This is the Victorian memoir that inspired Broadway's The King and I and the newest movie, Anna and the King, starring Jodie Foster. The English Governess at the Siamese Court, written in 1870, vividly recounts the experiences of one Anna Harriette Leonowens as governess for the sixty-plus children of King Mongkut of Siam, and translator and scribe for the King himself. Bright, young, and energetic, Leonowens was well-suited to her role and her writings convey a heartfelt interest in the lives, legends, and languages of Siam's rich and poor.
She also tells of how she and the King often disagreed on matters domestic. After all, this was the first time King Mongkut had met a woman who dared to contradict him, and the governess found the very idea of male domination intolerable. Overworked and underpaid, Loenowens would eventually resign, but her exchanges with His Majesty, heated and otherwise, on topics like grammar, charity, slavery, politics, and religion add much to her diary's rich, cross-cultural spirit and its East-meets-West appeal.
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