Why Hemingway Used to Wear Women's Clothing


By Adam Winer, author of How Dumb Are You?

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My quiz book is full of questions every mildly-educated American SHOULD be able to answer—but often can't. Prior to publication, we ran all the questions past a test audience to see how many people answered each one correctly. Those stats are included in the book, so you can see, on a question-by-question basis, exactly how poorly you stack up against your fellow countrymen. Plus each answer comes with a rip-roaring Fun Fact. For Mental Floss, I'll be taking the best facts from the book and exploring them here in greater depth.

Today's question: Name one novel written by Ernest Hemingway.

Answer, plus the story behind Hemingway's cross-dressing all after the jump.

Answer: Take your pick: The Old Man and the Sea, The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, To Have and Have Not, The Torrents of Spring, Death in the Afternoon, Green Hills of Africa, Across the River and Into the Trees, The Dangerous Summer, Island in the Stream and A Moveable Feast (If you got this wrong, you are dumber than 75% of America.)

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Hemingway once categorized his demanding, manipulative mother, Grace, as "an all-time, all-American b****," and indeed echoes of his strained relationship with his parents show up in much of his writing.

But he long sought to keep the true oddities of his childhood secret. At one point he even threatened to cut off his aging mother financially if she gave an interview about his childhood to a magazine reporter.

Hemingway's attempts to quash the stories from his childhood might well have been successful had his sister, Marcelline, not gone and published a tell-all book.

In a nutshell, here's what Papa was hoping to hide: Grace, who was perhaps not the most balanced woman of all times, had always wanted twins. Instead, she got Marcelline and then, 18 months later, Ernest. Submitting to her twin fantasies,

she started dressing Ernest up in Marcelline's old clothes, despite the fact that they were little girl's clothes—lacey white dresses with pink bows and the like

. Soon his mom was buying two of everything and dressing her children in identical pink gowns and flowered hats. She would refer to the kids as her "sweet Dutch dollies" and actually tell strangers that they were her twin girls. To perpetuate the twin fantasy, Grace even held Marcelline back a year in school so that she and Ernest would be in the same grade together. Oh, and his mother so treasured the fantasy of Ernest being a little girl that she sometimes referred to him as "Ernestine." Anyone looking for a reason why he grew up to make such a show about being masculine?

You can pick up a copy of How Dumb Are You? at your local bookstore or Amazon.com. Or for more information, visit stupidityquiz.com.