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Behind the Scenes: Or, Thirty years a slave, and Four Years in the White House Paperback – October 23, 2013


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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Invaluable...Elizabeth Keckley's memoir of her life as a White House dressmaker for Mary Todd Lincoln...[is a] curious gem"--Eric J. Sundquist in The New York Times Book Review

"A remarkable vantage point on the Civil War" --Chicago Sun Times

About 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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 126 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (October 23, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1461059739
  • ISBN-13: 978-1461059738
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 0.3 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (232 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,045,020 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

87 of 87 people found the following review helpful By Sandra Hendrickson on September 27, 2000
Format: Paperback
I was enthralled by every page of this book. I couldn't put it down and was disappointed when it ended. As I was reading the book, I felt like I was stepping back in time witnessing the ordinary, human, day-to-day life behind the historical events we studied in school.
The story was simple and yet it presented a very intimate glimpse into the genuine personalities of Abraham and Mary and the life the author shared with them. Elizabeth Keckley was not writing to impress anyone with her "insider" position in the White House, she was just sharing her story.
The stories about her life as a slave also offered the reader an opportunity to experience slavery through the eyes and heart of a slave.
How lucky we are that she wrote this book.
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61 of 62 people found the following review helpful By Ann Sherry on September 24, 2009
Format: Paperback
Well, you can't get closer to being in the Lincoln White House than this. The story of Mary Todd Lincoln's dressmaker is written by the seamstress herself, Mrs. Keckley. She gives a fine, but brief, narrative of herself - starting out as a slave, a brief marriage and eventually buying her own freedom from the talent of her needle. Selling dresses to the wealthiest women around, she eventually catches the interest of Mrs. Lincoln and becomes her dressmaker. Her interactions with the President up to his assassination, though few, are remarkable and give us another eye witness glimpse of the Personal Lincoln. Most interesting is her account of Mary Lincoln after leaving the White House. Detailed are Mary Todd's efforts to sell her dresses for income, with the assistance of Mrs. Keckley. She tells about Mrs. Lincoln traveling incognito, which is extremely interesting. Mrs. Keckley writes in a very educated manner and shows her caring self through her words. A short book, and nominally priced, it is good for pleasure reading or as a source book for researchers, containing information that may not be found elsewhere.
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65 of 68 people found the following review helpful By Patto TOP 500 REVIEWER on February 8, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Elizabeth Keckley's memoirs caused shock waves when they appeared in 1868. The press lambasted Keckley for daring to unveil the secrets of her betters. Mrs. Lincoln, who always called Elizabeth "my best and kindest friend," abruptly dropped her. And Lincoln's eldest son had the book suppressed.

Why Elizabeth Keckley wrote this intimate chronicle at the height of her involvement with Mary Lincoln is a puzzle. She thought she was justifying Mrs. Lincoln, whose erratic behavior was always under fire by observers and the press. We must read between the lines for insights into Keckley's motivation, and that's precisely what makes the book so fascinating.

Keckley revered President Lincoln as the liberator of her people. But she portrays Mary Lincoln as paranoid, jealous, capricious, extravagant and prone to hysterics. At the same time, Keckley shows great sympathy for Mrs. Lincoln's sufferings.

The memoirs begin with an account of Keckley's life as a slave and how she rose to become a fashionable dressmaker, able to buy freedom for herself and her son. As a free black in Washington, her talents and entrepreneurial spirit won her the patronage of the elite.

Eventually she became Mrs. Lincoln's dress designer, personal maid and confidant, heavily relied upon in every crisis. She also became an activist, organizing relief for penniless newly freed slaves.

What followed the memoirs? Troubles of every sort. Mrs. Lincoln was at one point committed to an insane asylum by her son. Keckley never benefited from her memoirs. She spent her last years in a home she herself had founded for destitute women, a picture of Mrs. Lincoln hanging in her room.

Elizabeth Keckley's autobiography is a remarkable document, and I heartily recommend it to anyone interested in Black history, the Civil War - or the complex psychology of human relationships.
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By S.H.CHU on June 5, 2003
Format: Paperback
I got a copy of this book from a book fair not on purpose. As a non-native English learner, what strikes me is the ability of Keckley to express rich emotions in very simple words and sentences. I always like reading first person narratives, fictions or true stories, but seldom find one as captivating as this. A five-star from me and it's a pity she didn't seem
to have written other books.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Gayle on September 3, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
"Behind the Scenes" is a historical account of the Lincoln's White House. Elizabeth Keckley was part of this history. I am reading this as a follow up to " Mrs Lincoln's Dressmaker" which follows the main events of "Behind the Scenes " to the tee. Now that I know that and had to chose one book I would read " Mrs Lincoln's Dress maker" Would be my choice. I think Elizabeth Keckley's book is good but it tends to jump around . Both books give you an understanding of the relationship between the president and Mrs Lincoln as well a a look into the history of the time.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Verna J. Greenan on June 11, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I found this book fascinating. I could not put it down. She tell about her time as a slave-the abuse and well treatment alike. How she bought her freedom and how her seamstress business led her to the white house and much more. Her time with the Mary Todd Lincoln and how she loved her. She understood Mrs.Lincoln like no one else could.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Demi Buyer on May 27, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It is the quintessential reading if you have followed the Lincoln's, especially Mary Todd Lincoln. It fills in the gaps left by supposition regarding Mary Todd Lincoln and the real story as known and wittnessed first hand. One may choose to believe it or not.......it is a very good read!
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