Thursday, May 18, 2006

Week 16, Hogg

Brief Notes on James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner.

One of our presenters, Charli Robinson, says it’s nearly impossible to resolve the accounts given us of the novel’s murder. How much is due to Robert Wringhim’s derangement, and how much is real, in the Gothic vein of dark happenings? We know that the events are real to Robert, at least. How are we supposed to understand Gil-Martin’s role? Is he a double? A projection? The devil or one of the devil’s agents? The novel itself isn’t clear about the whole affair, so how are we to become certain of anything? At the outset, as Charli says, everything seems clear enough, but by the end nothing is clear at all.

I would suggest that Hogg’s Scottish Gothic novel explores competing ethical and ontological narratives and that we need not come down on either side. At some point in the story, it becomes obvious that Gil-Martin has taken on the role of an Iago, turning the screws of damnation against Robert, who only half-realizes what’s going on. And he is seen by at least two eye-witnesses, not just by Robert, isn’t he? Well, Hogg seems to be exploring a split between “truth” and “reality.” Searching for truth may be a partial and by no means sufficient way of appreciating a fuller reality. To what extent are we to credit Robert’s lived reality with leading us towards a satisfactory account of the main events? The editor is smug—can you really write a scientific account, a history, of Satan? Robert, appropriately enough, gets the largest share of the novel’s time to tell his story. We may remember the conclusion of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, in which a psychiatrist steps in to explain to us the nature of Norman Bates’ mental illness. That explanation hardly seems to be the last word, or at least it doesn’t interest us very much: Norman’s tortured personal reality is far more compelling.

Edition: Hogg, James. The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999. ISBN 0192835904.

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