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The English Governess at the Siamese Court: The True Story Behind 'The King and I'

3.37 of 5 stars 3.37  ·  rating details  ·  281 ratings  ·  33 reviews
Anna Leonownes' memoir of her six year as a governess in the Royal Palace of Bangkok was the inspiration for the beloved Broadway musical The king and I, as well as two award-winning films. First published in 1870, Leonowens' memoir is the true story of a proper English governess who is hired by the King of Siam to tutor his many children. A delightful portrait of an unlik ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published November 15th 1999 by Tor Books (first published 1870)
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Renee M
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 viewed as a collection or even as a series of articles, they hang together better and the charm and spirit come through.

While a clash of cultures was evident, it was also fascinating to me since it
Interestingly, this book categorized as ‘History’ and first published in 1870 has long since appealed to its readers and inspired the following productions: the popular book and film (Anna and the King of Siam), the hit musical (The King and I) and the new film (Anna and the King) starring Jodie Forster and Yun-Fat Chow (back cover). From its 30 chapters, we could arguably enjoy reading the whole “Recollections”, chapter by chapter, and learn various do’s/don’ts related to the way of life as see ...more
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 controversy surrounding Anna and that this book and all films from it, were banned in Thailand. At the same time, she said she was thrilled that I was interested and reading about Thailand! :) She was a wonder ...more
The English Governess at the Siamese Court is actually quite interesting and beautiful in some unexpected ways (and troubling in *exactly* the way one would expect of a 19th-c. Western author writing about someplace other than Britain.) I would not recommend this book for anyone without at least a cursory knowledge of 18th/19th-c. travel Literature (even the Goodreads description of this book is misleading,) and it does take some stamina to wade through, since Leonowens does address some history ...more
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 history of the then-kingdom of Siam, a critic of the country’s art and culture, and a bit of a travel journalist respecting her account of the broader region’s plant and animal life, agriculture and ...more
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 Bangkok. It is the true story and inspiration behind the hit musical, “ The King and I“. Based on Leonowen’s experience in Thailand and the many offenses and cultural challenges she endured as a governess no
A.K. Lindsay
This is one book I will happily never read again.

To begin with, the author was extremely racist and bigoted. She starts off on a bad foot by describing how the Siamese people, as a race, are inferior not only because of their pedigree but also because of their religion. She even goes so far as to call them bigoted when she displays an even worse prejudice against those not American/English/European/Christian.

The book begins with a meandering look into a village she never stops at during her jo
Christopher Sumpter
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 treatise. The memoir has a fine middle, but no beginning whatsoever. The reader is simply dumped into the middle of the story without any hint of who the characters are. The story does come to a logic ...more
In 2004 I read Siamese Harem Life, the second book written by Anna Leonowens about her life in Siam and loved it. That book, which is largely considered to be almost entirely fictional, nevertheless told a story focusing entirely on the role of women in the court. Leonowens was able to focus on issues that were interesting, whether or not her examples were real or not. I enjoyed it greatly. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for this book. It’s the first book in a long time that I decided not ...more
THE ENGLISH GOVERNESS AT THE SIAMESE COURT. (1870). Anna Harriette Leonowens. ***.
We all know the story of how the author was engaged by the king of Siam (Thailand) to act as a tutor in English and governess for his children and any of his wives who were interested. In this memoir – which later examination showed it to be highly inflated in many of its assertions – Anna tells the story of her engagement and her subsequent experiences in this foreign land. The story we really know is that told by
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 language. Underneath it all would be a quaint day-to-day description of the life and actions of a king, who tried to deter Western colonizers from gaining too much influence or subvert the most intransigen ...more
Nacho Pajín
El libro me parece que está bien. Tiene sus partes más aburridas pero es lo que hay. Se supone que es un texto básicamente descriptivo. Lo que más me sorprende es que, tratándose de un texto mundialmente famoso, la primera y única edición en castellano haya salido en 2007.

Reseña completa en:
H. P. Reed
I read this as a teenager because of my love of !The King and I." Despite the fact that it wasn't much like the musical, Leonowens' well drawn picture of the Siamese court of King Mongkut in the Victorian age showed the struggle of an eastern monarch with his country's tradiditions and his own desire for modernization.
I can see why Thais have problems with this book, and I'll probably never know how much of it is true, but it was well worth the read – for the Orientalism and the attitudes of the time alone.
My mother had the edition of this book that was printed in Thailand and now out of print because it is banned due to all of the controversy of the story it self. (or just because the edition is 20 years old)

Well, I'm half Thai and open to the outside world (not saying that Thai people aren't open, I just happen to be more open in ways, thanks to my mom) and I must say I enjoyed this book very much indeed! just the historical facts or events that happened in the royal Thai court during the reign
Etta Mcquade
After my two-year L.D.S. humanitarian mission to Thailand (1999-2001), I was eager to read more about Anna Leonowens and her relationship to Chulalonkorn, whom she was commisioned to teach. After his father's death, he became Rama V, whom the Thais revere and love. As king, he made many reforms, including the abolishment of slavery. I learned from other reading that Anna is pretty sloppy in her memory and writing, and doubt the romance between the Rama IV and Anna as protrayd in the movie.
I enjoyed reading about the true story of "Anna and the King" or "The King and I", from the actual Anna. It was historically fascinating. And although her racism and closed mindedness is somewhat disappointing by our modern standards, it gives true insight into the perceptions of the west towards the cultures of the east in the 1800s. It is also going to be at least somewhat of a disappointment if you are a fan of the movie "The King & I", as the real story isn't nearly as romantic.
I liked reading Anna's descriptions of her life in Siam, did not like the free version of this on my kindle. Lots of typo's, and the text-to-speach feature mispronounced, not just the native verbage which is to be expected, but the English as well.

The whole time I was reading it, I kept hearing the March of the Children over and over in my head!

I would recommend to someone who liked the Anna and the King and The King and I, but desired to get the non-Hollywood-icized version.
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.
Unfortunately, I didn't finish this one. It was an interesting read, but I couldn't distance myself enough from my 21st century viewpoint to appreciate the story. Compared to her English peers at the time, I'm sure Leonowens was incredibly forward-thinking and respectful to the people of Thailand. But I just couldn't get over the "Oh, these savages. They could be almost human if they just found Jesus." colonialist talk. It was just too frequent, and too heavy handed.
Despite her obvious Orientalism, I found the account an interesting perspective on Thailand. The beginning tells Anna experiences in "Siam" but by the end, she only relates histories and the last chapter is about Angkor Wad and Cambodia. I was waiting for the scenes I loved in the movie about the party for Englishmen. Maybe there a sequel I am missing.
Sandra stewart
This is a good book but don't expect the musical. Life could be changed from very good to very harsh in a matter of moments.
The description written at Goodreads pretty much sums it up. It was very interesting and much of it was well-written. There were tedious moments when Anna seemed to feel the need to catalog the commercial life of the country, but her descriptions of her impressions of court life and her experiences there were engaging.
True story behind the story made popular in 'Anna and the King.' There were some interesting descriptions of Siam and the court in the 1880s, and it was interesting to see that the King was more tyrannical than depicted on screen or in the play. Parts were ok, but the story just seemed dated.
I am not big on description, so I skimmed most of the book. The old language was hard for me to read. I really enjoyed the history portion, though. I guess I was expecting more King and I than was there. Maybe if there was more music...
Dima Kindle
Didn't finish the book yet, and I'm affraid I won't be able to do so. Most of it is descriptions of views and customs, and almost nothing about real PEOPLE and the author's personal experiences, which is what I find interesting.
Janeene Spears
You could definitely tell she was a teacher, with all the very long words used! :o) I found the book a little much description of buildings and such rather than any story.
One of teh few books where I loke the movie better...I think the movies just focus more on the aspects that I am most interested in such as a romance...

Bleh~~! I had high hopes for this audio book! I felt like I was listening to an encyclopedic version of the history of Siam..... ZzZzZz!
It probably deserves more than 2 stars but there was way too much history & description for me. I really had to work to finish it.
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Anna Leonowens (26 November 1831–19 January 1915) was a British travel writer, educator and social activist, known for working in Siam from 1862–1868, where she taught the wives and children of Mongkut, king of Siam. She is also known for co-founding the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. Leonowens's experiences in Siam were fictionalised in Margaret Landon's 1944 bestselling novel Anna and th ...more
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