Ernest Hemingway & His Sister Dressed as Twin Girls Shown in Newly Digitized Scrapbooks From Hemingway’s Youth

Hemingway Toddler

It may be true that spec­u­la­tion about an author’s per­son­al his­to­ry can prove not espe­cial­ly illu­mi­nat­ing to read­ing their books. We gen­er­al­ly think it best to read a lit­er­ary work on its own terms. But in cer­tain cas­es, as in the well-worn case of Ernest Hem­ing­way, the par­al­lels between life and work are impos­si­ble to ignore or to pass over with­out com­ment, and, for many crit­ics, this goes par­tic­u­lar­ly for dis­cus­sions about Hem­ing­way’s gen­der and sex­u­al­i­ty. Even Hem­ing­way’s con­tem­po­raries had their com­men­tary. Zel­da Fitzger­ald sup­pos­ed­ly remarked that no one could be as mas­cu­line as Hem­ing­way, for exam­ple, and Vir­ginia Woolf referred to him as “self con­scious­ly vir­ile.” Themes of homo­sex­u­al­i­ty and gen­der anx­i­ety crop up in Hem­ing­way’s fic­tion, and more promi­nent­ly in unpub­lished work unearthed in the 1980s.

Hemingway Marcelline 1

For crit­ics like Debra Mod­del­mog, author of Read­ing Desire: In Pur­suit if Ernest Hem­ing­way, the bio­graph­i­cal inter­est begins with the hyper-macho mod­ernist’s ear­ly child­hood, dur­ing which his moth­er Grace raised him and his old­er sis­ter Mar­celline as twin girls, dress­ing them alike “in fan­cy dress­es and flow­ered hats.” This appar­ent­ly hap­pened over a peri­od of sev­er­al years, until Hem­ing­way was at least five years old, and Grace even held Mar­celline back a year so that the two could attend the same grade. Though one of Hem­ing­way’s younger sis­ters, Sun­ny, has “denied that the twin­ning ever took place” the evi­dence seems to show otherwise—in Mar­celline’s rem­i­nisces and in pho­to­graph after pho­to­graph of young Ernest and Mar­celline dressed exact­ly alike and hav­ing tea par­ties, rid­ing in wag­ons, and hold­ing bou­quets. You can see them in 1901, in bon­nets above and flow­ered hats below.

Hemingway Marcelline 2

At the top of the post, see Hem­ing­way in a girl­ish hair­cut iden­ti­cal to his sis­ter’s, and below, see two pho­tographs of him in a wide-shoul­dered dress. At the JFK Library web­site (click here and scroll to bot­tom), you can now view many more of these pho­tographs from Hem­ing­way’s first few years on up to the age of 18. The dig­i­tized col­lec­tion of six child­hood scrap­books, the library writes, were “col­lect­ed by Ernest Hem­ing­way him­self and donat­ed to the John F. Kennedy Library by his wid­ow, Mary Hem­ing­way.” Many of the child­hood pho­tographs are fas­ci­nat­ing for var­i­ous rea­sons, though the “twin­ning” pho­tographs have pro­voked the most inter­est and con­tributed to already rich the­o­ries of Hem­ing­way’s iden­ti­ty as a per­son and an artist.

Hemingway Dress

Looked at in the con­text of the time, these pho­tographs don’t seem all that odd. As any­one who has flipped through fam­i­ly albums from the turn of the cen­tu­ry (should they have them) will have noticed, lit­tle boys were rou­tine­ly dressed in ambigu­ous­ly girl­ish attire, their long hair often styled and curled. The fash­ion derived part­ly from a huge­ly pop­u­lar char­ac­ter in chil­dren’s fic­tion named “Lit­tle Lord Fauntleroy,” the Har­ry Pot­ter of his day, who had a rags-to-rich­es sto­ry that cap­ti­vat­ed Amer­i­can read­ers espe­cial­ly. The char­ac­ter has been the sub­ject of film adap­ta­tions even as late as 1980, in which he was played by a young Ricky Schroed­er. Fauntleroy had some influ­ence on Grace Hem­ing­way. (See Hem­ing­way in a Lord Fauntleroy suit, with foot­ball, in a 1909 pho­to­graph below.)

Hemingway Fauntleroy

Fauntleroy and oth­er sim­i­lar char­ac­ters’ mod­el of “gen­teel man­hood” gained wide­spread cur­ren­cy. Frances Hodg­son Bur­net­t’s Vic­to­ri­an nov­els fea­tur­ing this char­ac­ter came at a time when child­hood was viewed through a much dif­fer­ent lens than it is today. (As we’ve seen in the pho­tog­ra­phy of Lewis Car­roll and many oth­er artists of the time in which chil­dren appear as props and dolls, some­times in strange­ly sug­ges­tive or androg­y­nous pos­es that would not have seemed espe­cial­ly pruri­ent or gen­der-bend­ing to their orig­i­nal view­ers.) The trend con­tin­ued into the ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. Nonethe­less, despite less rigid child­hood gen­der norms, as Hem­ing­way biog­ra­ph­er Ken­neth Schuyler Lynn writes, Grace Hem­ing­way’s “elab­o­rate pre­tense that lit­tle Ernest and his sis­ter were twins of the same sex” was very unusu­al. Crit­ics like Mod­del­mog and Mark Spilka have argued con­vinc­ing­ly that Hem­ing­way “rebelled against that iden­ti­ty,” a rebel­lion that “last­ed a life­time.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

18 (Free) Books Ernest Hem­ing­way Wished He Could Read Again for the First Time

Down­load 55 Free Online Lit­er­a­ture Cours­es: From Dante and Mil­ton to Ker­ouac and Tolkien

Ernest Hemingway’s Delu­sion­al Adven­tures in Box­ing: “My Writ­ing is Noth­ing, My Box­ing is Every­thing.”

Lewis Carroll’s Pho­tographs of Alice Lid­dell, the Inspi­ra­tion for Alice in Won­der­land

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Kathryn says:

    Many lit­tle boys were dressed up in this fash­ion. They weren’t dressed up as girls, they were dressed in the fash­ion of the time. I saw a pic­ture of my father with his grand­moth­er and he was also dressed up in what would be con­sid­ered a girl­ish style nowa­days.

  • Daniel says:

    thought you might be inter­est­ed in this…hemingways’s advice to a young writer love you , Gra­ma Hon­ey

  • Marie says:

    atro­cious­ly researched arti­cle writ­ten by some­one too young to remem­ber before auto­mat­ed wash­ing machines and dis­pos­able dia­pers, when breech­ing was a near­ly uni­ver­sal social cus­tom. Per­haps next we shall read about how alexan­der the great was an envi­ron­men­tal­ist because he nev­er trav­eled by car. tem­po­ral con­text mat­ters.

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