Scary Stories 1: The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg

“To the wicked, all things are wicked; but to the just, all things are just and right… How delightful to think that a justified person can do no wrong!” — from The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner

This Gothic, psychological mystery created quite a stir in it’s time.  Booed by critics for it’s strange genre (it was an early attempt at crime fiction), James Hogg (1770-1835) initially published the book anonymously, even though he was a great author at the time.

In Hogg’s early life he was poor and only learned to read by the generosity his employer at the time, who lent him many books. He is now famous for his writings on Scottish life, which are used by historians today to help them recreate a time lost.

When Hogg published Justified Sinner in 1824, it was reviewed by no one and almost forgotten, forever.  However, In 1924 it was found by a French writer who helped to bring modern acclaim that the book still holds today. This French writer, Andre Gide, is quoted as saying about Justified Sinner: “It is long since I can remember being so taken hold of, so voluptuously tormented by any book.”

Summary: The novel is divided into three sections, giving the reader several ways of understanding the story and the psychology of the madman. The first section is a factual summary of events as they exist in local tradition and folklore. The second section is the confessions of the fanatical Robert Wringhim. The short final section is the unearthing of Wringhim’s remains by a group of writers and the discovery of the shocking confessions that were buried with him.

When I read this book I did feel the same, slightly tormented, but I would describe it more as an unease.  With a lot of religious overtones (and undertones of Atheism), it does feel ‘preachy’ at times. However, this is always interrupted with an unknown devil-like character that causes all the trouble in the novel.

The main reason why this novel made me feel uneasy was it’s crazy host of characters and perhaps reading from the perception of a mad-man; a serial killer in training (and being trained by the devil himself, no less).  Your heart goes out to all the characters they torture and kill, and the only relief is the mysterious light on the hill at the end of the novel.  Was it an angel, or was it this now scientifically explained play of light on moisture:


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