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The English Governess and the Siamese Court: The True Story Behind 'The King and I' Mass Market Paperback – November 15, 1999

3.3 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Anna Harriette Leonowens (1834-1868) was also the author of Romance of the Harem (1873).
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From AudioFile

In 1862, Anna Leonowens moved with her youngest child to Siam to serve as governess and translator to the king and his family. Leonowens wrote an account of her adventure, the basis for the play and movie ANNA AND THE KING OF SIAM, detailing arguments with the king, reflections on daily life in Siam, and insights into the religions and philosophies of those she encountered. Nadia May makes a valiant effort at infusing feeling into the work, but her superb performance doesn't transcend Leonowens's burdensome detail. Recounts of and interactions with the royal family are delightful, but Leonowens often falls into judging and belittling her hosts rather than reporting. May keeps her tone light and humorous at these times, but it isn't enough to remove the shock one feels at such politically incorrect viewpoints as seen from our modern vantage point. H.L.S. © AudioFile 2002, Portland, Maine-- Copyright © AudioFile, Portland, Maine --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 308 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books; 1st edition (November 15, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812570626
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812570625
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 0.8 x 6.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,778,724 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Arthur Brown on February 8, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Probably one of the strangest things about my reading of The English Governess at the Siamese Court, was the location in which I found the book. I was rummaging through the books at the Asia Book Store on Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok, looking for mindless mysteries to pass the time between tailor fittings. I was astonished to find a copy in Bangkok, knowing the Thai feelings toward Anna Leonowens. All I can say about the book is, now I have a complete understanding of why they would feel that way about her. Mrs. Leonowens view is so ethnocentric as to be bordering blatant racism. She takes no time to understand the culture around her, and fills her writings with the basest stereotypes of Asian culture found so prevalently in Victorian Imperial culture. Even when she does give credit to the Thai people for the beauty of their culture, it is done with an air of surprise, that these "primitives" could develop something of beauty.
BUT, this should not stop anyone from reading the book (thus my rating of four stars). The book should be read if only to gauge the growth that has been achieved in the last one hundred and thirty years. The book is an interesting look back at the accepted viewpoint of the nineteenth century. Mrs. Leonowens is a perfect mirror of the superior attitude of the Anglo-Saxon in his drive to finally control 3/4 of the earth. All in all, this book is a very interesting trip into the past.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I've loved the musical and movie versions of this story since forever, so it was a no-brainer to finally read the book. As with many memoirs of travelers from this period, the story was less plot and more historical and cultural details of Siam than anything. The book's story is familiar to everyone and the style is full of Victorian British Exceptionalism and rife with unconscious bigotry - but that part is to be expected.

If one appreciates the Victorian writing style, then this is a good example of and worth the read. If you're not familiar with this style, it's still worth a read, but it's probably not what you're expecting.
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Format: Hardcover
Other reviews of this book have emphasized the author's racist and colonialist bias, and any reader will recognize the prejudice of the Victorian Christian against "pagans" and the contemptuous or at best amused condescension toward the "inferior races." But the reviewers are themselves biased in failing to see that this is not the only significant influence on Leonowens' viewpoint. She is also a woman with a sensitivity for emotional mood and a strong feeling of sisterly solidarity with other women, across "racial" lines. Her pity for the poor women and children confined and enslaved in the despot's harem and her insights into how they struggle to survive in this peculiar environment reflect a proto-feminist as well as a colonialist consciousness.

For instance, suppose that a foreign visitor came not from one of the colonial powers but from another non-colonial society that allowed women a certain degree of freedom. Suppose that she was an Iroquois or an indigenous Australian. Surely many of her reactions to the harem would be the same. I suspect that the hostility of many (surely not all) Thais to this book arises not only from the colonialist attitudes of the author but also from the fact that the social evils she describes are far from being fully overcome. I expect that the reaction of an anti-monarchist Thai woman to the book would not be wholly negative. Colonialism and its survivals are not the only evils in the world, and anti-colonialism should not be misused to shield other evils from exposure.

Within its obvious limitations, this book is a colorful and detailed description of a lost natural and social landscape and can be valued as such.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Wonderfully written account of Anna's experiences in Siam in the 19th. century. She is gracious in her assessment of the people of Siam she met and has no racial prejudice in what she says about the Siamese except where criticism is due such as the way the nobility treated the ordinary people. She has genuine admiration for the physical beauty of the Siamese girls despite the fact that it does not conform to the European idea of loveliness. She has also made her account very interesting in her description and has used pleasing English language. Anyone who is curious to know of how an Eastern country conducted itself while Europe was at the peak of the Industrial Revolution would get much information from this book. After reading this book it is a good idea to view the 1946 black and white movie version of the story starring Rex Harrison as the King.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
This is one of a few books which are written by Anna Leonowens herself as a English teacher in Siam. For those of you who wants to know more about Anna herself and her dairy, should read this book. It describes the Siamese court from a historical point of view, bring you back to 19th century.
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This was a very difficult read. The author comes across as snobbish and condescending towards the Thai. Truthfully, she is very unlikeable. Most people, I believe, are more familiar with the movies "Anna and the King of Siam" and "The King and I", which are based on the book written by Margaret Landon. That interpretation of Anna Leonowens portrays her to be a nice, caring, and understanding woman. Those portrayals appear not to be anything like the real woman, as evidenced by the author herself about herself, within these pages. I could not finish the book. It was that awful.
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