Thursday, 28 July 2005

Still Relevant!

"[...] Religion is a sublime and glorious thing, the bonds of society on earth, and the connector of humanity with the Divine nature; but there is nothing so dangerous to man as the wresting of any of its principles, or forcing them beyond their due bounds: this is of all others the readiest way to destruction. Neither is there anything so easily done. There is not an error into which a man can fall which he may not press Scripture into his service as proof of the probity of [...]"

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of A Justified Sinner, (1824), James Hogg, The Cresset Press, 1947, pp 119-120.

I am the proud owner of the 1947 edition of this book which has an introduction by André Gide. This is what, together with the title, I must confess, originally attracted me to the book when I saw it in my favorite second hand bookshop. It turns out to be a good hunch on several levels. I bought my copy for £3. Abebooks shows some people are ready to pay as much as £45 for one.

More importantly, I am rather enjoying the book. It seems all rather serious but the hints of the gothic that pepper the novel and its light hearted tone make it is a surprisingly good read for an early 19c novel which, let's face it, can often be a bit dour. The style, although slightly archaic, is also very powerful and energetic. It has a very contemporary feel to it, strangely enough. Just as contemporary, in view of the recent bombings in London, is the criticism made by the book of religious extremism and of how religion can so easily get out of hand. Something should also be said about its unusual structure. The book is divided in two parts. First what is called The Editor's Narrative which basically tells us the big picture from an outside perspective. The second part are The Private Memoirs and Confessions themselves where we get into the protagonist's head.

Having just read Under The Skin by Michael Faber, having just seen Morven Callar and thinking about Ian Banks' Wasp Factory, I have been wondering what it is with Scottish writers and by extension the Scotts that make them come up with sucweirdrnarrativeses. The lack of sunlight? What I took for a modern, slightly trendy streak seems to be part of much longer tradition than I expected. This books telling the story of a religious extremist who thinks he can sin in all impunity because he is amongst God'chosenen, a forefather of the above mentioned, doesn't do much talleviatete my concern for the Caledonian psyche.
A very unusual piece of work even by modern standards; worth checking out if only for curiosity's sake.

Full text available here.

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