Read The English Governess at the Siamese Court: Being Recollections of Six Years in the Royal Palace at Bangkok (Oxford in Asia Paperbacks) by Anna Harriette Leonowens Free Online
Book Title: The English Governess at the Siamese Court: Being Recollections of Six Years in the Royal Palace at Bangkok (Oxford in Asia Paperbacks)|
Date of issue: 1988
ISBN 13: 9780195888973
The author of the book: Anna Harriette Leonowens
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 815 KB
Edition: Oxford University Press
Read full description of the books The English Governess at the Siamese Court: Being Recollections of Six Years in the Royal Palace at Bangkok (Oxford in Asia Paperbacks):Interestingly, this book categorized as ‘History’ and first published in 1870 has long since appealed to its readers and inspired the following productions: the popular book and film (Anna and the King of Siam), the hit musical (The King and I) and the new film (Anna and the King) starring Jodie Forster and Yun-Fat Chow (back cover). From its 30 chapters, we could arguably enjoy reading the whole “Recollections”, chapter by chapter, and learn various do’s/don’ts related to the way of life as seen in “the Siamese Court” some 150 years ago. However, While reading this memoir by Mrs. Anna Leonowens, I think, we should keep in mind that her world as perceived then would be a bit tedious for her readers in 21st century to readily understand, in a word, we should take it as a historic account in which there might be verified, if need be, by further studies or research.
From the following excerpts, I hope, her texts might help the readers get more familiar by means of setting each old Siamese scene from her observant descriptions:
We heartily enjoyed the delightful freshness of the evening air as we glided up the Meinam, though the river view at this point is somewhat marred by the wooden piers and quays that line it on either side, and the floating houses, representing elongated A’s. From the deck, at a convenient height above the level of the river and the narrow serpentine canals and creeks, we looked done upon conical roofs thatched with attaps, and diversified by the pyramids and spires and fantastic turrets of the more important buildings. … I surveyed with more and more admiration each new scene of blended luxuriance and beauty, -- plantations spreading on either hand as far as the eye could reach, and level fields of living green, billowy with crops of rice and maize, and sugar-cane and coffee, and cotton and tobacco; and the wide irregular river, a kaleidoscope of evanescent form and color, where land, water, and sky joined or parted in a thousand charming surprises of shapes and shadows. (pp. 6-7)
In any conflict related to her work at the Siamese court in 19th century Bangkok, we could not help wondering why she viewed and described straightforwardly, probably as a Victorian English governess, in terms of her critical ways of looking at Siamese people. For instance, we could realize she wrote about her first meeting tinged with ill at ease due to such an unimaginable culture/language barrier in which she did her best in front of the Prime Minister as revealed below:
As we waited, fascinated and bewildered, the Prime Minister suddenly stood before us, -- the semi-nude barbarian of last night. I lost my presence of mind, and in my embarrassment would have left the room. But he held out his hand, saying, “Good morning, sir! Take a seat, sir!” which I did somewhat shyly, but not without a smile for his comical “sir”. …
When this reasonable request was interpreted to him – seemingly in a few monosyllables – he stood looking at me, smiling, as if surprised and amused that I should have notions on the subject of liberty. … Some such thought must have passed through his mind, for he said abruptly, “You not married!”
“Then where will you go in the evening?”
“Not anywhere, your Excellency. I simply desire to secure for myself and my child some hours of privacy and rest, when my duties do not require my presence elsewhere.”
“How many years your husband has been dead?” he asked.
I replied that his Excellency had no right to pry into my domestic concerns. His business was with me as a governess only; on any other subject I declined conversing. I enjoyed the expression of blank amazement with which he regarded me on receiving this somewhat defiant reply. “Tam chai!” (“Please yourself!”) he said, … (pp. 15-17)
Having received some 'Likes' from my GR friends today (2017.02.27), I think her readers would be eager to read on her conversations, observations or what she kept in mind when she first met King Mongkut (Rama IV) who had written to offer her post as an English governess to teach his young children. And here is her observant account in an evening meeting in April, 1862:
A flood of light sweeping through the spacious Hall of Audience displayed a throng of noblemen in waiting. None turned a glance, or seemingly a thought, on us, and, my child being tired and hungry, I urged Captain B---- to present us without delay. At once we mounted the marble steps, and entered the brilliant hall unannounced. Ranged on the carpet were many prostrate, mute, and motionless forms, over whose heads to step was a temptation as drolly natural as it was dangerous. His Majesty spied us quickly, and advanced abruptly, petulantly screaming, ""Who? who? who?"
Captain B---- (who, by the by, is a titled nobleman of Siam) introduced me as the English governess, engaged for the royal family. The king shook hands with us, and immediately proceeded to march up and down in quick step, putting one foot before the other with mathematical precision, as if under drill. "Forewarned, forearmed!" my friend whispered that I should prepare myself for a sharp cross-questioning as to my age, my husband, children, and other strictly personal concerns. Suddenly his Majesty, having cogitated sufficiently in his peculiar manner, with one long final stride halted in front of us, and, pointing straight at me with his forefinger, asked, "How old shall you be?"
... (p. 57)
Reading this memoir, I think, should be a delight to those keen on observing how people in the past acted, queried, answered, etc. since there would be something different from how we do in the modern world. A reason is that we should, more or less, learn from history keeping that in mind and trying to understand them in their contexts.