The Grey Gardens of the South

Glenwood "Goat Castle," August 1932. Earl Norman Photograph Collection, Historic Natchez Foundation, Natchez, Mississippi. Courtesy of the Historic Natchez Foundation.

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The Grey Gardens of the South

by Karen L. Cox
Southern Cultures, Vol. 25, No. 4 (Here/Away)

“Chickens and geese made their nests on bookcases and inside an old piano. And then there were the goats. They roamed the house at will, chewing up the wallpaper as far as they could crane their necks.”

Grey Gardens, the house first made famous by the 1975 documentary on the lives of Jackie Kennedy’s aunt and cousin—better known as “Big Edie” and “Little Edie” Beale—is, in many ways, familiar in southern culture. The story of the Beales and their derelict home in East Hampton, New York, later dramatized in the 2009 hbo film of the same name, might have been drafted for a novel set in the South. Although born into wealth and privilege, the social and economic decline that befell mother and daughter was not unlike that which many southern families faced following Confederate defeat and the end of slavery. Add to this that the Beales became reclusive and seemed resigned to living in the filth and decay that surrounded them and you have the makings of a gothic novel.