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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.
list of illustrations
1. Introduction: A Life of Passing
2. Ancestors: A Methodist, a Soldier, and a “Lady Not Entirely White”
3. A Company Childhood
4. Daughter of the Deccan
5. Love and Bombay, at Last
6. Metamorphosis: “A Life Sublimated above the Ordinary”
7. A Teacher and a King
8. A Job in a Palace
9. “The Noble and Devoted Women Whom I Learned to Know, to Esteem, and to Love”
10. Settled in Bangkok
11. The Paths to Good-bye
12. An American Writer
13. The Canadian Grande Dame 186
14. “Shall We Dance”: Anna and U.S.–Thai Relations 207
appendix one: the magnificent charter: how the british got to india
appendix two: the women of british india
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.
"Anna Leonowens has been a historical puzzle. Susan Morgan establishes a solid ground for our understanding of this intriguing writer who became famous in our time thanks to a Broadway musical. Her life and contributions as a writer, a humanist, and a 19th century feminist were far richer beyond being the 'I' with the King."—Thongchai Winichakul, author of Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of a Nation
"With extraordinary detective work, Susan Morgan uncovers the real tale of a brilliant and dynamic traveler who cut ties to her past history and fabricated the story of her life that has found its way into legend. In lovely and graceful prose, she uses this story to help us understand patterns of national and international life."—Allan M. Winkler, author of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Making of Modern America
"With sensitive writing and meticulous research, Bombay Anna offers the first comprehensive biography of Anna Leonowens, the 'I' in The King and I, which gave my father, Yul Brynner, his signature role. The details of her self-invention are only part of the revelation Susan Morgan provides; she also paints a masterful portrait of the Britain's Raj and its colonial hegemony in Southeast Asia. It is a fascinating read." —Prof. Rock Brynner, author of Yul: The Man Who Would Be King
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