Enoch Soames: A Memory of the Eighteen-nineties by Max Beerbohm
Section: Reactionaries and Revolutionaries
Genre: Science Fiction
Rating: 2/5 Rating
2 out of the 19 page story were good; the rest – like eating saw dust.
About the author:
Max Beerbohm’s full name was Sir Henry Maxmilian Beerbohm, once he accepted the knighthood from King George VI in 1939. An English essayist, parodist, and caricaturist, his first short story was published in 1897 (“The Happy Hypocrite”), and his novel Zuleika Dobson was published in 1911, although most of his written words were nonfiction. “Enoch Soames” plays with time travel via a deal with the Devil. It was first published in 1916 in Century Magazine.
Fun fact: this story was published a 100 years ago, and in the story, the poet goes a 100 years into the future! And yeah… I don’t really have anything else fun to say about this review… It was written a 100 years, and well, prose and storytelling style has change A LOT in the past 100 years.
Max Beerbohm is a fairly popular poet, however his fellow poet, Enoch Soames, isn’t popular in the least bit. While Enoch feel that he is brilliant and his poems are masterpieces, so far all of his books have been reviewed terribly – at least, from those that bothered to review them. Enoch is convinced that his genius is merely misunderstood right now, and in the future his fame will happen. As he has this conversation with Max, Enoch says he’d sell his soul to the devil to go a hundred years into the future to see if his name was in a book! As it happens, the man sitting the in table next to them, is the Devil.
I know that plot sounds decent. The author info says” ‘Enoch Soames’ plays with time travel via a deal with the Devil.” However, that is terribly misleading. The first 15 pages are all about Max as an author, talking with other poets and Enoch about poems; and then he breaks down a couple of Enoch poems to try to see what is so great about them… The whole time I was reading this, I was wondering what anything that was being told to us had to do with anything!
Turns out, that was just a really long, and super unnecessary character building and plot set-up. Enoch thinks he is great, and sucks at poetry; Max is a decent poet, some fame, and knows what he is talking about. This spinning, and unnecessary tangents, and useless information, was not needed – it was useless. All it did, for me, was bore me.
This slow, and unnecessary story telling may be a factor of the time period this was written in – 100 years ago. Beerbohm’s prose, his idioms, his dialect, his narrative style – they are all very different from what I am used to. When I was reading, I couldn’t help but picture him with a monocle saying ” Old chap!”. That, from what I understand in a English saying, and Beerhbom is French, and in the story, there is French. BUT this French, is NOT translated at all.
There is one point in the story where we see an article clipping about Max and Enoch, but I had no idea what it said because it was in French! I did get some idea about what it said by dialog after, but it wasn’t until the very end that I understood the true significance and what else it said (Edit: It turns out that this article clipping was actually phonetics. I apologize for the mistake, but when I glanced at the next sentence and saw it wasn’t English -again – I grazed over it and said whatever. I guess this shows my interest in the story at 17 pages in). There is also some character dialog where they speak in French too.
As I said in my blurb, there were two pages I did like. This was where it was straight forward (not 100 year old prose tangents) and explained something really cool about the devil and a consequence of Enoch’s trip. Outside of that – very dry; like eating saw dust.
Spolierific Speculations: (Highlight to read)
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The best guess I have is that this story has aged poorly. I have heard that in older mystery novels, it was chapter upon chapters, before there was even a dead body! While nowadays, the rule is if you don’t have a dead body on the first page or by the end of the first chapter, you are taking too long to move the plot along.
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See you next Thursday for Trousseau: Fashion for Time Travelers by Genevieve Valentine