The Hemingway ‘Twins’

In his lamentably simple-minded review of my “Hemingway” (The Book Review, July 26), Richard Eder reduces my account of the novelist’s traumatic childhood to a mere matter of dress. (Kenneth) Lynn’s thesis, says Eder, is that Ernest’s mother, Grace Hemingway, “would sometimes dress him in girls’ clothes when he was 2 and 3, and have him photographed along with his slightly older sister, Marcelline.” Eder then adds that his own “impression” is that “circa 1900 . . . it was not altogether uncommon to dress tiny boys in girlish clothes.” One would never guess from Eder’s dismissive tone that his “impression” actually derives from the elaborate historical analysis in “Hemingway” of turn-of-the-century dress style for little boys.

What made Hemingway’s childhood abnormal was not so much his Edwardian smocks, but Grace’s insistence on raising him and Marcelline as twins of the same sex. Sometimes she dressed--and coiffed--them as boys, sometimes as girls. And as Marcelline later explained in a memoir, Grace wanted the two children not just to look like twins but “ to feel like twins by having everything alike.”

Wherefore, Ernest and Marcelline slept in the same bedroom in twin white cribs; they had dolls that were just alike; they played with small china tea sets that had the same pattern. Later, the children were encouraged to fish and hike together, and after Grace deliberately held Marcelline back, they entered grade school together. Although as schoolmates they were no longer dressed as twins, Grace continued to do all she could to make Ernest and Marcelline inseparable.

Is it any wonder that sexual anger, anxiety and confusion became the fate of Hemingway the man, or that his novelistic portrayals of romance, from “The Sun Also Rises” (1926) to “The Garden of Eden” (1986), are all marked by androgynous kinkiness?