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The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (Oxford World's Classics) [Paperback]

James Hogg , Ian Duncan
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

13 May 2010 Oxford World's Classics
'We have heard much of the rage of fanaticism in former days, but nothing to this'

A wretched young man, 'an outcast in the world', tells the story of his upbringing by a heretical Calvinist minister who leads him to believe that he is one of the elect, predestined for salvation and thus above the moral law. Falling under the spell of a mysterious stranger who bears an uncanny likeness to himself, he embarks on a career as a serial murderer.

Robert Wringhim's Memoirs are presented by an editor whose attempts to explain the story only succeed in intensifying its more baffling and bizarre aspects. Is Wringhim the victim of a psychotic delusion, or has he been tempted by the devil to wage war against God's enemies? Hogg's sardonic and terrifying novel, too perverse for nineteenth-century taste, is now recognized as one of the masterpieces of Romantic fiction.

The first edition text of 1824 has been freshly considered for this new edition. A critical introduction explores the remarkable career of the novel's author and its historical, theological, and cultural contexts.
ABOUT THE SERIES: For over 100 years Oxford World's Classics has made available the widest range of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford's commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, helpful notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; New edition (13 May 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199217955
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199217953
  • Product Dimensions: 19.3 x 12.7 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,171 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Ian Duncan has previously taught at Yale and Oregon universities and has been at UC Berkeley since 2001. He has edited several OWC editions including Doyle's

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An original and intriguing novel 16 Sep 2010
By Didier TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Written in 1824 but set about a century earlier in early seventeenth Scotland, 'The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner' actually tells the same tale twice: once by an unnamed editor and once by the (equally anonymous) sinner himself. In a nutshell the story tells of how the Laird of Dalcastle had two sons but, though both born of the same mother, for some reason or other refused to acknowledge the second. The firstborn, George, grows up to be an easy, outgoing young man while the second, Robert (the sinner of the title), is raised by the Reverend Wringhim, a stern and radical divine, and soon becomes a haughty and arrogant youth. Convinced that he is one of 'the elect' (according to the calvinist notion of predestination), he begins to pester his brother. And then, seemingly by coincidence, Robert meets a very intriguing man that begins to converse with him on religious matters, and before long Robert finds himself utterly entranced by this mysterious 'Gil-martin'.

I acknowledge this all may sound rather dull and nothing but religious claptrap, but in fact the book offers the very opposite: it's written in a very easy and fluent style (here and there in Scottisch dialect which I confess was at times difficult for a non-native speaker such as myself), and the plot moves along rapidly. Also, Hogg uses the technique of telling the same tale twice (but from different points of view) to great effect: by the time I finished the editor's version I was extremely eager to discover the sinner's version.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Disconcerting and amusing 14 Jan 2013
Format:Paperback
What a surprising story. Although written in the mid 1800s it is so captivating to a modern audience that the date is totally irrelevant. It's writing style for example is easy to follow and the whole plot precursor of many novels to follow: mystery, murder, the supernatural, fantasy, madness - a faithful description of the era and the country.
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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fun! 28 Jun 2011
By S. Pactor - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
One of the aspects that I like about "classic literature" as a cultural product is it's sheer..."know-ability." By "know-ability" I mean the HUGE volume of writing by different groups of intellectuals on the subject, both on individual works and "classic literature" as a group of artistic products. An interested reader can wallow forever in the pools and eddies of the stream of writing issuing forth on, say, 19th century British literature. Like all subjects of knowledge, classic literature has seen a logarithmic explosion of academic, quasi-academic and non-academic writing in the last 50 years, but the debate PRIOR to World War II is relatively easy to get a handle on: A set number of works, a set number of theories.

The real pleasure for me comes in reading a work that I had never heard about prior to reading. One of the primary pleasures of intellectual pursuits is the joy of discovery: finding out something you didn't know before. It's a quiet, private pleasure that doesn't require a group for validation. This was the case for me with James Hogg's The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, originally published in 1824. Private Memoirs is not quite the first serial killer novel, not quite the first historical novel, and certainly not the first novel of the Scottish literary boom of the early 19th century, but it was influenced by all of those literary trends and more besides. Private Memoirs takes the form of two opposed narratives: One by an anonymous Editor, purporting to recount the same series of events the other narrative, the Private Memoirs and Confessions of the title. The Justified Sinner in this case is Robert Wringhim, the bastard son of a Scottish Laird and his over-zealous religious wife.

Wringhim is what you call a "serial killer" and his activity takes place against the background of what today we would call "psychotic episodes" and what they then called "being haunted by the Devil." The Devil in this case is the affable "Gill-Martin." He's a charmer, and a shape shifter, and maybe a figment of Wringhim's imagination, and maybe not. The knowledge that this book was written in the early 1820s is interesting too contemplate. While Hogg was not drawing on terra incognita in his Gil Martin figure (Goethe's Faust had appeared in Scottish periodicals prior to this book being written, the overall combination of the doubling/visit by the devil/serial killer/scottish historical novel styles of 19th century literature is an intoxicating blend. Private Memoirs doesn't go on for 500 pages, either- it's readable in a weekend afternoon.

Before reading the book, I was surprised to read Ian Duncan's claim that this is now the most popular 19th century Scottish novel, but after finishing, it makes perfect sense. Sharp, scary, funny and downright weird, Private Memoirs is a novel that holds up waaaayyyyyyyyy after it was published.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a remarkable book! 31 Aug 2011
By Phelps Gates - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Published in 1824, this was a hundred years ahead of its time, and it's just now coming to be appreciated. Is it a gothic novel? A meta-novel? A precursor of magic realism? A warning against religious fanaticism? The book hinges on the extreme Calivinist concept of antinomianism: if you're predestined to be saved, you'll end up in heaven no matter what outrageous sins and crimes you commit. This obviously raises interesting moral dilemmas. Hogg was a contemporary and friend of Sir Walter Scott, but while Scott's prose sometimes puts modern readers to sleep, Hogg is more likely to keep you awake at night!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Split Structure, Split Narrative, Split Truth 3 Feb 2014
By blayklee - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
When a book is split into two parts, into narratives of two different people, this divided structure can make a statement about the theme of the book itself. This is the case for James Hogg’s Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. Published anonymously in 1824, the first part of the novel is the narrative of an “editor” about the “justified sinner” the title speaks of, and the second part is a personal narrative from the “sinner”: Robert Wringhim.

This split focus allows two different perspectives on a series of events, namely a murder, which are subjective among the community because no one knows what really happened. Robert acts innocent, and some people believe him, but the two witnesses to the murder campaign against Robert. Not only does it work to reiterate Hogg’s theme that no single account of the truth is wholly truthful, but it also organizes information for readers so we can sort out for ourselves what actually happened in the novel. Such a useful structure plays into the book’s psychological thrill, as well as its gothic nature.

In the Editor’s account of the murders--particularly the murder of Robert Wringhim’s brother, George Colwan--Wringhim is rumored to be the murderer based on the account of two women. These women are suspicious of him and his counterpart, a man who says his name is Gil-Martin. The editor’s narrative gives a perspective that readers can contrast with Wringhim’s narrative.
Religion plays a large role in Private Memoirs because it is connected with greater themes in the novel: good versus evil and subjectivity versus objectivity. Hogg sets up an intriguing relationship between the hyper-religious, predestination-fanatic tendencies of Robert Wringhim and his adoptive father and the relaxed attitude or skepticism of Calvinism that George Colwan and his father possess.

This relationship is important as the novel continues into Robert’s narrative. A quick analysis of the title shows Robert’s perspective on himself: he is justified in all of his actions, including the things others perceive as sin, because he is a member of God’s elect. Robert’s narrative parades his self-righteous nature and heightens the psychological thrill of the novel.

Readers get a look inside Robert’s mind, and in the end, almost feel sympathetic toward Robert. Although he is self-righteous at the beginning, as he develops, he realizes that the slanted perspectives on the world and religion presented to him by his adoptive father and Gil-Martin have duped him. The split structure of the novel allows readers to get a well-rounded look at the story and how individual perspectives twist the truth to support their own worldviews.

In Robert’s narrative, a shepherd tells him a story with heavy Biblical imagery that leads him to question the nature of his companion, Gil-Martin. In the Editor’s narrative, the general feeling about Gil-Martin is that he is destructive, even evil. Hogg uses the imagery and allusion to the devil in the shepherd’s story to make Robert question Gil-Martin’s motives--as well as his own judgment.

Private Memoirs would not be whole without Hogg’s use of religion and without splitting the narratives to examine different perspectives of the same events. Robert’s views on religion shaped his misconstrued understanding of what is just. He believes he is justified, even through his sin, because he is one of God’s elect. This drives his narrative. However, the more secular view that does not support predestination drives the Editor’s narrative. These different religious views contrast one another and provide different perspectives on the plot.

Such elements truly make the story, and because the structure itself supports the themes of the story, Hogg creates a collection of accounts that readers can use to decide for themselves what actually happened, even if we can’t trust the individual accounts within.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars DON"T MISS THIS CLASSIC 1 Oct 2011
By James L. Woolridge - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
AN AMAZING BOOK. How can this book be over looked so long? Don't let it continue! Read this book from 1824 and be blown away. THE PRIVATE MEMOIRS AND CONFESSIONS OF A JUSTIFIED SINNER is classified as Scottish Romanticism...what it is is a dark tale of a serial killer, dark and modern in its creepiness. I think you will greatly enjoy the book.
4.0 out of 5 stars A Gothic attack on self-righteousness 7 April 2014
By Steven Davis - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The novel begins with an "editor's introduction" that tells of a Scots family in the early 18th century. A fun-loving laird unwisely takes a puritanical young bride. The couple never reconcile their differences and eventually separate, but not before the birth of two sons. The elder, George, is a fine and cheerful lad, the image of his doting father. The younger, Robert, bears his mother's dour temperament (and a close resemblance to her Calvinist minister). The two boys are raised separately, finally coming into contact as young men. Their meeting is followed by a series of tragic murders, disappearances, and mysterious phenomena.

After this framing narrative comes the body of the work, the "sinner's" memoir, which tells the story over again from the perspective of one of its characters.

Key to the work is the Calvinist idea of predestination, which holds that divine grace rather than good works is the key to salvation. The author, without delving into theological concepts, deplores the self-righteousness of those who deem themselves among the saved and think this gives them license to despise others.

The Confessions is a gothic novel in its use of mystery, suspense and the supernatural. It is quite gripping at times, and very entertaining. It's also quite refreshing to find an author of that era who, instead of deploring the dissolute lifestyle of the libertine, prefers it to the priggish arrogance of the self-righteous.
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