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The real-life story of Anna Leonowens is actually more interesting than her fictionalized life in The King and I. Another Broadway revival of the Rogers and Hammerstein musical The King and I is currently wowing audiences and critics. This favorite of community and school theaters has been staged numerous times since its premiere in The law is vague, but has been interpreted to mean that even portraying the king or members of his family as ordinary mortals is a no-no. - King Mongkut of Siam (Rama IV) and Anna Leonowens - The Real "King And I"

It applies to past kings as well as the present monarch. In their times, the authors of the source materials for The King and I were both banned from ever returning to the country. This was turned into an Oscar-winning movie in , in which the King of Siam is portrayed by… Rex Harrison. The details are well worth reading, as are the eye-opening Siamese court documents Kepner brings into the story.

The Real Thai Story of The King and I

She ended her days up as something of proto-feminist reformer in Nova Scotia. JSTOR is a digital library for scholars, researchers, and students. By: Matthew Wills. In the marriage certificate, Thomas merged his second and last names to 'LeonOwens'. Patrick Donohoe signed the document as well, contradicting Leonowens' account that her stepfather had violently opposed the marriage.

In the young couple, accompanied by Anna's uncle, W. Glasscott, sailed to Australia via Singapore , where they boarded the barque Alibi. The journey from Singapore was long and while on board Anna gave birth to a son, also named Thomas. Ten days later Anna, Thomas, their newborn son and Glasscott arrived in Perth.

Later in , Glasscott accepted a position as government commissariat storekeeper at Lynton , a small and remote settlement that was the site of Lynton Convict Depot. Glasscott became involved in frequent disagreements with the abrasive Resident Magistrate , William Burges. Anna Leonowens — using her middle name of Harriett — tried to start a school for young ladies. In March , the infant Thomas died at the age of 13 months, [28] and later that year, a daughter, Avis Annie, was born. The Leonowens family left Australia abruptly in April , sailing to Singapore, [33] and then moving to Penang , where Thomas found work as a hotel keeper.

Of their four children, two had died in infancy. To support her surviving daughter Avis and son Louis, Leonowens again took up teaching and opened a school for the children of British officers in Singapore. While the enterprise was not a financial success, it established her reputation as an educator. 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.

Leonowens served at court until , 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 despite her position at the king's court she was never invited into the social circle of the British merchants and traders of the area. In , 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 a legacy. The new monarch, fifteen-year-old Chulalongkorn , who succeeded his father, wrote Leonowens a warm letter of thanks for her services.

He did not invite her to resume her post but they corresponded amicably for many years. Chulalongkorn made reforms for which his former tutor claimed some of the credit, including the abolition of the practice of prostration before the royal person.

Anna Before and After “The King And I”

However, many of those same reforms were goals established by his father. By , Leonowens was in New York City, where she opened a school for girls for a brief period in the West New Brighton section of Staten Island , 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".

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. There have also been claims of fabrication: the likelihood of the argument over slavery, for example, when King Mongkut was for 27 years a Buddhist monk and later abbot, before ascending to the throne. It is thought that his religious training and vocation would never have permitted the views expressed by Leonowens' cruel, eccentric and self-indulgent monarch.

Anna Before “The King And I”

Even the title of her memoir is inaccurate, as she was neither English nor did she work as a governess: [41] Her task was to teach English, not to educate and care for the royal children comprehensively. Leonowens claimed to have spoken Thai fluently, but the examples of that language presented in her books are unintelligible, even if one allows for clumsy transcription. Leonowens was a feminist and in her writings she tended to focus on what she saw as the subjugated status of Siamese women, including those sequestered within the Nang Harm , or royal harem. She emphasised that although Mongkut had been a forward-looking ruler, he had desired to preserve customs such as prostration and sexual slavery which seemed unenlightened and degrading.

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The sequel, Romance of the Harem , [43] incorporates tales based on palace gossip, including the king's alleged torture and execution of one of his concubines, Tuptim. The story lacks independent corroboration and is dismissed as out of character for the king by some critics. He would never have ordered an execution. It is not the Buddhist way. Nor are there any accounts of a public burning by other foreigners staying in Siam during the same period as Leonowens.

While in the United States, Leonowens also earned much-needed money through popular lecture tours. At venues such as the house of Mrs. Leonowens' purpose is to awaken an interest, and enlist sympathies, in behalf of missionary labors, particularly in their relation to the destiny of Asiatic women. She said the book influenced Chulalongkorn's reform of slavery in Siam, a process he had begun in , and which would end with its total abolition in He became estranged from his mother and did not see her for 19 years.

About the Author

In , Leonowens's daughter Avis Annie Crawford Connybeare married Thomas Fyshe, a Scottish banker and the cashier general manager of the Bank of Nova Scotia in Halifax , where she resided for nineteen years as she continued to travel the world. Leonowens's son, Louis , returned to Siam in and became an officer in the Siamese royal cavalry. Anna Leonowens met Chulalongkorn again when he visited London in , thirty years after she had left Siam.

During this audience the king took the opportunity to express his thanks in person but he also voiced his dismay at the inaccuracies in Leonowens' books. According to Leonowens' granddaughter Anna Fyshe, who had accompanied her, the king asked: " You know that you have made him utterly ridiculous In response, according to Fyshe, Leonowens insisted that she had written "the whole truth" and that Mongkut had indeed been "a ridiculous and a cruel, wicked man".

After nineteen years in Halifax, she moved to Montreal , Quebec. Anna Leonowens died on 19 January , at 83 years of age. The headstone identifies her as the "Beloved Wife of Major Thomas Lorne Leonowens", despite her husband never having raised beyond the rank of paymaster sergeant. Margaret Landon 's novel Anna and the King of Siam provides a fictionalised look at Anna Leonowens's years at the royal court, developing the abolitionist theme that resonated with her American readership.

In response, Thai authors Seni and Kukrit Pramoj wrote their own account in and sent it to American politician and diplomat Abbot Low Moffat — , who drew on it for his biography Mongkut, the King of Siam Moffat donated the Pramoj brothers' manuscript to the Library of Congress in Landon had, however, created the iconic image of Leonowens, and "in the midth century she came to personify the eccentric Victorian female traveler".

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  5. In , a film version was released, with Deborah Kerr starring in the role of Leonowens and Brynner reprising his role as the king. Revived many times on stage with Brynner starring in revivals until , the musical has remained a favourite of the theatregoing public. The humorous depiction of Mongkut as a polka -dancing despot , as well as the king's and Anna's apparent romantic feeling for each other, is condemned as disrespectful in Thailand, where the Rodgers and Hammerstein film and musical were banned by the government.

    The film version of Anna and the King of Siam starring Rex Harrison as Mongkut was allowed to be shown in Thailand, although it was banned in newly independent India as an inaccurate insult by westerners to an Eastern king.