Rajmohan’s wife, written by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, was the first novel written in English by an Indian author. The story revolves around the life of Matangini, who is the protagonist and the wife of the man mentioned in the title. The very fact that this novel written during the British rule, after the revolt of 1857 has as the protagonist a woman character, is interesting and revolutionary in itself. In the middle of the 19th century when India was grappling under the colonial rule, the women of the country had a very subjugated position.
One of the major reasons for this was India’s attempt to show the British that the upholders of Indian culture that is the women of India, are symbols of docility and purity and cannot be touched by the British. In this attempt to prove themselves equal to the British, the Indians made the women scapegoats. But Rajmohan’s wife turns out revolutionary in a sense that the protagonist is a strong willed woman, who transgresses the social norms of the society by expressing her love for her brother-in-law, by running away from her husband to stand for what is right. In this sense it brings liberation for the woman. But the novel also mirrors the ills of the society through the domestic life of Matangini. She is married off in haste because of the poor financial condition of her father. Her husband is ruthless, beats her up for no cause, and she becomes one who is incarcerated within a marriage. The portrayal of other women like Matangini’s younger sister Hemangini who is docile and subservient, is a commentary on the society and what it expects it women to be like.
Another important aspect of the time this novel was written in is the fact that novels after the revolt of 1857 began being written for igniting a fire in the hearts of the youth to fight for the freedom of their country. Matangini’s character can also be seen as embodying the ideals of what Mother India symbolised, thereby acting as a wake up call for the Indian youth to fight for the liberation of the nation.