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The English Governess at the Siamese Court…
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The English Governess at the Siamese Court

by Anna Leonowens

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The interesting thing about this book is, that it contains the real memoirs of Anna Leonowens, who was a teacher of the royal children of King Rama IV. However, many people doubt if she wrote her real memoirs. They believe that she mixes fact and fiction. Whatever may be true, I get the impression that her memoirs are real. That makes the book worthwhile. Only three stars, because the style of writing is quite old-fashioned and nowadays not really gripping. A historic document. ( )
  ReneH | Sep 26, 2013 |
Be sure to check the Internet on why Thailand is down on Anna stories as disrespectful to an educated, wise King who initiated modernization of his country and managed to keep it largely free of colonization. The Yul Brynner musical, the (Disney?) cartoon-movie, and Jodie Foster movie delve into Leonowens' purely fictional "Romance of the Harem" (source for Tuptim character) as well as her "English Governess" memoir, before spinning off into their own fantasies. Leonowens' two books are great reads, but do consider historical context--Thailand (rich history of ancient civilizations, modernization movement) as well as that of America (slavery, popularity of book "Uncle Tom's Cabin", Civil War), and the British Empire (colonization, trade, and poor prospects for women such as Anna L.)--all of which make her story all the more remarkable, if slightly self-serving and more than slightly oriented to tastes (and prejudices) of Western readers of her time.
  margd | Apr 8, 2013 |
Mrs. Leonowens experiences have been romanticized in a subsequent novel by Margaret Landon (Anna and the King of Siam) and in movies (1946 and 1999). If you start reading this book you should not expect to find a romance novel, a memoir, a psychological study, a gossip column, a rendering of royal palace grapevine talk. The book contains none of these things.

Rather imagine yourself visiting Mrs. Leonowens for tea on several occasions and asking her: 'What was it like?'
You know something of her background of course. She lost her husband when her children were still small. Instead of coming back to the civilized world like any normal woman would do, she went to Siam for 6 years no less! By request of his royal majesty the king she taught english to his awful amount of children and (dare you think it) the ladies of his harem. You shudder to think of her being there, a woman alone. You somehow question the sanity of the woman. Still, Mrs. Leonowens must be thought of as one of us, a respectable woman. And the position at a royal palace must be thought of as a distinction, even if it is a court in a heathen country. And oh, those people, the heat! You cannot imagine (but think you can) what she has suffered.
And so you have a morbid curiosity. To hear her say it.

And Mrs. Leonowens tells you how she came to be there, her journey, where she lived. What the country is like. How it is governed. What the people are like, what the social structure is, what they believe (they are not christians). What Siam's history is. How the king came to be king. What kind of ruler the king is. What the children were like. And yes, she did meet the ladies of the harem, and she tells you some of their lot in life. She tells you what kind of crops and exports Siam has. How they dispose of their dead. She tells you about his eldest son, named Chulalongkorn. She tells you about the king's grief when a lovely child princess died very sadly. She tells you something of her dealings with the king himself. She even shows you some of the king's letters. But she is very discreet. She tells you something of a most extraordinary structure in Cambodia (Angkor Wat she calls it).

They are amazing tales she tells. And she tells her stories well.
You think that Mrs. Leonowens' occupation of teacher suits her intelligence, because you notice how much she has knows about Siam, how much she has seen and heard. She does not spare the heathens in some of her more gruelling tales, but you can tell she also has an admiration of sorts for this strange country. Still, you thank the lord that you live in a christian country.
You cannot avoid noticing how tired she looks. Between the lines you hear how lonely it must have been, independent and headstrong woman as she is. And you are glad she is safely back in civilized country. ( )
  Bluerabella | Apr 8, 2013 |
English schoolteacher Anna Leonowens has traveled to Siam to educate the 58 children of King Mongkit. If she has preconceived ideas about the East, the King has similar notions about the West. But amid the danger of growing political unrest, their respect for each other slowly turns into something more. PG-13 147 minutes Jodie Foster Chow Yun-Fat
  cljacobson | Feb 16, 2010 |
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Book description
This memoir of Anna Leonowen's time at the Royal court of Siam inspired Margaret Landon to write the novel Anna and the King of Siam, which was later made into a movie, and then the musical The King and I.

The book is somewhat controversial and has been criticized both by Thais and by western scholars studying King Mongkut and the period. Her article in Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_Leo...) contains links to more information.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0195888979, Paperback)

The English Governess at the Siamese Court: Being Recollections of Six Years in the Royal Palace at Bangkok (1870) vividly recounts the experiences of one Anna Harriette Leonowens as governess for the sixty-plus children of King Mongkut of Siam, English teacher for his entire royal family, and translator and scribe for the King himself. Bright, young, and energetic, Leonowens was well-suited to these roles, and her writings convey a heartfelt interest in the lives, legends, and languages of Siam's rich and poor. She also tells of how she and the King often disagreed on matters domestic. After all, this was the first time King Mongkut had met a woman who dared to contradict him, and the governess found the very idea of male domination intolerable. Overworked and underpaid, Leonowens would eventually resign, but her exchanges with His Majesty--heated and otherwise--on topics like grammar, charity, slavery, politics, and religion add much to her diary's rich, cross-cultural spirit, its East-meets-West appeal.

Over the years, that appeal has only increased. Eighty years after it first appeared, this memoir inspired the popular book and film, Anna and the King of Siam, and a few years later the hit musical, The King and I. Now comes yet another version, Anna and the King, the new film starring Jodie Foster and Chow Yun Fat. Here, then, is the original tale, presented with many reproductions of the fine drawings that the King had offered as gifts to Leonowens. The English Governess at the Siamese Court remains engaging as a story of adventure, fascinating as a picture of nineteenth-century Bangkok, and intriguing as an account of life inside King Mongkut's palace.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:53:17 -0400)

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