Enoch Soames Summary
by Max Beerbohm

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Enoch Soames Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The narrator, a middle-aged, well-known author, looks back on his introduction to London artistic life as a young man in the 1890’s. He remembers the fashionable aesthetes with whom he became acquainted, figures whom he then viewed with uncritical, youthful reverence. He mentions actual places and people, such as the portrait painter Will Rothenstein. In this historical context, the fictional protagonist of the story appears: Enoch Soames. Soames tries to force his company on the preoccupied Rothenstein at a restaurant table where the painter and narrator sit together. The kindly Rothenstein tries to put the intruder down gently but cannot get rid of him; he joins them and monopolizes the subsequent conversation in a boasting, affected way. To the narrator, Soames seems to be a comically ridiculous figure; nevertheless, he has published one book, with another on the way. The narrator, himself an aspiring but as yet unpublished writer, is enormously impressed, despite Soames’s ludicrousness.

Soon after this restaurant meeting, the narrator gets a copy of Soames’s book. It seems to be drivel, but after all, it has been published. The naïve narrator does not know what to believe. Some of the acknowledged literary giants of the moment seemed earlier to have been writing nonsense, until established critics validated them.

In subsequent meetings between the two men, however, the narrator’s judgment about Soames becomes clarified: He is indeed a pretentious fool, with his silly verses about trotting with the devil through a London square, his fondness for absinthe, his habit of lapsing into bad French, and his haughty disdain for all other creative people.

Meanwhile, the narrator is himself beginning to achieve the kind of literary recognition that Soames craves. The latter, in sharp contrast, goes steadily downhill. His first two books have had few sales and almost no critical notice from the press; his third and last volume must be published at his own expense; it sells three copies. Soames’s air of bravado and contempt, the narrator now becomes aware, is a mask for deeper feelings of self-doubt and depression: He suffers intensely from the world’s neglect of his literary effusions.

Several years have now passed since the beginning of the story,...

(The entire section is 578 words.)