This week has been all about The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, and Amateur Reader’s challenge format has been great fun. Everyone should play along! I’m certainly looking forward to more of the clishmaclaver as the year progresses. In case you’ve missed anything:
I got under way with a brief introduction to the novel
Amateur Reader began with some excellent questions about Calvinists and incentives I took a long look at the devil, or someone very like him, and suggested we might actually take the editor at his word AR ran with it and explored the possibilities of nonfiction embedded in fiction I got down to the predestination question Then threw in some healthy Scotch common sense to round out the week AR found the Broken Specter at Arthur’s Seat
Good comments abound. Thanks very much to my gracious host for his crazy idea, and I hope you all enjoyed our havering. (Well, mine at least, and his erudite commentary.)
James Hogg was a bit of a country mouse, who barely went to school and worked as a shepherd in addition to writing in both English and Scots. He doesn’t leave his fellow country folk out of The Private Memoirs and Confessions, which includes several scenes of dialogue between the English-speaking gentry and their Scots-speaking compatriots.
When Mrs. Colwan runs away from her impious new husband, her Scots-speaking father slyly punishes her to “make the sight of the laird the blithest she ever saw in her life.” This is a good introduction to the type: the man is both cunning and straightforward; uncomplicated and sophisticated; coarse and smart.
Many of these dialogues involve the servants of the main actors of the story. After the deaths of George and the laird, Mrs. Logan is robbed, and her maid called to testify regarding the stolen goods. Bessy Gillies is wonderfully stubborn about a radical, Scottish-enlightenment-style skepticism that prevents her from saying for sure whether the items in evidence belong to her mistress. And that, in turn, gives Mrs. Logan an advantage she failed to gain through her own more genteel speeches.
Both those scenes are from the first editor’s narrative. In the memoir, Wringhim’s first encounter with a Scots-speaker is with his adoptive father’s servant John Barnet. Barnet doesn’t think of much of the snivelling young Wringhim, and eventually makes his point in wonderfully colorful terms:
‘There he goes! sickan sublime and ridiculous sophistry I never heard come out of another mouth but ane. There needs nae aiths to be sworn afore the session wha is your father, young goodman. I ne’er, for my part, saw a son sae like a dad, sin’my een first opened.’
Barnet is well aware of, and not afraid to state, the obvious, while Wringhim is living
Continue reading “It is the crownhead o’ absurdity to tak in the havers o’ auld wives for gospel.”
John Carey’s introduction to my Oxford World’s Classics edition of The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner cautions against the too-easy view that Hogg is simply a man of sense, against enthusiasm, and therefore writing a tract against the sort of fanatical Calvinism displayed by Wringhim.* How wrong is that view?
We’ll start within Wringhim’s memoir. He is extremely devout, spends much time in prayer, and believes completely in a doctrine of predestination that will likely cut most current readers off from his ethics and morality. Before finding out he is one of the elect, “…I lived in a hopeless and deplorable state of mind; for I said to myself, ‘If my name is not written in the book of life from all eternity, it is in vain for me to presume that either vows or prayers of mine, or those of all mankind combined, can ever procure its insertion now.’ …I went on sinning every hour….” Wringhim is very conscious of sinning and certainly believes himself depraved, but it’s just that depravity that prevents his doing anything about it. His beliefs also make it possible for him to openly confess his sins and discuss them with an unusually clear conscience:
I was particularly prone to lying, and I cannot but admire the mercy that has freely forgiven me all these juvenile sins. Now that I know them all to be blotted out, and that I am an accepted person, I may the more freely confess them: the truth is, that one lie always paved the way for another, from hour to hour, from day to day, and from year to year; so that I found myself constantly involved in a labyrinth of deceit, from which it was impossible to extricate myself.
But the reader is constantly reminded
Continue reading “some incoherent words about justification by faith alone, and absolute and eternal predestination having been the ruin of his house”
Gil-Martin can be most simply described as Robert Wringhim’s doppelgänger. Once he appears, he seems to show up wherever Wringhim is, or elsewhere in the form of Wringhim. Wringhim is well aware that his friend can change appearances to resemble those he is in company with, and he does so often. Wringhim himself has a very amusing idea of who Gil-Martin really is: King Peter the Great of Russia, incognito on his European tour. He conceives this idea based on the man’s apparent power and abilities and the impression that Gil-Martin rules over a realm of some kind, a realm full of Christians. Wringhim chooses to respect the King’s disguise and not mention his true identity, but several references to it make for comical errors.
Because by then we have two ideas about the real true identity of Gil-Martin: he is either Satan, or he is all in Wringhim’s head (or, of course, both).
He certainly acts just like we would expect Satan to act. One of the pair’s main activities together—other than serial killing—is arguing religious principles (also the favorite pastime of Robert’s mother and the elder Wringhim). According to the healthy Christian peasantry, this is just like Satan, who “had been often driven to the shift o’ preaching [Christanity] himsel, for the purpose o’ getting some wrang tenets introduced into it, and thereby turning it into blasphemy and ridicule.” The first time they meet, Wringhim pretends to dispute a point he really believes, “and said, that ‘indubitably there were degrees of sinning which would induce the Almighty to throw off the very elect.’ But behold my hitherto humble and modest companion took up the argument with such warmth, that he put me not only to silence, but to absolute shame.”
Anytime the two disagree or Wringhim
Continue reading Who is Gil-Martin?
This week begins with my contribution to the Wuthering Expectations Scottish Literature Reading Challenge and Clishmaclaver, James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. Amateur Reader is kindly reading along with me, so visit Wuthering Expectations for his posts as I spend the next three days with this delicious Scottish Gothic novel.
For lack of knowing better where to begin, I’ll start with the title. That “justified” is very important, but its meaning here is specialized and probably opaque to many. It’s the door to so much that is Scottish about the book. Robert Wringhim, the eponymous sinner, “was now a justified person, adopted among the number of God’s children—[his] name written in the Lamb’s book of life, and…no bypast transgression, nor any future act of [his] own, or of other men, could be instrumental in altering the decree.” Predestined to be saved through God’s grace and the atonement of Christ, Robert believes his sins will be forgiven no matter what. His memoirs and confessions form the middle of the novel, bookended by two “editor’s narratives” introducing and concluding his story.
Briefly, that story begins with the wedding of Robert’s parents, and ill-matched pair. His mother, a pious adherent of the strictest Calvinist doctrine, effects a separation from his father, a religiously casual laird, after just six months of marriage. She first delivers George, likely the product of the unhappy couple, who will be raised by his father. Later, she gives birth to Robert, suspected of being her minister’s son and largely raised by that man. Robert is a cunning and deceitful child, and after the minister’s pronouncement that Robert is one of the elect he begins to be visited by a mysterious personage who calls himself Gil-Martin. Persuaded by Gil-Martin of the antinomian
Continue reading The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg