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Confessions of a Justified Sinner

0140431985.02.LZZZZZZZ.jpgWe are no longer naive enough to believe in an evil force that could manipulate our actions and cause our damnation.  I fear that some readers may not bother to venture past that last sentence, and may think impatiently to themselves what other fringe topics divert my attention (there are indeed others).  Malevolence in the human soul is considered by many theologians to be the wage of weakness and indulgence, of giving in to the primeval, selfish and often highly destructive desires that besiege us from all corners of our fallen world.  Yet we should not forget that while evil may or may not involve free will, it is necessarily an active force.  It cannot exist in a vacuum, nor lack an object upon which it may direct its action; in other words, if you were alone on a desert isle, you could not be evil.  You may injure or mutilate yourself, or subject your body and mind to deprivation and fatigue, but could you be justly charged with anything more than self–loathing or masochism?  To inflict woe you need another soul or another body, which brings us to this lesser-known masterpiece.

You will be surprised to learn, as was I, that the author became literate at a rather late age.  The only advantage of such a delay is the chance to devote oneself to a mastery of the colloquial language quite out of sorts with a school education, as well as an intimate knowledge of the objects of a bookless life.  Obviously, reading and writing are so essential to the development of the soul that it is hard to imagine an existence without their joys.  But sometimes, in rare cases of outstanding genius, one will find a mind that has been broadened not shrunk by its lack of exposure, dimensions which then increase exponentially once pen and paper are befriended.  Hogg’s interspersion of Scots dialect is not forced.  This is, one assumes, exactly the tone and delivery that these characters would have used.  That does not prevent it, however, from becoming somewhat of an annoyance and something gladly skipped in favor of Hogg’s magnificent normal style.  Look at how a street brawl comes to life in his able hands:
The unnumbered alleys on each side of the street had swallowed up the multitude in a few seconds; but from these they were busy reconnoitring; and, perceiving the deficiency in the number of their assailants, the rush from both sides of the street was as rapid, and as wonderful, as the disappearance of the crowd had been a few minutes before.  Each close vomited out its levies, and these better armed with missiles than when they sought it for a temporary retreat.  Woe then to our two columns of victorious Whigs! 
To the modern ear this style goes above the rich conversational language that contemporary writers use and which, unless the writer is staggeringly talented, tends to commix with plain talk.  Hogg is rehearsing the battle for a soul, split as it were in half.  Following these guidelines, the book folds into two parts: the first describes events mysterious and sinister in nature with no immediate explanation; the second part details a horrible alliance.
The soul in question belongs to Robert Wringhim Colwan, the adopted son of a Scottish clergyman and a beautiful if tortured youth.  The title tells us that he will fall hard upon the materialist wickedness of the world, but to what degree he has repented, if repentance is at all an option, makes us read on.  Robert has a halfsibling, George, and it is a dark day when Robert becomes his brother's shadow and keeper.   He lurches in his proximity at every corner and stretch of the gloomy, dour Edinburgh streets until George cannot believe that a mortal could know all his moments and move with such alacrity.  Soon enough, he is provoked into crime, or that is at least what the first narrative states plainly while hinting otherwise.  Then something even worse happens to George, and Robert is, well, somehow both implicated and perfectly alibied.  Yet when Mrs. Logan (the helpmeet of George's father) and Mrs. Calvert (a prostitute) travel to the country:
Mrs. Calvert sat silent, and stared the other mildly in the face.  Their looks encountered, and there was an unearthly amazement that gleamed from each, which, meeting together, caught real fire, and returned the flame to their heated imaginations, till the two associates became like two statues, with their hands spread, their eyes fixed, and their chops fallen down upon their bosoms.  An old woman who kept the lodging-house, having been called in before when Mrs. Logan was faintish, chanced to enter at this crisis with some cordial; and, seeing the state of her lodgers, she caught the infection, and fell into the same rigid and statue-like appearance. 
What they saw precisely will not be revealed here.  But the novel's second half has sufficient data to spin a thick web of conjecture around these events, if these were really events to begin with and not the ravings of a mad mind.  I would guess that many readers will find the second half too drawn out, each step too ponderous, each stride overextended.  I would also guess that immediate gratification of the type found in popular novels of the supernatural eschews suspense for horror, and deprives the reader of the most terrifying of all revelations:  an evil that knows no bounds and which seems to grow larger the more one knows of it.  This is the quandary of Robert Wringhim, a wretched youth who has little of the hero in him and much of the jackal.  It is here that we realize that the title is not meant to evoke pity, but is taken in all seriousness, and we shudder at the consequences.

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