Nicholas Cabot, 25 years old and newly endowed with his uncleâ€™s fortune, takes lodgings at the house of retired tragedian Leslie Sturt, intending to devote his time to perfecting an invention for recording dreams.
At the Sturt household, Nicholas hears â€œSphinxâ€, a short piece of piano music by local composer Lore Jensen. Nicholas sees the Sphinx as being the symbol of â€œThe dreams we dream during deep sleep and remember nothing of afterwardsâ€¦â€, while Evelyn, the middle of the three Sturt daughters, says that the Sphinx is asking, â€œâ€˜Why are you living in the world?â€™ As none of us can answer it, we all have to die.â€
Soon after, Nicholas makes his first successful dream-recording, and finds it predicting a looming tragedy for the now creatively-bankrupt Lore Jensen. Meanwhile, he encounters a Sphinx of his own in the shape of Mrs Hantish, a young widow of whom Sturt says, â€œI do not think it is to malign her to place her in the fatal categoryâ€¦â€
Originally published in 1923, this is the third novel from David Lindsay, author of what Colin Wilson has called â€œthe greatest imaginative work of the twentieth centuryâ€, C S Lewis has described as â€œthat shattering, intolerable, and irresistible workâ€, and Alan Moore has called â€œless a novel than it is private kabbalahâ€, A Voyage to Arcturus. Like the â€œspirit-usherâ€ Backhouse from that novel, Nicholas Cabot seeks to â€œdream with open eyesâ€. Sphinx is perhaps David Lindsayâ€™s most autobiographical novel, dealing as it does with the difficulties of pursuing a creative vision in the socially constricted inter-war years of the early 20th Century. It is also, thanks to its depiction of a grand masque and fancy dress ball at a large country house, his most identifiable as being written in the Roaring Twenties.