Tartarus Press


Sphinxes & Obelisks is a paperback of 266 pages.


Paperback: £17.95


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Ebook: £7.99

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Sphinxes & Obelisks


Mark Valentine

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’.





"Valentine—an exceptionally genial excavator of half-forgotten and eccentric books." Michael Dirda, The Washington Post


"The four collections of essays by Mark Valentine published by Tartarus Press in Yorkshire contain some of the best writing on books of the last twenty years. It is unsurprising that his name is not cited alongside Basbanes, Dirda or Gekoski, for Valentine’s chosen subject is, more often than not, the rediscovery of a neglected author or lighting a candle at the shrine of an author who had no wide audience in life." Peter Cooper, The Book Collector, Summer 2022


"Very, very highly recommended; one of my favorite books so far this year." The Real Stuff


"This is the fourth of Mr. Valentine’s such collections at Tartarus, if my count is correct, and each amounts to an invaluable gazetteer of obscure, forgotten, wonderful, and sometimes disreputable authors and books. More, these appreciations are sometimes bundled with the stories of how Mr. Valentine first scored these curious volumes up at this or that church jumble sale or now-shuttered back-alley book dealer. This is strong catnip indeed to such as me, and perhaps to such as you as well." And Other Stories



Paperbacks and ebooks available by Mark Valentine

The Peacock Escritoire with At Dusk

Sphinxes and Obelisks (essays)

A Wild Tumultory Library (essays)

Haunted by Books (essays)

A Country Still All Mystery (essays)

The Fig Garden and Other Stories (short stories)

The Nightfarers (short stories)

The Herald of the Hidden (short stories)

Secret Europe (short stories, with John Howard)

Inner Europe (short stories with John Howard)The Collected Connoisseur (short stories, with John Howard)

The Collected Connoisseur (short stories, with John Howard)


See also:

Phantom Cities by The Sodality of the Shadows



An interview with Mark Valentine


Copyright Tartarus Press 2024