Date of Thesis

5-5-2015

Thesis Type

Masters Thesis (Bucknell Access Only)

Degree Type

Master of Arts

First Advisor

Michael Drexler

Abstract

Nineteenth-century Anna Leonowens lived an extraordinary life that inspired Margaret Landon's novel, Anna and the King of Siam (1944) and the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, The King and I (1956). These popular narratives capture some of the major themes of Leonowens's writing, such as slavery, women's rights, and imperialism. However, these representations fail to capture the nuances of Leonowens's original writings about Asia, in which she blends narrative genres in search of a new form to describe cultures and experiences that don't easily fit within existing western tropes or a singular literary style. Moreover, recent biographical work has uncovered carefully concealed aspects of Leonowens's life, particularly her birth and upbringing in Pune, India rather than Wales as she claimed. In her books, Leonowens seems to struggle to conceal her South Asian heritage by posturing as an upper class Englishwoman while also fairly representing the Asian Other. This anxiety about ethnic identity and narrative representation manifests most strikingly in Leonowens's second book, Romance of the Harem (1873) and her third book, Life and Travel in India: Being Recollections of a Journey Before the Days of the Railroad (1884). Leonowens's travel books are worth revisiting because, unlike the Americanized versions of her experience in Asia, her writings provide a more complex and sometimes progressive commentary about imperialism, women's rights, and race relations in the second part of the nineteenth century.

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