|“The simple life is not understood in America. They’re all so rich and spoiled." - Edith Beale|
Some say the Edie's riveting story is about mental illness, fear, and co-dependence. I choose to focus on the more positive aspects of their tale. I saw two women determined to live simple lives free and clear of the expectations of the patriarchy and society at large. It was only because they were seen as 'unconventional' that they ended up living in almost total isolation. But these gals didn't seem to mind too much.
The quirky mother and daughter didn't aspire to meet anyone's expectations other than their own. They seemed to enjoy shocking the high society types that lived around them. Their crumbling mansion and unkempt yard was like a big middle finger flipped at the crusty elites suffocating under puffy duvets, class obligations and excess.
Both women were free-spirited artists that had a passion for music, dance, and life. Big Edie had an excellent singing voice that she often used to entertained guests in her earlier, more connected and financially lucrative days. Little Edie had a flair for fashion, fancied herself a dancer, and wished to be an actress and cabaret singer. She was an accomplished poet.
In 1931, when Big Edie was 35 years old, her husband abandoned her and the children. Mrs. Beale had a trust fund from her grandfather, but it was reportedly stolen by Beale's brother, Jack Bouvier, who wanted it for his daughters Jacqueline and Lee. He put his sister on a $300 dollar a month allowance, even though Jack himself was a wealthy Wall Street broker. The small allowance was insufficient for the two women to live on. Big Edie took to selling her possessions over the years to finance her unusual simple life.
Little Edie was a very physical woman that swam nearly every day till her death in 2002 at age 84. She also enjoyed walking. The family's lonely 1937 Cadillac sat broken down in the front yard for years with tangled growth almost obscuring it.
|The Beale's disused car melting into the yard.|
These tough, resilient ladies did what they needed to do, with what they had on hand, where they were at. Because they were so strapped for cash they became experts at making do. Little Edie had a condition that caused her hair to fall out, and therefore wore turban-like head dressings all the time.
She went beyond silk scarves though, and used shirts, skirts, and whatever else was in the mansion's closets, often securing the unusual head coverings with a big, showy brooch. When her skirt became too small at the waste she wore it upside down with a large pin holding it closed. This kind of creativity, adaptability and playfulness allowed the mother and daughter team to happily survive harsh conditions as the mansion crumbled around them.
Were Big and Little Edie living simply, or simply surviving? It is hard to say, but what I can say is that these women were not willing to limit themselves to the roles and expectations outlined for them by culture and high society. They were fiercely independent and completely unafraid to be who they wanted to be. They were rebels, and their cause was freedom and living life with abandon and enthusiasm.
If you are living an unconventional lifestyle, or want to, the story and the dignity of the Beales will be an inspiration.