Behind The Scenes: Or, Thirty Years A Slave, And Four Years In The White House by Elizabeth KeckleyBehind The Scenes: Or, Thirty Years A Slave, And Four Years In The White House by Elizabeth Keckley

Behind The Scenes: Or, Thirty Years A Slave, And Four Years In The White House

byElizabeth KeckleyIntroduction byWilliam L. Andrews

Paperback | July 26, 2005

Pricing and Purchase Info

$16.62 online 
$20.00 list price save 16%
Earn 83 plum® points

Prices and offers may vary in store


In stock online

Ships free on orders over $25

Not available in stores


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

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 o...
Title:Behind The Scenes: Or, Thirty Years A Slave, And Four Years In The White HouseFormat:PaperbackDimensions:192 pages, 7.71 × 5.06 × 0.53 inPublished:July 26, 2005Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0143039245

ISBN - 13:9780143039242

Look for similar items by category:


Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fascinating historical document, revealing intimate details of the relationship between President and Mrs Lincoln, as well as what it was truly like to be a slave in an urban setting. It was fascinating to read the source for several anecdotes about the Lincolns that I had read before out of context. Keckley was writing for her immediate audience, and devoted many pages to justifying Mary Lincoln's attempt to sell her dresses -- too many pages for the modern reader who is not scandalized by a celebrity used-clothes sale. But that in itself is an interesting example of how History (with a capital H) is rarely made by the news-of-the-moment. Keckley is a good writer, with a fine eye for detail and a clear style of writing. Sadly, she was so demoralized by the vicious personal criticism that greeted her book, that she wrote no more for publication. I would have wanted to learn more about her son, who she barely mentions in this book. She raised him as a single mother, and successfully put him through college. He then joined the Union Army "passing" for white, and was subsequently killed in battle. Keckley gives the reader no insight into their relationship; perhaps that itself is an insight. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the Civil War, or in the history of race relations in America.
Date published: 2013-12-01

Read from the Book

Table of ContentsTitle PageCopyright PageIntroductionPREFACE CHAPTER I - WHERE I WAS BORNCHAPTER II - GIRLHOOD AND ITS SORROWSCHAPTER III - HOW I GAINED MY FREEDOMCHAPTER IV - IN THE FAMILY OF SENATOR JEFFERSON DAVISCHAPTER V - MY INTRODUCTION TO MRS. LINCOLNCHAPTER VI - WILLIE LINCOLN’S DEATH-BEDCHAPTER VII - WASHINGTON IN 1862-3CHAPTER VIII - CANDID OPINIONSCHAPTER IX - BEHIND THE SCENESCHAPTER X - THE SECOND INAUGURATIONCHAPTER XI - THE ASSASSINATION OF PRESIDENT LINCOLNCHAPTER XII - MRS. LINCOLN LEAVES THE WHITE HOUSECHAPTER XIII - THE ORIGIN OF THE RIVALRY BETWEEN MR. DOUGLAS AND MR. LINCOLNCHAPTER XIV - OLD FRIENDSCHAPTER XV - THE SECRET HISTORY OF MRS. LINCOLN’S WARDROBE IN NEW YORKAPPENDIXExplanatory NotesPENGUINCLASSICSBEHIND THE SCENESELIZABETH 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 GroupPenguin 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, EnglandPenguin 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 1868This edition with an introduction and notes by William L. Andrews published in Penguin Books 2005  Introduction and notes copyright © William L. Andrews, 2005All rights reserved LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATAKeckley, 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 : 978-1-101-00732-71. 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 TextThis 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