Sphinxes & Obelisks

Mark Valentine

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With photographs by Joanna Valentine

Why did Queen Victoria demand to see the disembodied head of a talking sphinx? Why will you never find the fabulous art deco book In That Look the Unicorn Stood? What was the slight flaw in the idea of racing cheetahs at the White City? What was the date confidently given for apocalypse at a Somerset railway station book-stall? Who had visions of Atlantis in an old house in Nightingale Lane?

These and many other enigmas are discussed in this new book of essays from Mark Valentine. As in his previous well-received collections, you will also be offered suggestions for recondite reading in overlooked books that ought to be better known:  an interplanetary fantasy by a Welsh squire; a timeslip into a mysterious England by a priest once called the original of Dorian Gray; an avant-garde novel about a tea-party and the Holy Grail.

Whether he is discussing old inn signs, Cornish tin mine ruins, how to play Cat-at-the-Window, or the joys of book-collecting expeditions, the author shares with us an array of enthusiasms and explorations, told in an enquiring and engaging way.


‘Introduction’, ‘“Change Here for the Dark Age”: Edward Shanks’ The People of the Ruins’, ‘The Interplanetary Jacobite: H.M. Vaughan’, ‘Sombre Gloom: The Macabre Thrillers of Riccardo Stephens’, ‘The Magician and the Book: E. Temple Thurston’s Man in a Black Hat’, ‘The Cry of the Curlew: Anne Douglas Sedgwick’s The Third Window’, ‘A Visit to Old Haunts: Cynthia Asquith’s Ghost Book’, ‘Brushed by Moth Wings: The Fleeting Fame of Francis Bourdillon’, ‘Apocalypse and Marrow Jam: Pilgrim from Paddington by Naomi Royde-Smith’, ‘Phoenician Rites and Chaldee Roots’, ‘A Map of Old Dunwich, and Egypt in England’, ‘The Summoner of the Sphinx’, ‘Cricket in Babylon’, ‘The Atlantean Angel in Nightingale Lane’, ‘Racing Cheetahs: Kenneth Gandar-Dower, Explorer and Eccentric’, ‘The “Wonder Unlimited”: Hope Hodgson’s Tales of Captain Gault’, ‘“A Strange and Striking Fragment”: Gerald Warre Cornish’s Beneath the Surface’, ‘The First Master Villain: Guy Boothby’s Dr Nikola’, ‘An Experiment in the Sensational: Gerald Cumberland’s The Cypress Chest’, ‘Three Regency Fantasias’, ‘Cat-at-the-Window: A Note on a Late Victorian Game’, ‘Three Literary Mysteries of the 1930s’, ‘A Dry Patrician Wine: John Gray’s Park, A Fantastic Story’, ‘The Fall of a Cup: Philip Toynbee’s Tea with Mrs Goodman’, ‘Twinned Destinies: Helen Simpson’s Cups Wands and Swords’, ‘Tarot in the 1950s: A Note on Bernard Bromage’, ‘Three Strange Novels of the Sixties’, ‘Tin Mine Gothic (& others also lost)’, ‘The Road to Caermaen: Arthur Machen in the 1980s’, ‘“A Fashion in Shrouds”: What Do Ghosts Wear?’, ‘Stuck in a Book’, ‘The Saracen’s Head’, ‘Passages in the West’, ‘Acknowledgements’.

Limited to 300 copies


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Publisher Tartarus Press