Bombay Anna: The Real Story and Remarkable Adventures of the King and I Governess / Edition 1

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Overview

In addition to telling the inspiring story of the true life of Anna Leonowens in full for the first time, Bombay Anna gives an engrossing account of how and why Anna became an icon of American culture in The King and I and its many adaptations.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A lively incarnation of Anna, one that gives the character of the musical and movies full humanity in historical context."--Philadelphia Inquirer

"Morgan paints a satisfying, multifaceted portrait. Engrossing retelling of an extraordinary life, correcting many popular misconceptions."--Kirkus Reviews

"This informed and entertaining biography reveals Leonowens as an intriguing and complex woman, whose interests ranged far beyond young lovers and whistling happy tunes."--Foreword

"A fascinating, scholarly work."--Library Journal

"Pick up Bombay Anna and be prepared to find an inspiring story of an incredible woman."--Feminist Review

Publishers Weekly

According to Morgan, the inspiration for the governess to the royal Siamese children in the 1950s musical The King and I,Anna Leonowens (1831-1915) was not the genteel British lady she purported to be, but a low-born, Anglo-Indian army brat who had severed ties with her family in India. A young widow living in Singapore, Leonowens was hired by King Mongkut to teach his wives and 82 children English. An absolute monarch committed to improving his people's lives and avoiding foreign control of his country, Mongkut had no romantic interest in Leonowens but shared her deep love of learning, occasionally consulted her on state issues and considered her arguments about the treatment of his enslaved harem. After Siam, the irrepressible Leonowens again reinvented herself as an eminent author and public lecturer in the U.S. and Canada, a social reformer and suffragist in Canada, a journalist in Russia and a Sanskrit scholar in Germany. Miami University English professor Morgan (Place Matters) uncovers and competently demonstrates the achievements of an extraordinary Victorian woman, but her biography is undermined by repetitious and charmless prose, underdeveloped analyses of Western/Thai political relationships and unfocused ramblings about the nature of biography. 15 b&w photos. (Apr.)

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School Library Journal

Morgan (English, Miami Univ.; Place Matters) provides a comprehensive examination of Anna Leonowens (1834-1915) whose own memoirs, The English Governess at the Siamese Courtand The Romance of the Harem, gained wide attention through Margaret Landon's 1944 fictionalized account, Anna and the King of Siam, and the theatrical, musical, and film versions that followed. Morgan's research yields the details of Anna's full and long life, delving into her roots as a child of the British in India and the power of a personality driven to reinvent itself several times over, only to be reinvented again by Landon and the condescending clichés of The King and I. While Morgan recognizes that Leonowens's memoirs are "preposterous" and "sentimental," she defines their writer as a self-made woman who overcame circumstances of birth, class, gender, and place and is worthy of study. A fascinating, scholarly work, this is suitable for Victorian history or women's studies collections in academic libraries.-Faye Harkins, Murray State Univ. Lib., KY

Kirkus Reviews
Probing biography of a woman who did a lot more than whistle a happy tune. Anna Leonowens (1831-1915) became famous decades after her death as the well-born, gently bred governess in Margaret Landon's 1944 bestseller, Anna and the King of Siam. Seven years later, Rodgers and Hammerstein transformed her story into the blockbuster Broadway musical, The King and I. Both versions of Leonowens's life were partial and not terribly accurate, notes Morgan (English/Miami Univ; Place Matters: Gendered Geography in Victorian Women's Travel Writings About Southeast Asia, 1996, etc.). This wasn't very surprising, however, since she invented and reinvented her own character as it suited her over the years. Morgan gives us the real woman, born Anna Harriet Edwards to a mixed-race teenage mother and a British soldier in the lowest ranks of the Indian army. Anna Harriet ran wild in the cantonments of multicultural Bombay before marrying Thomas Leon Owens, a clerk who took her to Australia and then to Malaysia before leaving her a widow with two small children in 1859. Leonowens arrived in Singapore six weeks later with a refurbished surname and a brand-new identity as a Caucasian, aristocratic English lady-just the sort the local gentry wanted to instruct their offspring. She went to work for King Mongkut of Siam in 1862, but the most famous portion of her life lasted only five years; by 1867, she had disembarked in New York to begin another career as an anti-slavery lecturer and author. "Appreciating the sheer inclusiveness of Anna's varied life," Morgan writes, "means trading in a narrow view of biography as a matter of individual achievement for a wider vision of the historical and personal range thatcomposes even one individual's history." While her prose may occasionally be overly academic for the lay reader, Morgan paints a satisfying, multifaceted portrait. Engrossing retelling of an extraordinary life, correcting many popular misconceptions.
Philadelphia Inquirer - Scotia W. MacRae
“A lively incarnation of Anna, one that gives the character of the musical and movies full humanity in historical context.”
Foreword - Karl Helicher
“This informed and entertaining biography reveals Leonowens as an intriguing and complex woman, whose interests ranged far beyond young lovers and whistling happy tunes.”
Feminist Review - Jessica Jacobson
“Pick up Bombay Anna and be prepared to find an inspiring story of an incredible woman.”
New Mandala ; Tailand-Laos-Cambodia Group
“An ambitious, engaging, informative work of scholarship, one that is hard not to rate a genuine success.”
The Bloomsbury Review
“This book is in part the story of two Annas. . . . The real story is more compelling than the fiction.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520261631
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 9/29/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 296
  • Sales rank: 1,035,794
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.70 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Susan Morgan, Distinguished Professor of English at Miami University, is the author of Place Matters: Gendered Geography in Victorian Women's Travel Writings about Southeast Asia, among other books.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

1 Introduction: A Life of Passing 1

2 Ancestors: A Methodist, a Soldier, and a "Lady Not Entirely White" 11

3 A Company Childhood 29

4 Daughter of the Deccan 42

5 Love and Bombay, at Last 56

6 Metamorphosis: "A Life Sublimated above the Ordinary" 70

7 A Teacher and a King 88

8 A Job in a Palace 104

9 "The Noble and Devoted Women Whom I Learned to Know, to Esteem, and to Love" 118

10 Settled in Bangkok 136

11 The Paths to Good-bye 153

12 An American Writer 167

13 The Canadian Grande Dame 186

14 "Shall We Dance?": Anna and U.S.-Thai Relations 207

Appendix 1 The Magnificent Charter: How the British Got to India 225

Appendix 2 The Women of British India 235

Select Bibliography 245

Index 261

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