra Chatterjee wrote his first novel, Rajmohan’s Wife in 1864, in English. Thereafter he wrote 14 novels in Bengali from 1865 to 1884. He combined Sanskritized and colloquial Bengali in a manner that made it for the first time an adequate vehicle for expressing a wide range of subjects that hitherto had to be stated in Sanskrit or English. His first Bengali novel, Durgeshnandini (1865), is said to have created a sensation in Calcutta.

Bengalis had read English novelists, like Sir Walter Scott, but Bankim Chandra’s novels were the first that gave them a satisfying semblance of their own world in fictional form. His first three novels were pure romance decked out in historical costume. While the history in these and in later novels with historical themes was often inaccurate, the bravery of the heroes and the beauty, endurance, and self-sacrifice of the heroines served to inspire Bengalis with notions of a glorious past.

Bankim Chandra Chatterjee had founded a journal called ‘Banga Darshan’. ‘Anandamath’ appeared in installments in this monthly journal. People used to read one installment in ‘Banga Darshan’ and wait impatiently for the next installment. In 1882 it appeared in book form. Soon the copies were sold out and the book was reprinted. The second edition, too, was soon sold out. During Bankim Chandra’s lifetime alone, in ten years ‘Anandamath’ was reprinted five times.

Undoubtedly Bankim Chandra’s most famous novel is ‘Anandamath.’ But he wrote several other novels which delighted the readers. One of them is ‘Durgeshanandini’.

‘DurgeshanandinF was first published in 1865. It was so popular that it had to be reprinted thirteen times in twenty- eight years.

Bankim Chandra Chatterjee came to be regarded as one of Bengal’s treasures; this was because of his novels. Readers found reading a Bankim Chandra’s novels an altogether new kind of experience. The people of Bengal were fascinated by his novels. When the novels were translated into other Indian languages they delighted the new readers, also.

Bankim Chandra Chatterjee had given thought to the question of an author’s style. A novelist tells a story. How should he write? His language must be the language of the people – language they can understand; he must write as they speak, thought Bankim Chandra. He wrote in that manner.

Though his language was close to the spoken form of his day, it was attractive. The Bengali language acquired a new dignity because of his writings.

Bankim Chandra Chatterjee wrote fifteen novels in all. ‘Durgeshanandhinf, ‘Kapalkundala’, ‘Mrinalini’, ‘Chandrashekar’ and ‘Rajsimha’ are well known for their interesting stories. ‘Anandamatha.’ ‘Devi Chowdhurani’ and ‘Seethararri are based on the history of our land. Bankim Chandra was a keen observer of the life of the people around him; and he used to reflect deeply on what was right and what was wrong in the social life of his day. ‘Vishavriksha’, ‘Indira’, ‘Yugalanguriya’, ‘Radharani’, ‘Rajani’, and ‘Krishna Kanther Will’ – these reflect the good and the bad in society.

Bankim wrote novels about the people around him. One such novel was ‘Vishavriksha’. This was Bankim’s first social novel.

‘Vishavriksha’ means the poisonous tree. The tree of the poison of this novel represents the anger and the desire for comfort found in every man. This tree grows within anybody. If the mind is firm the tree cannot grow there. It grows when the mind is weak. If a man cannot develop strength of mind, if he cannot control desire and anger, he will be unhappy and he will make others unhappy.

Bankim Chandra may be called the uncrowned king of the modern Bengali literature. He has been given the pride of place for his novels and literary essays. Though he is better known as the pioneer of successful novel writers of Bengal literature yet his literary essays claim equal dignity and respect. Brightened by the genius of Bankim Chandra, Bengal literary essays have secured the most dignified place of Bengali literature.

Though Bengali literature went through gradual developments in different aspects before Bankim Chandra but he was the first writer who gave Bengali literature and language a definite and satisfactory shape in its totality. He was a versatile genius with rare talent. His essays are analytical and full of thought-provoking ideas and opinions. Though his essays are analytical yet by the virtues of their language and style, they have achieved a glorius place on literature.

The subject matters of most of his essays are national life and social matters. In all his works there is a wonderful confluence of high thinking and intellectual ability on the one hand and poetic talent on the other, and for this he is considered as an extra-ordinary and the foremost writer of the 19th century. Besides this, there was a genuine feeling of a true nationalist in all his works.

Bankim Chandra wrote fifteen novels, big and small, taken together. The first one was written in English but he could not publish it in the form of a book. The rest were all written in Bengali. Of these fourteen works, four were novelettes or big stories. Later he enlarged two of them and made them standard novels.

His first novel was ‘Rajmohon’s wife’, written in English. He did not publish it in his lifetime because he was not satisfied with it himself. We may call the work a crime story. The story is eventful and the descriptions move quite fast. Even in this first work he laid stress on the story element, conflicts of characters, courtship and love and the flow of events. None of the three principal male characters Rajmohon, Madhab and Mathur and the female character Matangini, have developed naturally. Yet in this novel, he made the beginning of his astounding literary career and in this we find the seeds of a great novelist that was to come.

His second novel was ‘Durgeshnandini’ (1865). The publication of ‘Durgeshnandini’ was an epoch making ever in the history of Bengali literature. It brought in a new era in language and ideas in Bengali literature. The denouement of Durgeshnandini is quite artistic. “After finishing it, it wiil appear that it has not been finished” this opinion of Rabindra Nath about the ending of a story in perfectly applicable to Durgeshnandini and hence it is quite successful work, from an artistic point of view.

His Mrinalini was published in 1869. In this novel the far away 13th century has been very wonderfully described. We find the first trace of the chief object of his love in the last part of his life, his love for his country, in this novel.

After the publication of Mrinalini, Bankim Chandra published the magazine, Banga Darshan for the progress and development of the Bengalis and Bengali literature. From the first issue his fourth novel. Vishvriksha began to be published serially. In this novel we find Bankim Chandra as a mature literary artist. The characters of this story are his own people, it is about his own society and country and of the contemporary times. From the beginning to end it is quite a homely story. There is no violence or fighting here but there is murder and sucide. There are two heroes and three heroines in Vishvriksha. In matters of love and pride, attraction and annoyance between them, the story is more or less simple.

Since it is a purposeful novel, its artistic success has been a little dampened. Lust and infatuation born out of physical charm and beauty is the Vishvriksha (poison tree) here.