He was educated at the Mohsin College in Hooghly and later at the Presidency College, graduating with a degree in Arts in 1857. He was one of the first two graduates of the University of Calcutta . He later obtained a degree in Law as well, in 1869.
Kapalkundala (1866) is Chatterjee's first major publication. The heroine of this novel, named after the mendicant woman in Bhavabhuti's Malatimadhava, is modelled partly after Kalidasa's Shakuntala and partly after Shakespeare's Miranda. He had chosen Dariapur in Contai Subdivision as the background of this famous novel.
His next romance, Mrinalini (1869), marks his first attempt to set his story against a larger historical context. This book marks the shift from Chatterjee's early career, in which he was strictly a writer of romances, to a later period in which he aimed to simulate the intellect of the Bengali speaking people and bring about a cultural revival through a campaign to improve Bengali literature. He began publishing a monthly literary magazine Bangodarshan in April 1872, the first edition of which was filled almost entirely with his own work. The magazine carried serialized novels, stories, humorous sketches, historical and miscellaneous essays, informative articles, religious discourses, literary criticisms and reviews. Vishabriksha (The Poison Tree, 1873) the first novel of Chatterjee's to appear serially in Bangodarshan.
Bangodarshan went out of circulation after 4 years. It was later revived by his brother, Sanjeeb Chandra Chatterjee.
Chatterjee's next major novel was Chandrasekhar (1877), which contains two largely unrelated parallel plots. Although the scene is once shifted back to eighteenth century, the novel is not historical. His next novel, Rajani(1877), followed the autobiographical technique of Wilkie Collins' "A Woman in White". The title role, a blind girl, was modelled after Edward Bulwer-Lytton's Nydia in "The Last Days of Pompeii". In Krishnakanter Uil (Krishnakanta's Will, 1878) Chatterjee produced the work of his that comes closest to resembling a western novel. The plot is somewhat akin to that of Poison Tree.
The only novel of Chatterjee's that can truly be considered historical fiction is Rajsimha (1881, rewritten and enlarged 1893). Anandamath (The mission house of Felicity, 1882) is a political novel which depicts a Sannyasi (Brahmin ascetic) army fighting Indian Muslims who are in the employ of the East India Company. The book calls for the rise of Brahmin/Hindu nationalism but, ironically, concludes with a character accepting British Empire as a necessity. The novel was also the source of the song Vande Mataram (I worship the Mother) which, set to music by Rabindranath Tagore, was taken up by many secular nationalists. The novel is loosely based on the time of the Sannyasi Rebellion, however in the actual rebellion, Hindus sannyasis and Muslim fakirs both rebelled against the British East India Company. The novel first appeared in serial form in Bangadarshan.
Chatterjee's next novel, Devi Chaudhurani, was published in 1884. His final novel, Sitaram (1886), tells the story of a Hindu chief rebelling against Muslim rule.
Chatterjee's humorous sketches are his best known works other than his novels. Kamalakanter Daptar (From the Desk of Kamalakanta, 1875; enlarged as Kamalakanta, 1885) contains half humorous and half serious sketches, somewhat on the model of De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium-Eater.
Some critics, like Pramathnath Bishi, consider Chatterjee as the best novelist in Bangla literature. They believe that few writers in world literature have excelled in both philosophy and art as Bankim has done. They argue that in a colonised nation Bankim could not overlook politics. He was one of the first intellectuals who wrote in a British colony, accepting and rejecting the status at the same time. Bishi also rejects the division of Bankim in `Bankim the artist' and `Bankim the moralist' - for Bankim must be read as a whole. The artist in Bankim cannot be understood unless you understand him as a moralist and vice versa.
Have you read the Poison Tree
Of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee?