(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 The narrator, himself an aspiring but as yet unpublished writer, is enormously impressed, despite Soames’s ludicrousness.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...

(The entire section is 578 words.)