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Bombay Anna

The Real Story and Remarkable Adventures of the <i>King and I</i> Governess

Susan Morgan

Publication Year: 2008

If you thought you knew the story of Anna in The King and I, think again. As this riveting biography shows, the real life of Anna Leonowens was far more fascinating than the beloved story of the Victorian governess who went to work for the King of Siam. To write this definitive account, Susan Morgan traveled around the globe and discovered new information that has eluded researchers for years. Anna was born a poor, mixed-race army brat in India, and what followed is an extraordinary nineteenth-century story of savvy self-invention, wild adventure, and far-reaching influence. At a time when most women stayed at home, Anna Leonowens traveled all over the world, witnessed some of the most fascinating events of the Age of Empire, and became a well-known travel writer, journalist, teacher, and lecturer. She remains the one and only foreigner to have spent significant time inside the royal harem of Siam. She emigrated to the United States, crossed all of Russia on her own just before the revolution, and moved to Canada, where she publicly defended the rights of women and the working class. The book also gives an engrossing account of how and why Anna became an icon of American culture in The King and I and its many adaptations.

Published by: University of California Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quote

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pp. 2-11

Table of Contents

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pp. ix-xii

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pp. xiii-xvi

I first read Anna Leonowens’s 1873 The Romance of the Harem in 1982, shortly before my first visit to Thailand. I came across the book while browsing through the stacks in the Echols Collection at Cornell University. I remember my astonishment and delight at reading it. ...

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pp. xvii-xviii

I have done research for this biography for more than a decade, and in that time have been helped in significant and often essential ways by many more people than I can name in this space. My first debt must be to the organizations whose financial support made this research possible. ...

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1. Introduction: A Life of Passing

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pp. 1-10

On June 25, 1859, a woman with two young children stepped off a steamship onto the dock of Singapore, island city and British colony at the tip of the Malay Peninsula. The family was arriving from the small island of Penang in the British Straits Settlements, a convenient port up along the northwest coast of the peninsula. ...

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2. Ancestors: A Methodist, a Soldier, and a “Lady Not Entirely White”

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pp. 11-28

On a steaming July day in 1810, the air still wet after the morning rain, a young Englishman leaned on the railing of an East India Company frigate at anchor in the Bay of Bombay. He was of medium height, with the brown eyes and even darker brown hair that bespoke his Welsh heritage. ...

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3. A Company Childhood

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pp. 29-41

Anna Leonowens was born on November 26, 1831, in the presidency her grandfather had loved so well. She was christened Anna Harriett Emma Edwards. Her mother, Billy’s eldest child, was still mostly a child when she married in 1829, eight years after her father died in the Persian Gulf. ...

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4. Daughter of the Deccan

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pp. 42-55

There is almost no information about Anna Harriett Edwards’s early years. Without public records, a biographer can usually turn to personal records. But Anna herself has been the greatest obstacle to discovering anything of her personal history. She threw away or destroyed any records, family letters, or souvenirs and replaced them with lies. ...

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5. Love and Bombay, at Last

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pp. 56-69

Anna Harriett had only one romantic love in her life. His name was Thomas Louis Leon Owens. He was from a middle-class Protestant family, literate but not well-off. John Owens and Mary Lean, Tom’s parents, had married in 1810 in the diocese of Ossory, Ireland. ...

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6. Metamorphosis: “A Life Sublimated above the Ordinary”

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pp. 70-87

On June 25, 1859, a woman got off a boat in Singapore. She was nobody special, part of that vast underclass of travelers in the far reaches of the British Empire in the mid-nineteenth century, and just a woman at that. There is no reason for us to know she existed, much less to know that she arrived in Singapore that June of 1859. ...

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7. A Teacher and a King

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pp. 88-103

Mrs. Leonowens and her son, Louis, age five and a half, arrived in Bangkok in March 1862. Anna was thirty years old. The daughter she left behind with Mr. Cobb was seven and a half, considered old enough in those times to be sent from her family to board at school. ...

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8. A Job in a Palace

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pp. 104-117

By the early summer of 1862, Anna and Louis were comfortably settled near the Grand Palace. They missed Avis terribly. She had sent a simple note to them after they left Singapore, “Mamma good-bye now goodbye for Louis, your own child, Avis Leonowens.” Anna wrote a cheerful letter back: ...

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

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pp. 118-135

Anna’s schoolroom in the palace complex was the marble-floored grand hall of one of the many temples—Wat Khoon Chom Manda Thai, Temple of the Mothers of the Free. This beautiful wat (temple) was located behind the inner wall of the Grand Palace, within the royal harem. ...

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10. Settled in Bangkok

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pp. 136-152

Anna had an enthusiastic and intense personality, always fascinated with the world about her. She was a sociable being who liked to be among other people, and she made many friends during her years in Bangkok. Most of her friends were Siamese women. ...

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11. The Paths to Good-bye

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pp. 153-166

Anna had been ill in the fall of 1865 and, though she recovered, in the summer of 1866 and on through 1867 she still felt worn out. She began to think seriously about taking some time away from Bangkok. Anna’s plan was to start with a visit to Singapore. ...

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12. An American Writer

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pp. 167-185

When Anna and her daughter landed in New York, they were not planning to stay. Anna’s fragile plan for her future, which she had worked out at the Wilkinsons, was simply to delay making any final plan until the following spring. She was waiting for a reply from King Mongkut sometime in April or May 1868 ...

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13. The Canadian Grande Dame

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pp. 186-206

Tom and Avis spent all of that summer of 1878 on their honeymoon. They went home to Tom’s family in Scotland. His father, Alex, was a farmer and Tom, along with siblings Sandy, Peter, and Jane, had grown up happily in the country in Easter Balbeggie, near Kirkcaldy. ...

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

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pp. 207-224

Although Anna did achieve some fame during her lifetime, she did not really “live,” with all the media pizzazz attached to that term, until she had been dead for some thirty years. Anna came back to life in May 1944 as the heroine of Margaret Landon’s runaway bestseller, Anna and the King. ...

Appendix One: The Magnificent Charter: How the British Got to India

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pp. 225-234

Appendix Two: The Women of British India

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pp. 235-244

Select Bibliography

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pp. 245-260


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pp. 261-274

Production Notes

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pp. 296-297

E-ISBN-13: 9780520933996
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520252264

Page Count: 300
Publication Year: 2008