Behind the Scenes: or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House

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Overview

Originally published in 1868—when it was attacked as an “indecent book” authored by a “traitorous eavesdropper”—Behind the Scenes is the story of Elizabeth Keckley, who began her life as a slave and became a privileged witness to the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. Keckley bought her freedom at the age of thirty-seven and set up a successful dressmaking business in Washington, D.C. She became modiste to Mary Todd Lincoln and in time her friend and confidante, a relationship that continued after Lincoln’s ...

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Behind the Scenes: or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House

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Overview

Originally published in 1868—when it was attacked as an “indecent book” authored by a “traitorous eavesdropper”—Behind the Scenes is the story of Elizabeth Keckley, who began her life as a slave and became a privileged witness to the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. Keckley bought her freedom at the age of thirty-seven and set up a successful dressmaking business in Washington, D.C. She became modiste to Mary Todd Lincoln and in time her friend and confidante, a relationship that continued after Lincoln’s assassination. In documenting that friendship—often using the First Lady’s own letters—Behind the Scenes fuses the slave narrative with the political memoir. It remains extraordinary for its poignancy, candor, and historical perspective.

  • First time in Penguin Classics
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143039242
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/26/2005
  • Series: Penguin Classics Series
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 340,281
  • Product dimensions: 5.09 (w) x 7.74 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley (1818–1907) was born a slave near Dinwiddie Court House, Virginia, and, after purchasing her freedom, became head of the Domestic Science Department at Wilberforce University in Ohio.
William L. Andrews is E. Maynard Adams Professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is the author of To Tell a Free Story and editor or coeditor of more than thirty books on African American literature.

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Read an Excerpt

Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright Page

Introduction

PREFACE

 

CHAPTER I - WHERE I WAS BORN

CHAPTER II - GIRLHOOD AND ITS SORROWS

CHAPTER III - HOW I GAINED MY FREEDOM

CHAPTER IV - IN THE FAMILY OF SENATOR JEFFERSON DAVIS

CHAPTER V - MY INTRODUCTION TO MRS. LINCOLN

CHAPTER VI - WILLIE LINCOLN’S DEATH-BED

CHAPTER VII - WASHINGTON IN 1862-3

CHAPTER VIII - CANDID OPINIONS

CHAPTER IX - BEHIND THE SCENES

CHAPTER X - THE SECOND INAUGURATION

CHAPTER XI - THE ASSASSINATION OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN

CHAPTER XII - MRS. LINCOLN LEAVES THE WHITE HOUSE

CHAPTER XIII - THE ORIGIN OF THE RIVALRY BETWEEN MR. DOUGLAS AND MR. LINCOLN

CHAPTER XIV - OLD FRIENDS

CHAPTER XV - THE SECRET HISTORY OF MRS. LINCOLN’S WARDROBE IN NEW YORK

APPENDIX

Explanatory Notes

PENGUINCLASSICS

BEHIND THE SCENES

ELIZABETH HOBBS KECKLEY (1818-1907) was born a slave near Dinwiddie Court House, Virginia, but purchased her freedom at the age of thirty-seven and set up a successful dressmaking business in Washington, D.C., in 1860. After serving as a seamstress for Varina Davis, wife of the Mississippi senator Jefferson Davis, Keckley became the modiste for Mary Todd Lincoln, the First Lady of the United States, shortly after Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated president of the United States in 1861. Gaining ready access to the Lincoln family by virtue of her constant employment by Mrs. Lincoln, Keckley spent much of the next four years in the White House, where she became not only Mary Todd Lincoln’s dressmaker but her friend and confidante. After President Lincoln was assassinated in the spring of 1865 and his widow moved back to Illinois, Keckley remained a trusted advisor and support to Mrs. Lincoln. Stung by public criticism of her efforts to help the debt-ridden former First Lady raise money by selling her expensive wardrobe, Keckley tried to defend herself in her autobiography, Behind the Scenes, Or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House, which was published in New York in 1868. Keckley’s intimate perspective on the relationship between the martyred president and his wife, along with the publication of many letters from Mrs. Lincoln to Keckley, made Behind the Scenes instantly controversial as an “indecent book” authored by a “traitorous eavesdropper.” Returning to her business, Keckley lived and worked in Washington, D.C., until 1892, when she moved to Ohio to accept a position as head of Wilberforce University’s Domestic Science department. She died in 1907, a resident of the National Home for Destitute Colored Women and Children in Washington, D.C.

 

WILLIAM L. ANDREWS, E. Maynard Adams Professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is the author of The Literary Career of Charles W. Chesnutt (1980) and To Tell a Free Story: The First Century of Afro-American Autobiography, 1760-1865 (1986). He is the editor or coeditor of more than thirty books on African American literature, including The Oxford Companion to African American Literature (1997), The Norton Anthology of African American Literature (2003), and North Carolina Slave Narratives (2003). He has held research grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the American Philosophical Society, and has been a fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University.

PENGUIN BOOKS

 

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.

Penguin Group (Canada), 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)

Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England

Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd)

Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124,

Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd)

Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi - 110 017, India Penguin Group (NZ), cnr Airborne and Rosedale Roads, Albany, Auckland 1310, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd)

Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

 

Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices; 80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England

 

First published in the United States of America by G. W. Carleton & Co., Publishers 1868

This edition with an introduction and notes by William L. Andrews published in Penguin Books 2005

 

 

Introduction and notes copyright © William L. Andrews, 2005

All rights reserved

 

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA

Keckley, Elizabeth, ca. 1818-1907.

Behind the scenes, or, Thirty years a slave and four years in the White House / Elizabeth Keckley ; introduction and notes by William L. Andrews. p. cm.—(Penguin classics)

Originally published: New York: G. W. Carleton & Co., 1868.

eISBN : 978-1-101-00732-7

1. Keckley, Elizabeth, ca. 1818-1907. 2. African American women—Biography. 3. Women slaves—United
States—Biography. 4. Dressmakers—United States—Biography. 5. Slaves—United States—Biography.
6. Lincoln, Mary Todd, 1818-1882-Relations with African Americans. 7. Lincoln, Abraham,
1809-1865—Relations with African Americans. I. Title: Behind the scenes. II. Title: Thirty years a slave and four years in the White House. III. Andrews, William L., 1946- IV. Title. V. Series.

 

 

E457.15.K26 2005
973.7’092—dc22
[B] 2004051363

 

Set in Sabon

 

 

The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

Note on the Text

This edition of Behind the Scenes reprints the original 1868 edition, as published by G. W. Carleton & Company. The original spelling, capitalization, punctuation, paragraphing, and chapter and section divisions in the 1868 edition have been preserved in this edition, except when there is an inconsistency of spelling within a text, the evident result of a printer’s error. Keckley’s original footnotes are reprinted as they appeared in the 1868 edition. All numbered annotations to the text are provided by the editor of this Penguin Classics edition.

Introduction

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 16 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 16 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 21, 2011

    Excellent Eyewitness Account of History

    I have to disagree with the previous commentor in regards to this book being ego driven. There is hardly anything glamorous about being a former slave who had to work her way out of poverty. Her story is inspiring. In regards to her relationship with the Lincolns, we have to remember that this is Ms. Keckley's point of view in how she interpreted the situations that occurred during that time. In my opinion, this book is an interesting read from start to finish.

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2011

    Must read!

    For anyone interested in the issues of slavery or the Lincoln Presidency this is a fascinating look at the life of Elizabeth Keckley who must have been a brave and competent woman of her day.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2007

    A Great History Book!

    This is a really good book and i would recommend it to people. The story is about Elizabeth Keckley's life as a slave, a seamstress, and a friend of Mrs. Lincoln.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2012

    wow!

    wow!

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 15, 2008

    Mostly about Mrs. Lincolin

    The book talked about Mrs. Lincoln and not much about the history of the writer. The letters contained in the book got boring and repeated themselves.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 11, 2014

    Wonderful!

    Fascinating reading about the Lincolns from this very interesting woman. I am so glad I picked out this book as my only souvenir from the Lincoln library in Springfield. Now I have the Nook edition.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2014

    great historical book

    This book gave the reader and inside look at Mrs Lincoln and things that went on in her everyday life.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2014

    First hand history

    This is a great read, I love history and this is a first count hand given by a person that was there. Granted this is from her point of view, but still just incredible insight to a period of history that is long gone.

    The only reason I didn't give it 5 stars is the ending just drops off.

    Otherwise like I said a wonderful insightful book. It cost her, Mrs. Keckley her friendship with Mrs. Lincoln....But wonderful

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 18, 2013

    This is one of the most remarkable memoirs I have read. Keckley

    This is one of the most remarkable memoirs I have read. Keckley speaks frankly about having been beaten as a slave, being forced to take a white slave owner as a lover, baring his child, and then traveling to Washington to set up a dress shop. It was there she met the Lincolns. Her time spent with them was the most interesting part of this tale so I wont spoiler the eye openers. The memoir was completely engrossing. A remarkable book.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 20, 2010

    Don't waste your time reading these ego driven stories.

    All she wrote about were her excellent moral choices, how she loved Lincoln, and very disparaging remarks about the first lady.

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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    Posted January 7, 2014

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    Posted January 3, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2013

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    Posted April 14, 2013

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    Posted July 5, 2014

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