Before The King and I: Reappraising Anna Leonowens and her memoirs of nineteenth-century Siam

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Abstract: When Anna Leonowens wrote her memoirs 'The English Governess at the Siamese Court' (1870) and 'The Romance of the Harem' (1873) about teaching the King of Siam's family in the 1860s, the country's government supposedly tried - but ultimately failed - to prevent their distribution. Thais who had read the books were offended by her portrayal of their revered King Mongkut as a far-from-perfect, temperamental despot - and today, many Thais remain so. Margaret Landon, whose novel about Leonowens, 'Anna and the King of Siam', was the basis for the musical 'The King and I', said that when she lived in Thailand in the 1930s, Leonowens's books were hidden by those who owned them. The books had been banned in Thailand in the nineteenth century, then were out of print for decades, though they were later openly reprinted and sold in Thailand. When I first went there to live in 1990, a locally published facsimile edition of 'The English Governess' was readily available at English-language bookshops in Bangkok, though 'The Romance of the Harem' was not.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-99
Number of pages33
JournalThe Journal of the Oriental Society of Australia
Publication statusPublished - 2012

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