Bengal in the 1870s seethed with change. Modern ways, initiated by the British, spread out gradually, leading to demands for reform of tradition, for liberalization of the strict orthodoxy of the Hindu elite. Caught up in the times, Chatterjee penned a number of novels in which he sometimes supported the changes, but at others, opposed them. For 21st century readers, knowledge of this background is vital, otherwise the novel may come across as slightly overripe, cloying and preachy. As it is, the author uses many literary devices that have long since been dropped in modern literature.
A landlord's will causes a disappointed son to trick a widow into stealing the document and substituting a forged one on promise of marriage. (Widow remarriage was a hot issue at the time as traditional Hindus did not allow it.) The son reneges and refuses to marry the woman. The landlord's nephew, married to a virtuous young girl, falls in love with the beautiful but hapless widow. They run off together. Relatives try to find them, there's a murder, court bribery, and a sad end. Renunciation of the world---a Hindu precept---is held up as the only recourse. As in literature around the world, from Russia to France to China to modern America, the doings of the super-rich tend to fascinate. Poorer people merely obey or get corrupted by offers of money. Despite the author's desire to show otherwise, it is the `sinners' who are the deeper, more attractive characters. I cannot say that KRISHNAKANTA'S WILL is a novel that will thrill readers of today, but it is an important one in the history of modern Indian literature. Plus, it provides a glimpse of an India now totally disappeared.