Julia Keay

At the Court of Siam

Bombay Anna: The Real Story and Remarkable Adventures of The King and I Governess


University of California Press 244pp £14.95 order from our bookshop

In January 1862 the Siamese Consul in Singapore requested an interview with the proprietress of a small school for the children of British officers. He had been commissioned by His Majesty Somdetch P’hra Paramendr Maha Mongkut, the Supreme King of Siam, to find an English governess who would undertake the Western education of His Majesty’s children. Would the honourable lady be prepared to entertain the project?

The honourable lady’s name was Anna Leonowens. And her instinctive reaction was to say no. She knew nothing about Siam, its people or its king; she had no friends or acquaintances there, and she could not speak a word of the language. But once the Consul had taken his leave she found herself reflecting on the suggestion and on her current circumstances. She was thirty-one, a widow, the mother of two small children and, thanks to the British officers’ perpetual tardiness in paying their children’s fees, her school was not thriving. So she contacted the Siamese Consul and informed him that she was, after all, willing to ‘entertain the project’.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • Whom did Picasso label a 'bristly pig'? Read Rosalind P Blakesley's review of The Collector by Natalya Semenova to… ,
    • Alexandra Gajda on Anna Beer's new biography, Patriot or Traitor: The Life and Death of Sir Walter Ralegh ,
    • Mark Lawson reviews @jonathancoe's Middle England - The Rotters' Club for our Brexit age. ,
    • 'Behind every book that is published lies ... a haunted landscape, populated by the ghosts of things written and ex… ,
    • 'We once more live in a great age of dragon invention' Here's Tom Shippey on Martin Arnold's The Dragon ,
    • RT : Man at the q&a part of the book panel: Don't say it Don't say it Don't say it Don't say it Don't say it Don't s… ,
    • Here's @epkaufm's Whiteshift, reviewed in this month's magazine by ,