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The English Governess at the Siamese Court

Anna Harriette Leonowens

Book Overview: 

1862 Anna Leonowens accepted an offer made by the Siamese consul in Singapore, Tan Kim Ching, to teach the wives and children of Mongkut, king of Siam. The king wished to give his 39 wives and concubines and 82 children a modern Western education on scientific secular lines, which earlier missionaries’ wives had not provided. Leonowens sent her daughter Avis to school in England, and took her son Louis with her to Bangkok. She succeeded Dan Beach Bradley, an American missionary, as teacher to the Siamese court.

Leonowens served at court until 1867, a period of nearly six years, first as a teacher and later as language secretary for the king. Although her position carried great respect and even a degree of political influence, she did not find the terms and conditions of her employment to her satisfaction, and came to be regarded by the king himself as a rather difficult woman.

In 1868 Leonowens was on leave for her health in England and had been negotiating a return to the court on better terms when Mongkut fell ill and died. The king mentioned Leonowens and her son in his will, though they did not receive the legacy. The new monarch, fifteen-year-old Chulalongkorn, who succeeded his father, wrote Leonowens a warm letter of thanks for her services.

By 1869 Leonowens was in New York, and began contributing travel articles to a Boston journal, Atlantic Monthly, including ‘The Favorite of the Harem’, reviewed by the New York Times as ‘an Eastern love story, having apparently a strong basis of truth’.She expanded her articles into two volumes of memoirs, beginning with The English Governess at the Siamese Court (1870), which earned her immediate fame but also brought charges of sensationalism. In her writing she casts a critical eye over court life; the account is not always a flattering one, and has become the subject of controversy in Thailand; she has also been accused of exaggerating her influence with the king.”

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .here was choking, and our very hearts were parched. At night Boy lay burning on his little bed, moaning for aiyer sujok (cold water), while I fainted for a breath of fresh, sweet air. But God blesses these Eastern prison-houses not at all; the air that visits them is no better than the life within,—heavy, stifling, stupefying. For relief I betook me to the study of the Siamese language, an occupation I had found very pleasant and inspiring. As for Boy, who spoke Malay fluently, it was wonderful with what aptness he acquired it.

When next I "interviewed" the king, I was accompanied by the premier's sister, a fair and friendly woman, whose whole stock of English was, "Good morning, sir"; and with this somewhat irrelevant greeting, a dozen times in an hour, though the hour were night, she relieved her pent-up feelings, and gave expression to her sympathy and regard for me.

Mr. Hunter, private secretary to the premier, had informe. . . Read More

Community Reviews

Unfortunately for the modern reader the womens' literature of the time, especially traveller's notes, was excessively wordy, filled with outrageous amount of pompous adjectives, rhetoric ensuring the reader about the awfulness of Siam and the goodness of the West, and other unnecessary flowery langu

This book does not read like a movie because it isn’t a movie, and it doesn’t read like a novel because it isn’t a novel. It doesn’t even read like your typical memoirs because Anna Leonowens does not portray herself as the central character throughout her story. Rather, she is our narrator through

A long foreword (in my edition) goes through the twisting story of the book's release, reception, legacy and controversy.
After reading that, and knowing of the whole "King and I" fallout in Thailand, I expected a serious memoir. But the opening chapters read like a zany comic novel. The wackiness

I read this book a few years ago. I enjoyed it, though i had some reservations about it's accuracy. It is a well written memoir, but such work is only as accurate as the perception of the individual writing it. I talked with a friend from Thailand (formerly Siam), and she told me about the controver

Leonowens, Anna. The English Governess at the Siam Court. Tom Doherty and Associates. New York. 1999.

Ana Leonowens’ autobiographical book The English Governess and the Siamese Court, reveals her experience during her six years as governess to the King of Siam’s family in the Royal Palace at Bangko

I very much enjoyed this collection of memoir, observation, history, and travel journal from the pen of a late 1800s Englishwoman plucky enough to take a position as governess and translator in the court of Siam. There is some level of disjoint if the "chapters" are viewed as a sequence; however, if

I think I remember hearing that Anna and the King was written, because this original version was not really suited to a popular audience. I think I can understand that view. This book is good when it is a memoir, not so good when it digresses into being a travelogue, a history primer or a political

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