A classic horror for Halloween: ‘The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner’ by James Hogg (1824)

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I read this book on my Kindle and I think the only print edition I’ve ever seen is the no doubt excellent but very drab looking Penguin Classic paperback.  Overall, I was completely unprepared for the gothic splendour and psychological torment of Hogg’s classic horror story.

To explain the title, it comes from a religious belief in predestination – specifically, that those who are destined to be ‘saved’ have no reason to avoid sin. As Rabina, a fanatical follower of this theory, exclaims to the Reverent Wringhim, her favourite minister, ‘How delightful it is to think that a justified person can do no wrong! Who would not envy the liberty where with we are made free?‘ Rabina and her very close friend Wringhim, it goes without saying, are themselves saved, as is her second son Robert. This young man (unacknowledged by Rabina’s husband and brought up to call the minister father) is the central ‘Sinner’ in the story.

And what a story it is.  Told first through an ‘editor’s preface’ and then through Robert’s own testimony we learn of the sanctimonious hypocrisy attendant on the rigid beliefs of the central figures.  Robert is loathsome, a combination of nearly every Dickensian bully and villain, and he is equally despicable in his actual crimes, his attempted crimes and, frankly, his general demeanour in every situation.  So far so horrific, but this is not just a story about murder, abuse and misery, though it contains all three.  It is also either a psychological tale of madness and obsession or a supernatural story of the devil.  Or both (I’m undecided, but think it’s equally terrifying either way).

I’m not sure why this isn’t promoted as a gothic classic along with ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde‘.  All I know is that is has brought an appropriately frightening chill to this year’s Halloween reading and that it is suitably ambiguous for me to look forward to reading it again next year to see if repeated encounters will change my opinion of the evil at the book’s core.  A horror of enduring worth and inventiveness, I say ignore the unwieldy title and throw yourself into a very unexpected classic tale of the dark forces that surround us.

 

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2 Responses to A classic horror for Halloween: ‘The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner’ by James Hogg (1824)

  1. Izzy says:

    I vaguely knew the title (or maybe I got it mixed with Confessions of an Opium-eater !) Anyway, I’d no sooner finished reading your review than I ordered it, nearly without thinking. I love a good gothic novel but I’ve have read surprisingly few and The Italian and The Monk really don’t appeal to me, if you see what I mean.

    • I’m a bit of a fan of ‘The Monk’ (because that much silliness can be very appealing if you’re in the mood), but neither that nor ‘The Italian’ have the psychological sophistication of ‘A Justified Sinner.’ After this read, I really couldn’t understand how it had remained off my reading list for so long!

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