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

by Elizabeth Keckley

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From Library Journal
The life and times of one remarkable woman encompasses Behind the Scenes. Keckley's first 30 years were spent as a slave, and the cruelties and injustices of her life are related clearly and succinctly. This enlightening memoir recounts how she was beaten and how she became a dressmaker to support her master and his family, how determined she was to purchase freedom for herself and her son, how her friends in St. Louis came to her aid, how she became Mary Todd Lincoln's dressmaker and close friend, and her perspectives and experiences from her inside view of Lincoln's White House. Keckley emerges as a calm and confident person who speaks of a very tumultuous period of American history. Reader Ameria Jones does a superb job, reading with a clear, strong voice. The musical performances are provided by David Hab. Recommended.?Denise A. Garofalo, Mid-Hudson Lib. System, Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From 500 Great Books by Women; review by Joycelyn Moody
Elizabeth Keckley's post-Civil War life story is part slave narrative, part gossip column, part Horatio Alger story. It blends autobiography with -- is there a word to describe a biography that disparages its subject? Although Elizabeth Keckley lived longer as a slave than as modiste to First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln, most of her engrossing autobiography is devoted to her White House years. The opening three chapters establish her as a woman to be reckoned with: the "school of slavery," as she calls her bondage, taught her to be fiercely self-reliant, persevering, and defiant, though more than one slavemaster tried to beat her into submission. Having worked as a reputable seamstress for three years while also performing her full-time duties as a slavewoman, she finally manages to buy freedom for both herself and her son. After a brief, unhappy marriage, she begins her rapid social ascent from seamstress for the solid South's "best ladies" to Mary Todd Lincoln's best friend and confidante. Elizabeth Keckley's narrative is riveting as she recounts life in the White House during the Lincoln administration in meticulous detail. Behind the Scenes will engage equally the history buff, the gossip monger, and the lover of literature. -- For great reviews of books for girls, check out Let's Hear It for the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14.

Library Journal

Book Description
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.

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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