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Book Title: Confessions of a Justified Sinner|
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Reader ratings: 4.7
The author of the book: James Hogg
Date of issue: November 26th 1992
ISBN 13: 9781857151268
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 685 KB
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I have no idea what this book is about. Nobody does. The narrative is so dense that it is impossible to make a solid interpretation of the events, but I shall try. I shall try to tell you why this book is so utterly excellent.
Perhaps the most obvious interpretation to start with is the religious angle. Robert, our sinner, has been claimed by Satan. The prince of destruction dominates his mind and controls his actions. The novel can be read as a didactical message about the dangers of a sinful mind. That’s all there in the text, but it is only the beginning. Robert opened the doors when he accepted the Calvinist principle of predestination; he believes himself to be one of God’s elect. He already has a free ticket into to heaven, so whatever he does on earth doesn’t matter. History has already been written: his soul has already been saved.
Now this is a terribly dangerous mind-set. It means that Robert has absolutely no one to answer to on this earth. It can be his playground. Mortal consequences are trivial when compared to the immortal salvation his soul will receive. So why not have some fun? You might be punished, but that doesn’t matter. God has already saved you since the start of time. You can manipulate, murder and steal, and it just doesn’t matter. Again, perhaps Hogg is demonstrating the dangers of such a situation. We all need someone, or some authority, to answer to and to guide us; otherwise, we can create our own sense of twisted rules and live in the darkness.
Then there are the elements of the double to consider. Gill-Martin, our Satan, may just be an element of Robert’s mind; he may represent the division within his tormented soul, a soul torn by religious doctrine and his carnal nature. His predestination allows him to let loose. His dark impulses take over in the form of his double mind-set. Sure, there is plenty to suggest that he has a physical presence within the novel, but there is also the fact that this text was written by an unreliable narrator. Robert is the author of his confessions, so there is a degree of bias in everything he says. He often represents things in the way that Gill-Martin, Satan or the dark element of split consciousness, tells him to. How far can we give his narrative any credence?
Satan, the double, the mysterious Gill, can also been seen as a physical representation of sin and temptation. The figure is also a shapeshifter-if it wasn’t already complicated enough- and in his earliest form he captures Robert’s ambition. This is the form of McGill his nemesis at school. I’d argue that Robert has been persecuted by this figure, whatever he actually is, all his life. He tempts Robert into self-improvement, and coerces him into adapting any means at his disposal to remain top of the class. The young Robert lies, cheats and steals to watch his rival fall. This is the beginning of his enthrallment.
Later when this figure appears, he becomes an object of lust:
As I thus wended my way, I beheld a young man of a mysterious appearance coming towards me. I tried to shun him, being bent on my own contemplations; but he cast himself in my way, so that I could not well avoid him; and, more than that, I felt a sort of invisible power that drew me towards him, something like the force of enchantment, which I could not resist.
He is stunned by this man, by this otherworldly creature. The homoerotic language suggests more than a simple admiration. He becomes this creature’s creature. Robert also makes it very clear early in the narrative that he doesn’t like women. He has no time for them because, ironically, according to him, they turn men into sinners. He prefers this princely being. When Robert first sees the figure of Gil-Martin he remarks he was held by “the force of enchantment” in which he cannot resist the power of this mysterious man. He becomes enamoured by this being, which completely transfixes him. He is frequently referred to as an object of fascination and his words are enthralling and persuasive to Robert. He begins take on the traits of this character, that much so that his mother remarks that his countenance has changed after their meetings: he has been dominated.
As we approached each other, our eyes met and I can never describe the strange sensations that thrilled through my whole frame at that impressive moment; a moment to me fraught with the most tremendous consequences; the beginning of a series of adventures which has puzzled myself, and will puzzle the world when I am no more in it.
The homoerotic language used to describe Gil-Martin is suggestive of an idealised man. The double takes on Robert’s own form, and can be read as an unconscious projection of what he would like to be. This man eventually comes to absorb his personality, and removes any sense of morale awareness Robert had. Robert’s double is an object of desire, which suggest an unconscious drive to engage in the acts of depravity they carry out. This can be read as a man who is haunted by homosexual lust, or the idea of betterment, as his double takes on the form of his secret desire. Incidentally, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde drew heavily on this, and it can also be read in a very similar way.
“We are all subjected to two distinct natures in the same person. I myself have suffered grievously in that way.”
There’s just no definitive way to read this. Every interpretation has its own set of problems and leads to another interpretation. Eventually, Robert comes to believe in the evil of Gil-Martin and sets about printing the “Private Memoirs.” Gil- Martin, however, pursues and torments Robert, and eventually, Robert allegedly takes his own life. But how much of this can we trust? What happened in the end? Is it all one man’s imagination? Or is it something more?
I’ll never know. A good book stays with you; it becomes part of you as you perpetually ponder its mysteries whilst it lingers on your mind. This book will always haunt me because I will never have a conclusive answer as to what it is actually about. Hogg has created a story that is bizarre, intriguing and rather mystifying. As a result, it is completely excellent.
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Read information about the authorJames Hogg was a Scottish poet, novelist and essayist who wrote in Scots and English. As a young man he worked as a shepherd and farmhand, and was largely self-educated through reading. He was a friend of many of the great writers of his day, including Sir Walter Scott, of whom he later wrote an unauthorized biography. He became widely known as the "Ettrick Shepherd", a nickname under which some of his works were published, and the character name he was given in the widely read series Noctes Ambrosianae, published in Blackwood's Magazine. He is best known today for his novel The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. His other works include the long poem The Queen's Wake, his collection of songs Jacobite Reliques, and the novels The Three Perils of Man, The Three Perils of Woman, and The Brownie of Bodsbeck.
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