Masked: The Life of Anna Leonowens, Schoolmistress at the Court of Siam

Alfred Habegger. Univ. of Wisconsin, $28.95 (554p) ISBN 978-0-299-29830-2
Anyone who knows the musical The King and I should recognize the name Anna Leonowens, but for those who don't, literary scholar Habegger (My Wars Are Laid Away in Books) presents her story. Born in 1831 in India of mixed-race parents, Leonowens married a paymaster's clerk in the Royal Army. Widowed after 10 years and left as the sole support of her two surviving children, she opened a school in Singapore. When it failed, she accepted an offer to teach the children of Siam's King Mongkut. By the mid-20th-century, courtesy of books, a Hollywood movie, and a Broadway musical, Leonowens had become the instantly recognizable character of Anna, the genteel English schoolmistress who taught the king of Siam to dance and convinced him to free his slaves. But when she accepted that job, Leonowens invented a fictitious past that she later used in writing about those experiences. Habegger is not the first to reveal Leonowens's deception, but his investigation is the most thorough and consistently intriguing. How much of that story was true and how much was fabricated is now, thanks to Habegger's compelling narrative, much less of a puzzle. Illus. (June)
Reviewed on: 06/30/2014
Release date: 06/01/2014
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 424 pages - 978-0-299-29833-3
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