Tuesday, December 8, 2015
Anna And the King of Siam--The reinvented helping to reinvent.
I'm still thinking about the discovery that our pale-skinned, red-haired vision of Anna Leonowens, born in Wales, daughter of a captain in the army, widow of a captain in the army, dreaming wistfully about "When the earth smelled of summer, and the sky was streaked with white, and the soft mist of England was sleeping on a hill," was really a fierce, imaginative, inventive, resilient mixed-race woman who was born in India, raised in India and Singapore, married a weak man and not only found a way to support herself throughout her life, but did so by so completely reinventing herself that she inspired the imaginations of millions of people around the world, in a story of "British civilization" taming a "barbarian."
This is a woman who had never been to England, whose father was an enlisted man, her mother "Eurasian," in a time when that was social death, who may have grown up among the rest of the soldiers' brats, with what little schooling that entailed, and who reinvented herself not only to teach for five years, the children of the King of Siam, but later reinvented herself with a writing and speaking career, and built a far better world for her children--her daughter married well, and lived a life of leisure, probably never knowing that her great-grandmother was Indian and her mother was not from Wales.
Anna Leonowens cut off her sister, Eliza Julia Edwards, when Eliza married James Millard, a mixed-race Sergeant-Major with the 4th Troop Artillery, Indian Army in Deesa, Banaskantha, Gujarat, India. In fact, Anna cut Eliza off so completely that she threatened to commit suicide when a family member tried to contact her. (Eliza herself died at age
But her son, Louis Leonowens, the child of The King And I, who was educated for six years in Siam, was sent to Europe for his education, (after the Thais politely asked Anna to leave.) He returned to Thailand, and married Caroline Knox, the daughter of Sir George Thomas Knox and his wife, a Thai noblewoman--which must have been, in some ways, Anna Leonowen's greatest nightmare, that her son was marrying a woman of mixed race.
What rich, fascinating characters, including King Monghut, who was no slouch at reinvention himself, who spoke 11 languages, was not raised to be King, was in fact, an intellectual, the successful head of a Buddhist monastery, creating a revolution in Thai Buddhism, and was a moving force in the modernization of Siam.
And then, there is Siam's acting prime minister at the time, Somdet Chao Phraya Si Suriyawong.
And Sir George Thomas Knox and his wife and children.
And the first women doctors who came from many countries to study at the first medical school in the US to accept women.
And. . .