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Enoch Soames is a short story by the Britishmarker writer Max Beerbohm. It is well-known for its clever and humorous use of the ideas of time travel and pacts with the Devil. It appeared in the collection Seven Men (1919).

Plot summary

The story is narrated by Beerbohm himself; he presents himself as a moderately successful young English essayist and writer in London during the 1890s. He purports to relate the fate of a friend of his named Enoch Soames, an utterly obscure, forgettable, miserable and unsuccessful English writer.

Obsessed with the idea that he was a great author of literature and poetry and overwhelming interested in his sure future fame, Soames one day in 1897 makes a contract with the devil to be able to spend one afternoon (from 2:10 to 7 PM) in the Round Reading Room of the British Museummarker library exactly one hundred years in the future, on the 3rd day of June in the year 1997 CE - just to know what posterity thinks about him and his work.

When he returns, he tells Beerbohm that the only mention of himself he could find was a scholarly article which mentions (using a phonetic spelling apparently adopted by the late 20th century) a story by one Max Beerbohm "in wich e pautraid an immajnari karrakter kauld "Enoch Soames"--a thurd-rait poit hoo beleevz imself a grate jeneus an maix a bargin with th Devvl in auder ter no wot posterriti thinx ov im!" ("in which he portrayed an imaginary character called "Enoch Soames"--a third-rate poet who believes himself a great genius and makes a bargain with the Devil in order to know what posterity thinks of him!"). With characteristic delicacy, Beerbohm quotes the author as saying "It is a somewhat labud sattire" and adds "And 'labud'--what on earth was that? (To this day I have never made out that word.)" ("labud" here means laboured).

Beerbohm, shocked, denies that he would ever write such a thing. Soames, before being taken to Hell by the Devil, scornfully requests that Beerbohm at least try and make people believe that he, Soames, actually existed. Beerbohm concludes his narrative by calling down the author of the scholarly article in question for shoddy work; he notes that T.K Nupton must not have finished reading Beerbohm's story, otherwise he would have noticed Soames's (through Beerbohm) flawless predictions about the future and realized the story was not fiction. Beerbohm then notes that Soames had mentioned his presence in the reading room causing a great stir, and writes "I assure you that in no period could Soames be anything but dim. The fact that people are going to stare at him, and follow him around, and seem afraid of him, can be explained only on the hypothesis that they will somehow have been prepared for his ghostly visitation. They will have been awfully waiting to see whether he really would come. And when he does come the effect will of course be - awful."


An article by Teller, "A memory of the nineteen-nineties" ("Being a faithful account of the events of the designated day, when the man who had disappeared was expected briefly to return"), was published in the November 1997 The Atlantic Monthly. It describes what happened to the people who actually went to the museum on the designated afternoon to see if Soames showed up; at 2:10 PM, a person meeting Soames' description appears, and begins searching through the catalogue and various biographical dictionaries. A few dozen minutes later, he slips out of sight of the watching Teller and audience, and disappears.


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