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Annotated Bibliography for Anna Leonowens

From Women in European History

Brown, Susan. "Alternatives to the Missionary Position: Anna Leonowens as Victorian Travel Writer". Feminist Studies, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Autumn, 1995), pp. 587-614.

In this article, Brown attempts to view Anna Leonowens’ experiences in Siam in the context of the genre of travel writing. She analyzes the connection between imperialism and feminism in Leonowens’ writings, especially The English Governess at the Siamese Court and The Romance of the Harem, in the time frame of the 1860s. Brown gives the term “missionary position” to Leonowens’ unique position as an English Christian woman living abroad in Southeast Asia. Brown emphasizes that Leonowens and her writings do not represent all the genre of travel writing in its entirety but rather shares common themes with other women travelers in the “missionary position.” She defines “missionary position” from both a religious and sexual aspect, referring to Leonowens’ personal motivation to Christianize heathens and also to the male-dominated society of imperialism. While drawing parallels between imperialism and feminism, Brown attempts to give a more accurate portrayal of Leonowens’ position in Siam by complicating the general narrative with a religious perspective.

Cohen, Erik. "The Missionary as Stranger: A Phenomenological Analysis of Christian Missionaries’ Encounter with the Folk Religions of Thailand". Review of Religious Research, Vol. 31, No. 4 (June, 1990), pp. 337-350.

Cohen examines Christian missionaries in Thailand as a case study for common themes in individuals' transition from a familiar to unfamiliar environment by adapting to local views, values and customs. He analyzes various Christian missionaries in Siam to see whether or not their experiences follow the generic three-staged transition that most people are expected to undergo when finding themselves in a foreign environment. The first stage involves the stranger’s attempt to impose his own values and belief on the local environment. After this initial phase, the stranger grapples with the foreign yet increasingly familiar and habitual local customs. Finally, the stranger adopts the culture and feels familiarity in the once foreign environment. Cohen compares and contrasts the transition experiences between contemporary Christian missionaries and those of the past and between Protestant missionaries and Catholic missionaries. Whether or not the missionaries easily adapted to the local customs depended on their views of non-Christians and their religions. This key issue played a big role in Leonowens’ attitudes towards Siam and her tone in her portrayal of the Siamese culture.

Lord, Donald C. "Missionaries, Thai, and Diplomats". The Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 35, No. 4 (Nov. 1966), pp. 413-431.

In this article, Lord juxtaposes the success of American diplomatic and trade relations with Thailand with the strained relationship between America and China. Although in both cases, American diplomats’ top concern was to protect the interests of American missionaries in Thailand, Lord reasons that America was able to establish good relations with Thailand due to the fact that pro-Western Mongkut ascended the throne in 1851. Before his ascent, America and Britain both fought to out-compete each other in obtaining advantageous trade treaties with Thailand. However, Mongkut’s predecessors at that time were hostile towards Western interests in Siam because of French aggression during the reign of Louis XIV. Once Mongkut was crowned, he encouraged trade with the West both out of his admiration of western advancements and his hopes to avoid the humiliation that pried open Chinese markets to Western powers. This atmosphere of political tensions and compromises between Siam and Western powers serves as the backdrop in which Leonowens, a British governess with a religious zeal, maneuvers her way around.

Morgan, Susan. Bombay Anna: The Real Story and Remarkable Adventures of the King and I Governess. Berkeley and Los Angeles: UC Press, 2008.

Since Anna Leonowens’ autobiography, The English Governess at the Siamese Court, begins with her arrival in Siam in March 1862, her life before she became governess remained virtually ambiguous for many years after her publications. In her biography, Morgan sets out to reconcile Leonowens’ own autobiography that was significantly driven by her imagination, her sequel Romance of the Harem, and Margaret Landon’s fictionalized romance story in her Anna and the King of Siam with the Leonowens’ true background and life before Siam. Her biography presents Anna as a woman who molded herself to be the character she created in her writings. Morgan spent decades researching Anna’s past and lays out her life, the one that Anna herself was very secretive about.

Smith, Malcolm. A Physician at the Court. London and Hertford: Shenval Press, 1947.

Malcolm recreates court life in Siam under King Mongkut and Queen Saowapa by relying on recollections given to him by the Queen herself when he served as a physician at her court. In the chapter dedicated to King Mongkut, he briefly describes the interactions between Mongkut and Anna Leonowens. He portrays their relationship as difficult but complementary due to their mutual respect for each other. However, he makes it clear that Anna’s respect for the king was only directed at his deeds as a king, not as a man. Her accounts of Mongkut’s private life teem with contempt and disdain for his polygamous practices. She also portrays Mongkut as an emotionally unstable figure.

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