Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

One of Beerbohm’s striking techniques is combination; he fuses elements that are often kept separate in different narratives: fiction with autobiographical reminiscence; realism with fantasy, to which he shifts with the devil’s appearance; initially, satire and parody—exaggerated, comic imitation of 1890’s affectation in Soames’s speech and writing—with a more sympathetic, psychological view of this character later in the story. These fusions all contribute to an overall richness of effect.

The author’s handling of character is also skillful. The two supporting characters perform functions for the major relationship of the work, that between Soames and the narrator. Rothenstein is the link that brings them together at the beginning; the devil is a device for separating them at the end: He drags Soames off to Hell while leaving the narrator, and the lesson of the story, with the reader. In the Soames-narrator relationship, Beerbohm uses the technique of the double: Soames is the narrator’s double in his overvaluation of literary success. The narrator, unlike Soames, does have genuine ability and does achieve success even as the older man sinks into failure; it is their similarity that emphasizes the two major themes of the story, the earlier one of authenticity and the later one of identity. In the earlier authentic-spurious confusion, both characters are ridiculous; later, in the growing appreciation of Soames’s hollowness, the narrator...

(The entire section is 419 words.)