Pip-Pip to Hemingway in Something from Marge.
Georgianna Main's book about her mother Marge Bump makes an important contribution to our understanding of Hemingway's early life and writing. Pip-Pip to Hemingway in Something from Marge offers local history of the Horton Bay area, correspondence between Marge Bump and Hemingway as well as from Hemingway to others, a great collection of photographs, and conversations between Marge and her daughter Georgianna Main. A foreword by H. R. Stoneback reminds readers of the serious implications of what Hemingway called "that Marge business," while Main's record provides a rare glimpse into Marge's reaction to Hemingway's use of her persona in his work. More importantly, both Main and Stoneback fill in biographical gaps and correct the many misconceptions about the real Marge Bump pervading Hemingway biographies.
The saga of "that Marge Business" began with Hemingway's use of Marges name in "The End of Something" and "The Three-Day Blow" in In Our Time (1925). Perhaps basing their opinions on Bill's immature and selfish opinion of Marge in "The Three-Day Blow"--it was Bill who told Nick that he was "wise" to "bust off that Marge business" (CSS 90)--Hemingway's biographers have painted a variety of curious and sometimes offensive pictures of the real Marge Bump: Kenneth Lynn in Hemingway described her as Hemingway's "redheaded flame from Petoskey" (254); Peter Griffin in Along with Youth saw her as a "well-built red-headed waitress" (122); in Hemingway: A Biography, Jeffrey Meyers identified her as the "suggestively named Marjorie Bump ... a freckled, pudgy, cute, smiling girl who looked young and vulnerable" (48-49); and Michael Reynolds described her in The Young Hemingway as the "cute summer waitress" that Ernest "could have... if he wanted" (88-89).
The above biographical remarks about Marge have already been addressed through the efforts of Stoneback in "'Nothing Was Ever Lost': Another Look at 'That Marge Business'" (in Hemingway: Up in Michigan Perspectives, ed. Frederic J. Svoboda and Joseph Waldmeir, Michigan State UP 1995) and Bill Ohle in How it Was in Horton Bay (Boyne City, MI, self-published 1989). Marge in the stories (and in her real life story) was nothing like the above descriptions. In "The End of Something," Marge acts with precision and grace as Nick rejects her. Still, biographers and critics take Bill's word on Marge, failing to see, as Stoneback reminds us, "that one central concern of the stories is the very insidiousness of Bill's patronizing attitudes" (78).
Now, Main in Pip-Pip to Hemingway completes the picture. The most striking image recurring throughout Ohle's book, Stoneback's essay, and Main's book is the character of Marge herself--a woman who acted with "dignity, discipline, poise, serenity, and her own kind of courage under the stress of rejection" (Main 38).
Though Main's book is certainly valuable as another corrective, there are other indispensable portions of Pip-Pip to Hemingway. Main's account of her mothers words and feelings about Hemingway's portrayal of Marge in "The End of Something" and "The Three-Day Blow" is illuminating. Before she passed away, Marge told her daughter that Hemingway's publishing her real name in the stories:
remained a deep hurt for all my long life because Ernest painted a false picture of me under my real name ... It made me so upset that I was never at all comfortable about going back to Petoskey, Michigan.... I felt humiliated to be the object of their pity when they read about me as a young lady to whom Nick [as Ernest] had spoken these words about our relationship. (14)
Marge also revealed why Ernest disliked her mother. Years after the publication of the stories, Marge's mother told her that "Ernest had spoken to her privately about possible marriage" to Marge. Marge's mother told him that her daughter was too young to marry, that she needed to attend college first, and that she would not be inheriting her grandmother's money (16). "He needed money in order to write," said Marge, "and [he] thought I would be the person who might provide it" (16). This account adds an interesting twist not only to Hemingway's possible feelings for Marge but also to Bill's scathing implications about Marge's social standing in "The Three-Day Blow."
Readers are also afforded a rare glimpse into the mind of Marge Bump through her unedited letters to Ernest. Main includes nine letters from Marge to Ernest (1920-1921), including a letter dated 7 April 1921, in which Marge had written:
The long delay in writing was caused by the fact that I have been trying to decide just how your remark, that you were good for me, could be justified. Two months consideration has failed to show any point where you have been greatly beneficial. In fact I would have been saved from the rather unpleasant sensation of being disillusioned, had I never known you. (59)
Her conclusion to the letter is impressive: "As for the phrase you seem so fond of, 'a phase in every girl's life,' I prefer the idea that it never existed" (59).
One of the most valuable moments in Main's book is her juxtaposition of this letter with Hemingway's apparently unsent response. Hemingway had trouble answering Marge's letter, commenting on her spelling--"Abominable is not spelled Abomnable"--and writing and then crossing out passages like the following: "If it was my abominable conceit that finally wrenched that letter from you after two months, it is only reciprocal to say that it was the shape of your mouth that, to my mind, parted us forever" (60-61). His concluding tone is less harsh, more sarcastic, when he writes, "Probably as you say I wasn't good for you--advocated moonlight swims--and fishing for rainbow off the point and gang dances at the Bean house and working in the orchard with Kate and Bill" (62). Although The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, 1907-1922 also contains the draft by Hemingway (278-280), it's important to see it in context here with Marge's words, her spirit, her attitude toward Hemingway, and her feeling that he was more of a big brother to her than anything else.
Main's book is an important addition to our knowledge of Hemingway and his relationships in upper Michigan, affording readers a rare opportunity to see beyond the superficial sketches of Marge Bump in early Hemingway biographies. Pip-Pip to Hemingway in Something from Marge offers a good representation of the real Marge herself, dignified, poised, disciplined, serene, and bright with life. Even the way she forgave Ernest, inviting him to her house in Florida in 1935, is remarkable. Hemingway did visit Marge then, and the
fact of their reunion creates a poignant image of forgiveness. And Main's effort to give readers this testimony proves that though biographers and critics may sometimes miss the point, nothing is ever lost when we listen to and read closely the voices out of the past.
Matthew C. Nickel