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Behind the sc(r)ene : Anna Leonowens and The English Governess at the Siamese Court

Catherine Morgan
Victorian women's travel writing has rarely been centre stage. As many critics have pointed out, women were usually discouraged from writing openly since it was not considered proper for a woman to enter into the public realm of publication. "To write is to come out of the wings, and to appear, however briefly, centre stage," Nancy Miller observes in her article "Women's autobiography in France: for a dialectics of identification" (quoted in Mills p. 41). In this paper, I would like to put the
more » ... ld like to put the spotlight on one particular travel writer, Anna Leonowens, whose sense of theatricality helped produce texts which have adapted successfully to stage and screen. Her travel writings are the less visible side of the famous Rogers and Hammerstein musical, The King and I which tells the story of a young, beautiful widow who accepts a job as a live-in school teacher to the children of the King of Siam in the early 1860's. The original stage version and the screen versions have been huge hits. The original Broadway show ran for 1246 performances from 1951-1954, winning 5 Toney Awards (Internet Broadway Database). The 20 th century Fox film version, directed in 1956 by Walter Lang with Yul Brynner starring opposite Deborah Kerr, won 5 Academy Award (Internet Movie Database). However, relatively little attention has been paid to the initial texts. Much like the reverse side of a piece of cloth design, there is an intricately woven pattern that makes up the final piece.