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Literature / Enoch Soames

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"Enoch Soames in 1895" real portrait as depicted by real painter William Rothenstein

"You aren't an artist," he rasped. "And you're so hopelessly not an artist that, so far from being able to imagine a thing and make it seem true, you're going to make even a true thing seem as if you'd made it up. You're a miserable bungler. And it's like my luck."

Enoch Soames is a classic story by Max Beerbohm originally published in 1916, but purporting to recollect events taking place in the 1890s as well as in the "imagined future" of 1997. The story is a Deal with the Devil tale that also incorporates Time Travel and other science fiction elements. For other works by Beerbohm with their own pages, see Zuleika Dobson.

This story contains examples of:

  • Bald Mystic: In the future of 1997, everyone is bald (and possibly hairless generally), including the women.
  • Damn With Faint Praise: The most favorable book review of one of Soames' poetry collections refers to him as a "modern" writer, and this minimal praise is further undermined by the fact that it is a review from a local paper in Soames' hometown.
  • Dastardly Whiplash: Beerbohm (as a character in / narrator of the story) has contempt for the Devil in part because the Devil's attempts to be cool / sinister instead make him come off as this trope:
    "Dread was indeed rather blunted in me by his looking so absurdly like a villain in a melodrama. The sheen of his tilted hat and of his shirt-front, the repeated twists he was giving to his mustache, and most of all the magnificence of his sneer, gave token that he was there only to be foiled."
  • Dead Artists Are Better: Soames discusses and somewhat rejects the trope, feeling that it doesn't mean anything to be famous when dead, since that writer has no way of knowing about that fame. For this reason, Soames wants to travel to the future and find out about his reputation.
  • Deal with the Devil: Soames sells his soul to be able to travel 100 years in the future and see what is written about him — expecting to be a celebrated artist. Unfortunately for him, he's unremembered except as a fictional character.
  • The Devil Is a Loser: Although the Devil wins, this trope is in play as the narrator makes a big point of the Devil being a humorless, self important prick.
  • Dragged Off to Hell: Soames, of course. This makes for a case of Ironic Name, as the Biblical Enoch is famous for experiencing the opposite trope.
  • Evil Has a Bad Sense of Humor: The Devil has No Sense of Humor and an inflated sense of self importance (ironically, just like his victim, Soames).
  • The Gay '90s: The story is in part a recollection of that era written a few decades later (the story's subtitle is "A Memory of the Eighteen-Nineties"), particularly the writers and painters of the fin de siecle.
  • Good Hair, Evil Hair: The Devil has an evil mustache which he naturally twirls.
  • Gratuitous French: Pretty much everyone in the story uses a fair amount of it, given the mileu of English artists heavily influenced by French art. Soames probably uses the most, fitting his poseur behavior.
  • Hipster: Soames checks all the boxes of the stereotype despite predating the trope. He's a massive poseur who derides famous/great artists of the day as poseurs, and despite cultivating the image of a fin de siecle Starving Artist, has a generous annuity from a wealthy Aunt, which allows him to lead an idle life (and pay to publish his books).
  • Holy Burns Evil: In a last ditch effort to stop the Devil from taking Soames to Hell, the narrator crosses two knives on the table. Despite the narrator being a nonbeliever, it works and the Devil recoils and hisses in rage and pain. Unfortunately, he's able to command Soames to move the silverware, since Soames is under his thrall.
  • Individuality Is Illegal: Implied to be the case in the future. Everyone looks and dresses alike and a book review from the time talks about how while authors in the past were obsessed with achieving fame, that problem has been solved in the present, wherein authors are government employees who serve the nation.
  • Nu Spelling: in the imagined future of 1997, everything is spelled phonetically.
  • Self-Deprecation: Beerbohm frames the story as being a recollection of the past and is both the narrator of and a character in the story, and presents himself as rather selfish. There's also a joke in how although Beerbohm has himself remembered in the future as the author of works such as "Enoch Soames", the in-universe reviewer considers the story to be somewhat labored (well, labud).
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Soames is extremely arrogant and (at least for a while) deluded that he's a great artist.
  • Space Clothes: Everyone wears identical uniforms in the future.
  • Stable Time Loop: When Enoch Soames visits the British Museum in the future, everyone there stares at him. Beerbohm the character posits that this isn't because of his dress; it's because people in the future had read Beerbohm's story and were waiting to see if Soames arrived on that date. More subtly, the Devil is present right before Soames declares he would sell his soul, indicating that the Devil already knew what would happen.
  • Sycophantic Servant: Making his Deal with the Devil causes Soames to become one of these, such that the Devil can command him to reverse a cross shape that would otherwise have prevented the Devil from harming Soames.
  • Utopia: Soames and the narrator refer to the future of 1997 as seeming utopian/along the lines of their expectations of the future. This is somewhat odd as in what may be a case of Unbuilt Trope, the future is rather stereotypically dystopian, along the lines of We or Anthem.

"Try," was the prayer he threw back at me as the devil pushed him roughly out through the dooró"TRY to make them know that I did exist!"