Tuesday 29 August 2023

The Justified Sinner is still extraordinary thirty years later


I am rereading the Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, by James Hogg, which is extraordinarily good. You never read the same book twice because you become a different person. Still this wonderful, extremely modern novel (written in 1821) is probably as good as I remember. In my twenties I thought it the best novel written in English, and it might be, beating even Conrad. 

But can any novelist beat Miss Austen?

It's like a meteor from outer space embedded in the canon of great novels.

Like Brideshead Revisited or The End of the Affair, it might even convert a reader to Catholicism.

Hogg was a shepherd.  I think Sir Walter Scott adopted him informally and had him taught to write, but I might be wrong about this. 

It's the first thriller. Much better than anything by Scott, whose protégé Hogg was, better than Dickens and very exciting. 

It's a psychological thriller and eviscerates Calvinism. 

I said this to a nice woman in Glasgow Cathedral with an English (Edinburgh Morningside) accent and added 'You're not a Calvinist are you? One has to be so careful what one says in Scotland.'

'No I'm not, but one has to be so careful everywhere. Stop the world I want to get off!'

'I have stopped the world and got off. I live in Romania.' 

'Oh you are very lucky!'

Yes, I really am. Romania is an outpost of civilisation in a world ruled by barbarians.

1 comment:

  1. "I have read this novel five or six times. Each time I begin it, it is with the firm intention of finally nailing it down and understanding it, and each time I fail. It is in the nature and design of the book that I should do so, and it is this that draws a restless reader back to it again and again. In this respect it is a stunning piece of post-modernism: nothing is certain, nothing is authoritative, nothing is fixed or fully explained. The editor’s introduction and epilogue are contradicted by or contradict the memoir of the Sinner, and vice versa, and within the narrative of the memoir there are further inconsistencies and confusions. We are never sure who or what Gil-Martin, the Sinner Robert Wringhim’s enigmatic companion, is: devil, warlock, doppelgänger or figment of Robert’s imagination...."