The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner

Tom Gatti – James Hogg, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824)

“What can this work be?” asks the “editor” at the end of The Private Memoirs. “Sure, you will say, it must be an allegory; or (as the writer calls it) a religious parable, showing the dreadful danger of self-righteousness? I cannot tell”. Hogg’s masterpiece is the story of a young man, Robert, whose strict Calvinist upbringing convinces him that he is predestined to salvation, and – through the mouthpiece of a shady companion, Gil-Martin – urges him to commit atrocities. Robert’s story is told twice: once, at some remove, by an editor, and by Robert himself, in an increasingly urgent and deranged manuscript. An unholy metafictional mash-up with multiple perspectives and registers, a deeply unsettling evocation of paranoia and psychosis, a book whose dual structure breeds assymetries and ambiguities, it pushed the novel forward and laid the ground for the most famous expression of the psychological double, Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Rejected by critics (who found it “uncouth and unpleasant”) and ignored by readers, Private Memoirs could have done with a Goldsmiths Prize to show Hogg that actually he might have been onto something after all.

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