The idea of the Confessions being found in a grave and then sent for reading and publication to a publisher in Edinburgh is a device that has been used again and again by those looking to use a literary device that distances the voice from the present.
Hogg uses it with masterly skill to allow Robert to speak beyond the grave to paint a picture of a young man manipulated because of his ignorance and religious arrogance. The idea that God could condone killing sinners is one that takes its time to work through Robert’s mind, but with the shape-shifting friend Gil-Martin, who he becomes to rely on more and more, it is an idea that finally takes hold.
Once it takes hold those that get in the way of the plans of the pair to enact some sort of revenge on George and his family are destroyed or die through heart break and despair. There are times when Robert seems to be aware he has made some sort of pact with a dangerous individual but by convincing himself his friend is the Tsar of Russia he allows himself to get in deeper.
By the time the scales have fallen from his eyes and he is aware of the reality it is too late and his attempts to escape the devil lead him ultimately into despair and death.
The postscript about the attempts of the narrator and friends to verify the events of the confession has a creepy realism to it that would influence other Gothic style writers.
A book that for its time was a masterpiece and one that in 2009 still has the ability to shock, disturb and entertain.
A review will follow soon…
This book was kindly sent to me with an accompanying note describing it as one of the most important works in literature. I have to start this post by confessing no previous reading of this book but within a very short number of paragraphs you are under Hoggs’s spell of great writing but also a wonderful imagination.
What amazes you about the book is the time this story of angels, devils and demons was written. This would have been put together when presumably to write some of the things about good and evil was sailing very close to the wind. Not just because the readership would have been a lot more devout and would recognise a world where demons existed but also because the church, which held more power in the early 1800s, was not a lame target to aim for.
In a book of two parts, The Editor’s Narrative then the Confessions, it makes sense to split the reading into two parts.
The Editor’s Narrative sets up a story of two brothers brought up in different households with very different spiritual values.
The Wringhim brothers, George and Robert, are on the one hand a non-religious man into leisure and self-satisfaction and the other as a result of growing up under the director mentorship of a very religious man comes out as some sort of pseudo-monk come evangelical.
He sets his heart at destroying his brother’s world and starts innocently enough but ends with murder. Quite why he does all these actions is not quite clear but you suspect the influence of devilry.
A world of wealth and religious piety is painted so clearly by Hogg that you can walk round the world he paints with great ease. Although the idea of devils and angels might seem slightly alien to a modern readership you are never in any doubt about the belief held by Robert or those around him.