The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg

“I was born an outcast in the world, in which I was destined to act so conspicuous a part.”

justified sinnerI’ve recently been thinking more about this novel. It is one of those remarkable novels that I hope I’m able to revisit in the near future, and I remember when I first finished it, I wanted to pick it up and read it all over again.

The novel was first published in 1824 by Scottish writer, James Hogg, but there is something so modern about the entire manuscript. What really draws me to the book are the structure and presentation. It is put forward as a first person manuscript found by an editor in the nineteenth century for events taking place in the century past. In his introductory narrative, the editor is piecing together what he believes to be an adequate rendition of facts leading up to a whole slew of dreadful deeds. The second narrative is from the self-described sinner who tries to explain himself.

The second narrative titled “The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner: Written by Himself,” is where the movement really flies forward. Hogg is so masterful at presenting, Robert, a young man who thinks himself pious. Robert believes in predestination and after meeting an engaging stranger, Robert is talked into murdering those he believes destined for a place a little less like Heaven (including his own brother).

As months go on, Robert loses track of time and he feels tired during the day as if he had no sleep that night. He, himself, along with the townspeople keep remarking on how the stranger looks an awful lot like Robert. Hogg writes an ultimate unreliable narrator; one that is clearly the inspiration for many works of literature, including but not limited to the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

By speaking in the first person, the reader is led to consider many things. Is Robert’s stranger really the Devil himself or perhaps, is he a part of Robert’s personality? Nothing is ever as clear as you might want it to be, but in doing so, Hogg has crafted an ingenious book. Later in the manuscript, Robert reveals that he intends his words to be published. So, now the reader must consider whether he wrote these confessions to provide an excuse for the horrors previously committed or was he really not responsible for the deplorable actions visited upon Edinburgh during his tenure there.

The Private Memoirs is an amalgam of gothic, mystery, and religious satire. It is entirely gripping and I wholeheartedly recommend. Perhaps, on a future re-read, I will have a clearer mind to give it a proper review (with direct quotes and everything), but for now, I leave you with this simple recommendation to read it as soon as possible.

A very grateful tip of the hat to Helen McClory for this recommendation last year.

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