American Egyptomania Search


The Sphinx's Children

The Sphinx's Children and Other People (New York: Tickner, 1886)

Rose Terry Cooke was an extremely prolific and popular American writer of the nineteenth century, but who is largely forgotten today. Born in 1827, Cooke lived her whole life in Connecticut, where she published hundreds of poems and dozens of short stories, as well as novels, children’s fiction and a host of nonfiction essays on religion and politics. Somewhat notorious for her opposition to women’s rights during a time in which New England women writers are often thought to have been at the forefront of the women’s suffrage movement, Cooke lived until the last decade of the nineteenth century, and her writings express a wide range of political opinions.

This selection is the title piece from one of Cooke’s collections of short stories, originally published in Boston in 1886. Written in a highly romanticized and windswept style, “The Sphinx’s Children” is a classic of Egyptomanic free-association: for Cooke, the Sphinx is a sweeping metaphor for any number of themes, ranging from the perils of pride to the purity of inspiration to the power of women to the expansiveness of time. Not so much a story with plot, characters, and dialogue, “The Sphinx’s Children” is more of a prose painting, epic in scope and free-wheeling in connotation, in ways typical of the fantasies of American Egyptomania.

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