Behind The Scenes – by Elizabeth Keckley (1868)

Behind The Scenes

When you read a book from an earlier century, you can expect a totally different writing style. This book was first published in 1868, just a few years after the Civil War concluded. The author, Elizabeth Keckley, was a former slave who rose to the status of personal seamstress to President Lincoln’s wife. The book begins as an autobiography of Elizabeth’s life as a slave in the south, and morphs into an account of Mrs. Lincoln’s life in the White House, and her life after leaving the White House.

Although the family who owned Elizabeth Keckley did not provide any schooling, she managed to teach herself to read and write. In fact, the vocabulary and detail of writing in this book indicates a well-educated person whose intellectual level was far above that of the average person in the United States at that time. Although the book was interesting, it was far too wordy and detailed to seem authentic.

As I read it, I thought to myself: no one talks like this in real life, probably not even “way back when”. People in the story seemed too black and white, either perfect or wicked.

While I appreciated the historical detail of the book, I was left with the feeling that this book was at least partly written by an editor or a ghost writer. It seems to me that a person who had to teach herself to read, and was hand-sewing night and day to financially support herself, was unlikely to have the time to have become so ultra-literate. The vocabulary of the book was fantastic, one that seems more likely written by a well-to-do scholar who read extensively. My guess is that Elisabeth Keckley probably initially wrote the manuscript, and someone else “improved” it for publication. I would have preferred to read a simplified, authentic version with half of the words. Still, the book was a fascinating look at both the life of a slave and the life of a president’s wife.

Author: alwaysreading1

I'm just a person with an intense love for reading!

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