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Why Hemingway Used to Wear Women's Clothing

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By Adam Winer, author of How Dumb Are You?

HDAY.pngMy 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.)

hem gun.pngThe Scoop: 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.

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25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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How Urban Legends Like 'The Licked Hand' Are Born
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If you compare the scary stories you heard as a kid with those of your friends—even those who grew up across the country from you—you’ll probably hear some familiar tales. Maybe you tried to summon Bloody Mary by chanting her name in front of the mirror three times in a dark bathroom. Maybe you learned never to wonder what’s under a woman’s neck ribbon. Maybe you heard the one about the girl who feels her dog lick her hand in the middle of the night, only to wake up to find him hanging dead from the shower nozzle, the words “humans can lick too” written on the wall in the dog’s blood.

These ubiquitous, spooky folk tales exist everywhere, and a lot of them take surprisingly similar forms. How does a single story like the one often called “Humans Can Lick Too” or "The Licked Hand" make its way into every slumber party in America? Thrillist recently investigated the question with a few experts, finding that most of these stories have very deep roots.

In the case of The Licked Hand, its origins go back more than a century. In the 1990s, Snopes found that a similar motif dates back to an Englishman’s diary entry from 1871. In it, the diary keeper, Dearman Birchall, retold a story he heard at a party of a man whose wife woke him up in the middle of the night, urging him to go investigate what sounded like burglars in their home. He told his wife that it was only the dog, reaching out his hand. He felt the dog lick his hand … but in the morning, all his valuables were gone: He had clearly been robbed.

A similar theme shows up in the short story “The Diary of Mr. Poynter,” published in 1919 by M.R. James. In it, a character dozes off in an armchair, and thinks that he is petting his dog. It turns out, it’s some kind of hairy human figure that he flees from. The story seems to have evolved from there into its presently popular form, picking up steam in the 1960s. As with any folk tale, its exact form changes depending on the teller: sometimes the main character is an old lady, other times it’s a young girl.

You’ll probably hear these stories in the context of happening to a “friend of a friend,” making you more likely to believe the tale. It practically happened to someone you know! Kind of! The setting, too, is probably somewhere nearby. It might be in your neighborhood, or down by the local railroad tracks.

Thrillist spoke to Dr. Joseph Stubbersfield, a researcher in the UK who studies urban legends, who says the kind of stories that spread widely contain both social information and emotional resonance. Meaning they contain a message—you never know who’s lurking in your house—and are evocative.

If something is super scary or gross, you want to share it. Stories tend to warn against something: A study of English-language urban legends circulating online found that most warned listeners about the hazards of life (poisonous plants, dangerous animals, dangerous humans) rather than any kind of opportunities. We like to warn each other of the dangers that could be lurking around every corner, which makes sense considering our proven propensity to focus on and learn from negative information. And yes, that means telling each other to watch out for who’s licking our hands in the middle of the night.

Just something to keep in mind as you eagerly await Jezebel’s annual scary story contest.

[h/t Thrillist]

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