Behind the Scenes: or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years by Elizabeth Keckley

By Elizabeth Keckley

Initially released in 1868—when it used to be attacked as an “indecent book” authored via a “traitorous eavesdropper”—Behind the Scenes is the tale of Elizabeth Keckley, who all started her lifestyles as a slave and have become a privileged witness to the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. Keckley obtained her freedom on the age of thirty-seven and organize a profitable dressmaking enterprise in Washington, D.C. She grew to become modiste to Mary Todd Lincoln and in time her good friend and confidante, a courting that persisted after Lincoln’s assassination. In documenting that friendship—often utilizing the 1st Lady’s personal letters—Behind the Scenes fuses the slave narrative with the political memoir. It continues to be notable for its poignancy, candor, and old viewpoint.

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Additional resources for Behind the Scenes: or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House (Penguin Classics)

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When I saw it fall into the water, I dived in, pulled it out, and gave it CPR. The dream was vivid, and I had it at least three times before I concluded that the baby was my younger sister, Emily, whom I’d twice saved from drowning—once in a pool, another time in the Atlantic Ocean—when we were kids. Only later, at the top of the mountain, did I realize that it was really about me. I was the one who for many years had felt helpless and needed saving, and now I was pulling myself out of the water, opening my eyes, and seeing the world in a different light.

Given the bug-infested locales in which many climbs take place, poop talk is a common means of helping the participants to bond. And in this case, as my stools gradually increased in firmness, so did the morale of our team. However, just getting through that whole affair was agonizing. I don’t even remember what the ground looked like or anything else that went on around me. It was pure torture. On and on we hiked, until finally the sun began to rise. It was a wonderful thing. As a warm glow enveloped the mountain, I looked to my left and saw an absolutely huge, monolithic slab of ice that resembled a long white tongue slithering near the summit: the ancient Furtwängler Glacier that, because of global warming, as well as an ongoing chemical process of sublimation, is rapidly vaporizing into the atmosphere.

Nevertheless, while agriculture accounts for the bulk of its exports and employment, the country has struggled economically in the face of droughts, as well as a topography that limits cultivated crops to only 4 percent of the overall land area. The rest of the country includes Kilimanjaro in the northeast, the wildlife-rich Serengeti Plain in the northwest, and numerous other national parks and preserves. 28 D I E T RY I N G Accordingly, with a free day before the climb and no desire to spend more time than necessary bonding with the mosquitoes in my crappy little hotel room, I went on a short safari around the Tarangire National Park, close to the spectacular Ngorongoro Crater—the world’s largest unbroken, unflooded volcanic caldera—and was just knocked out to see all of the free-roaming wildebeest, rhinos, buffalos, elephants, lions, leopards, impalas, gazelles, zebras, and giraffes.

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