the Violet

“Surely the Egyptian Sphinx was a personification of Nature?” she said, not looking at her sister, but at Nicholas. “The question which she asks, and which no one can answer, is, ‘Why are you living in the world?’ As none of us can answer it, we all have to die.”

Sphinx, ch. II, “A Family Party”

Lindsay began writing Sphinx in August 1921, and, according to J B Pick (“A Sketch of Lindsay’s Life as Man and Writer” in The Strange Genius of David Lindsay), found the going hard. He gave up on it at one point, then restarted in October of the same year. The first draft was completed in March 1922, and Lindsay continued to revise it till May.

Even having finished it, Lindsay’s Sphinx continued to prove problematic. Methuen refused it, The Daily News refused it, Heinemann refused it, Grant Richards refused it. Lindsay was taken on by a literary agent, Ronald Massey, who placed it with John Long in April 1923. They published it later that year.

Times ad
Ad from The Times announcing (and ludicrously mis-selling) Sphinx, 30th November 1923

Nicholas Cabot is working to invent a machine for recording deep-sleep dreams, but his researches are interrupted by dramatic events in the life of Lore Jensen, the flagging composer of an intriguing musical piece called “Sphinx” — events whose conclusion is being prefigured and interpreted, in a sort of symbolic drama, in Cabot’s recorded dreams.

More detailed plot summary here.



1923 — John Long, HB |UK first
1988 — Carrol & Graf, HB |US first
1988 — Xanadu, HB |UK
2017 — Bookship, ebook
2018 — Nodens Books, PB
2019 — Bookship, PB
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The 1988 Xanadu/Carrol & Graf hardback of Sphinx misses some text from the original printing of the novel. I’ve uploaded a scan of the two pages from the original edition that were erroneously replaced by duplicated text. This text from the original edition should be read after the line “gazing out of doors at the quietening garden, and at the” on page 265 of the Xanadu/Carrol & Graf edition; then skip to the line “the communicating door” on page 267 of the Xanadu/Carrol & Graf edition and continue reading from there.

You can find this as a PDF here.

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Carrol & Graf HB, 1988
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ResonanceBookworks PB, 2009
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Bookship ebook, 2017
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Nodens Books, 2018
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Bookship ebook, 2019
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Four Novels (Bookship, 2020)