Behind the Scenes: or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House (Penguin Classics)
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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.
looked somewhat careworn, and his step seemed to be a little nervous. He leaned against the door, and expressed his admiration of the Christmas tree, but there was no smile on his face. Turning round, he saw me sitting in the adjoining room, and quickly exclaimed: “That you, Lizzie! why are you here so late? Still at work; I hope that Mrs. Davis is not too exacting!” “No, sir,” I answered. “Mrs. Davis was very anxious to have this gown finished to-night, and I volunteered to remain and complete
our dinners.” “I believe you are right, mother. You argue the point well. I think that we shall have to decide on the receptions.” So the day was carried. The question was decided, and arrangements were made for the first reception. It now was January, and cards were issued for February. The children, Tad and Willie, were constantly receiving presents. Willie was so delighted with a little pony, that he insisted on riding it every day. The weather was changeable, and exposure resulted in a
up into the speaking face with a proud, manly look, formed a beautiful and striking tableau. There were a number of distinguished gentlemen, as well as ladies, in the room, nearly all of whom remarked the picture. I stood a short distance from Mr. Lincoln, and as the light from the lamp fell full upon him, making him stand out boldly in the darkness, a sudden thought struck me, and I whispered to the friend at my side: “What an easy matter would it be to kill the President, as he stands there!
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,
business is proceeding. The meeting here last night was a grand success. I speak again this evening, and perhaps at Reading tomorrow evening. My kind regards to all who think of me at 21, including Mrs. Lawrence. “Very truly yours, ”FREDK. DOUGLASS.“ “ROCHESTER, Nov. 10, 1867. “MY DEAR MRS. KECKLEY:—I very easily read your handwriting. With practice you will not only write legibly but elegantly; so no more apologies for bad writing. Penmanship has always been one of my own deficiencies, and I