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The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  7,468 ratings  ·  541 reviews
Set in early eighteenth-century Scotland, the novel recounts the corruption of a boy of strict Calvinist parentage by a mysterious stranger under whose influence he commits a series of murders. The stranger assures the boy that no sin can affect the salvation of an elect person. The reader, while recognizing the stranger as Satan, is prevented by the subtlety of the novel' ...more
Paperback, Oxford World's Classics, 272 pages
Published October 7th 1999 by Oxford University Press (first published 1824)
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J Chaix I wouldn't read ANY edition other than the original. There are "secrets" hidden in the form of the original book—which EVERY subsequent, and so-called…moreI wouldn't read ANY edition other than the original. There are "secrets" hidden in the form of the original book—which EVERY subsequent, and so-called "scholarly" edition has obliterated by not maintaing the form of the original. For example, consider the word "seventeen": it's a hapax legomenon, a word used only once in the entire book—precisely on page 17, in the phrase "nearly seventeen" (at the end of line 16). Read the original, otherwise you're missing more than half the book—and all of its significance.(less)

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Sean Barrs
I have no idea what this book is about. Nobody does. The narrative is so dense that it is impossible to make a solid interpretation of the events, but I shall try. I shall try to tell you why this book is so utterly excellent.

Perhaps the most obvious interpretation to start with is the religious angle. Robert, our sinner, has been claimed by Satan. The prince of destruction dominates his mind and controls his actions. The novel can be read as a didactical message about the dangers of a sinful m
Bill Kerwin

A "post-modernist" early 19th century Scottish novel featuring multiple narratives and at least one--possibly three--unreliable narrators, "Sinner" is a curious congeries of doppleganger tale, abnormal psychology, moral fable, anti-Calvinist satire, and historical fiction with a little comic relief thrown in.

Part of its attraction may come from its very strangeness, which in turn may be a result of the fact that Hogg is not completely in control of his material, but that in no way diminishes th
Jun 26, 2010 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: justified sinners everywhere
Recommended to Shovelmonkey1 by: 1001 books list
The 1001 books list says that this is "at once gothic comedy, religious horror story, mystery thriller and psychological study." Way to go James Hogg! Either this book is so deep and complex that no one can actually fathom enough of it to pigeon-hole it in a convincing manner, or it is in fact, everything it says on the tin.

Personally I saw this book as a good example of what might happen when you tell a lot of people that they have an unlimited get-out-of-hell-free card. The deal is this: you
Geneva Gothic by way of Glasgow
Calvinists on the Verge of a nervous breakdown

One of the great bad good books, or good bad books, one or the other, or even just maybe both. Nested unreliable narrators within a clumsy framing narrative or editorial seek to obscure, distance and add veracity to a horror story of sound theology unleashed. One of those books that like Janus looks forward as well as back and is more powerful in its potential to inspire than in it's ability to deliver on its own term
Oct 12, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An eerie Caledonian fable about religious dogmatism, which works simultaneously on dozens of levels – atmospheric, intellectual, generic, geographical – and all of them engaging. With its in-jokes, its metafictional structure and even a cheeky authorial self-insertion, it reads very much like something faked-up by Pynchon or Coover or some other contemporary experimentalist: a postmodern rewrite of Gothic Romance. But this is very much the original article.

The accoutrements of the genre are all
Anastasia Fitzgerald-Beaumont
So, what is the best Gothic novel ever written? For me there can only be one candidate: The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg, a nineteenth century Scottish poet and author. Hogg wrote it with a straight-forward intention: as a good macabre tale and as a satire on the Calvinist theology of his native Presbyterian church.

But with the passage of time more complex readings can be made; as an examination of a mind on the brink of collapse or, perhaps more import, es
Paul Bryant
Dec 19, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: novels

What a strange unpleasant unique difficult novel. There are a lot of solid reviews of this already, and everybody liked this a whole lot more than me, so I should be clear – it was a two star reading experience but it’s a five star literary artifact.


The first seventy pages of “Editor’s Narrative” giving the facts of the sad case of a Scottish murder between two brothers was funny, jovial and zippy. But the next 140 pages of the murderer’s confessio
This book was written in 1824. Why I mention this is because it does take a while to adjust to the vernacular of the text. I can't say I was enthralled with the book. This book is about Robert, who we know is the murderer of the story. The purpose of the book is to show how Robert became who he was and who influenced him to such a degree. This book revolves around religious fanaticism and how your beliefs can lead you down strange paths.
I read this book for an upcoming course I will be taking i
J.G. Keely
I came across Hogg through his interactions with de Quincey, and so I grabbed his most notable work from Project Gutenberg, expecting another 'Opium Eater' about some clever reprobate's adventures through the Victorian. If you know anything about this book, then you can imagine my shock and wonder at discovering the story it actually contains.

It begins simply enough, as a witty picaresque set in Scotland and making some mockery of self-righteousness and Calvinist pre-destination in particular. B
May 09, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2021
Such a strange book! The whole story is essentially told twice. The first time by an editor who states what happens between the Colwan brothers. The elder, George recognised by his father, the laird; the younger, Robert brought up by his mother and the rabid Reverend Wringhim. Then the second section of the book is the confessions of Robert. The story is doubled because doubles are part of the plot, Roberts friend Gil-Martin who may or may not be the devil or a demon, and he’s often a double for ...more
This book opens with an anonymous Editor offering a 70-page Narrative, the story of what happened here. He tells it slyly, almost as if the humor and skewerings in the telling were unintentional. It's a Cain and Abel tale, a fratricide.

This segues into the Private Memoirs and Confessions of the killer, who indeed fancies himself a Justified Sinner. Something on the order of the Devil made me do it. It is nothing less than a descent into madness.

The Editor re-appears briefly at the end, explaini
Sep 21, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Who is he that causeth the mole, from his secret path of darkness, to throw up the gem, the gold, and the precious ore?

Hogg should be better remembered. Justified Sinner is a dark revelation, one less gothic than psychological. The novel is a headbirth which ignores Lewis/Walpole/Radcliff and instead Babadooks from a nascent emotional realism, one like Fyodor's magic door where everything is tinged yellow and seizures lead to murder. Speaking of crows, I heartily endorse the subtext as being an
Feb 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed, 1800-1900
I felt as one round whose body a deadly snake is twisted, which continues to hold him in its fangs, without injuring him, farther than in moving its scaly infernal folds with exulting delight, to let its victim feel to whose power he has subjected himself ….

Hogg’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner is one of those works that was experimental at the time it was published, and still reads as pretty experimental almost two hundered years on (it was published in 1824). This is late-Gothic at its most
Lynne King
This book was, well, utterly boring. I actually fell asleep on two occasions whilst reading it. If you suffer from sleeping problems, I highly recommend this book. A book the likes of which will not be repeated, I hope!
David Sarkies
Dec 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: People who like Gothic Horror
Recommended to David by: Jasmine
Shelves: dark
The dark side of Predestination

I first discovered this book when I was perusing the shelf of a friend of mine from university and the title literally jumped out at me. The first thought that went through my mind was 'wow, this seems to be a good, whole hearted, Christian book' and asked her if I could borrow it. She kindly lent it to me, but I never go to finish it because after a week she asked for it back (having assumed that I have finished reading it, which I hadn't). Anyway, that was the l
Apr 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ranting Scottish religious fundamentalist goes a bit bonkers and it all ends in tears. An early book with different viewpoints presented as "found" papers. A few in-jokes, a bit of murder, and some self righteous godbothering. Or is it a study of the descent into mental illness? A bit of work for the modern reader at times but well worth the effort. ...more
May 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I was predestined and ordained from the beginning of time to love this book.
Apr 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: recently-read
I found this totally addictive and read it in two sittings. He's not the writer Scott was, nevertheless I found the style and tone to be highly readable. In fact, I thought his coarser style was more appealing in many ways.
By turns sinister, terrifying, amusing, fanatical, complex, simple,realistic, supernatural, ludicrous, coarse, lyrical,poetic...All combining to make a wonderful read.
Although not always my cup of tea in novels, I found the multiple narratives to be hugely interesting and enli
Jun 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, classics
This is the first reading experience I have ever had that would have been enhanced by having a church organ belt out some thunderous riffs every now and again in the background.

Published in 1824, and rediscovered in the 1940s when it must have seemed incredibly apt, The novel is a fascinating mixture between gothic novel, crime story, psychological thriller, and study of religious fanaticism. Actually to call it a mixture is to do the book a rank disservice, its more of a multi- layered gem. Tw
140220: second reading. years (decades...) after first, so i knew what i was getting, as this is one of the first sort of postmodern works i read, or maybe metafiction. at any rate, it is narrative within narrative, genres deliberately confusing from fiction to non, supernatural to psychological, repetition of plot from multiple points of view, radically unreliable first person, no comfort in resolution of first history, at close of deluded confessions, or much later in uncertain publication... ...more
Thing Two
Don't wring him, Wringhim.

Someone is saying prayers for me,
The grace I earn I never see,
In all things he do, I interferes,
All I know is trouble as soon as he appears.

Mister Wringhim, Mister Wringhim, Mister Wringhim. I'm gonna wring him.

When I say my prayers my character changes,
My whole mind and body rearranges,
This strange transformation takes place in me,
Instead of myself everybody can see...

Mister Wringhim, Mister Wringhim, Mister Wringhim. I'm gonna wring him.

When you see my brother, make s
Tristram Shandy
Cloven Hooves in Goody-Two-Shoes

It was thanks to one of my Goodreads friends’ reviews that I came across James Hogg’s disturbing novel The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, which was published anonymously in 1824 and which can be read as a warning against religious fanaticism – were it not for the difficult language, it should therefore belong to the set books of our schools – but which is much more than that.

The Private Memoirs tells the story of the fervent and utterly sel
Moon Rose
Jun 11, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, 2011-shelf

Predestination is an infallible and rigid belief that God has irrevocably preordained the eternal salvation of some and the condemnation of the rest of mankind. For the elected few whose salvation has already been guaranteed, no past or future transgression could wobble its validity, nor any situation could alter its mandate.

This seemingly amorphous doctrine in Christian theology is from the teachings of St. Augustine of Hippo and of Calvin and James Hogg elucidates this
One of the most bizarre and compelling books I've ever read. I can't wait to write about it--academically, rather than for fun. That said, I won't waste too much of my time reviewing it here.

This much you should know: three times, you hear the story of Robert Wringhim and his parents, and each telling is different. No teller is impartial, and each version of the events varies greatly. Few things are certain by the end of the novel. Only one thing, I would think, remains certain--absolute faith i
Czarny Pies
Oct 16, 2014 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Fans of early crime or gothic fiction
Recommended to Czarny by: Ian Rankin
Shelves: english-lit
This is a great Calvinist, horror, thriller, detective story, melodrama. It will be a great delight to anyone interested in the history of either detective or horror fiction. Unfortunately, I do not fall into either category and so somewhat churlishly only give it three.

Add one or two stars to my rating if you think the genre itselfis interesting. Ian Rankin loved this book and I think he is a source that any crime fiction fan could trust.
Dec 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
This was a bit of a slog for a book that’s only 180 pages long, mostly because chunks of it are written in Auld Scots vernacular and, even as a native, I had to read it out loud in order to hear what it said because it was tricky to follow with the eye alone. Moreover, the plain prose sections are written in the ponderous style typical of the 19th century which just goes to show how much our everyday speech idiom has changed in 150 years. So, a bit slow-going all round.

That said, it’s a cracking
God's chosen few...

When George Colwan, Laird of Dalcastle, takes a much younger bride, the marriage is doomed from the beginning. The Laird is a fun-loving, hard-drinking, party animal – the bride, Rabina, holds extreme religious views of the Calvinist variety. She despises him; he is disappointed in her. Remarkably, despite this, they manage to produce two sons. The first, George, will grow up to be the apple of his father's eye. The younger, Robert, bears an uncanny resemblance to Rabina's clo
Mar 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I first read this at university, but decided that it was long past time to reread it. In the first few pages, I couldn't see why it had made such a strong impression on me. But by the end of the "Editor's Notes", I'd remembered. And there's so much about it that I'd forgotten - especially the latter part of it. So a rare star upgrade from my original rating.

It tells the story of a 'justified' sinner, who believes he's already one of God's elect on Earth, and therefore his place in Heaven is alre
DeAnna Knippling
A religious man, assured of his salvation by a hypocrite, partakes of evil. But is the evil straight from the devil, or a product of his own deranged mind?

This was sophisticated and compelling, a frame story surrounding the diary of a Calvinist spoiled brat, completely convinced that he can do no wrong. What is real is difficult to suss out, but as his life collapses around him, he refuses humility and friendship. What need has he of those things? He is already saved.

The ending is a wink and a n
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James Hogg was a Scottish poet, novelist and essayist who wrote in Scots and English. As a young man he worked as a shepherd and farmhand, and was largely self-educated through reading. He was a friend of many of the great writers of his day, including Sir Walter Scott, of whom he later wrote an unauthorized biography. He became widely known as the "Ettrick Shepherd", a nickname under which some o ...more

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