The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner

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This book has been haunting me since student days. It has been an influence on Scottish literature and certainly on my own Inspector Rebus stories Very little is what it seems in this complex novel A psychological horror story, this also works as a novel of stalking, grooming, and serial killing. James Hogg's great novel is set in eighteenth-century Edinburgh, a city of night and shadow, of lurking eavesdroppers and invisible pursuers, of gloomy wynds and crepuscular crannies. The novel splits and doubles itself, its themes, and its characters: two texts, one following the other, are written from two different points of view; narrating the same terrible story, they contradict each other here and there, forming an asymmetrical diptych, all the more compelling for its discordancy and conflicts.

Most probably, Mr. Mullion will fall into a state of utter insensibility in a couple of hours. Convulsions may follow, and then—death.


The Shepherd. Deevil the fears. For he, like the Shepherd and the Opium-Eater, is a character created for a textual world, embodied in print, not flesh. Hogg and the Shepherd share some key characteristics geographic origin, occupations, politics, to name a few but they are not identical.

James Hogg - The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824)

To fully understand the literary and cultural significance of the Shepherd, one needs to examine not only to whom the Shepherd refers, but where the Shepherd lives. In his novel The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner , Hogg moves the Shepherd from his original periodical realm and into a different, hyper-virtual landscape, revealing the limits of meaning making in a literary culture that is highly invested in the rapid production and consumption of personalities in print.

While reading the Shepherd as an avatar may seem, on its surface, too anachronistic to be productive, the Shepherd functions as an antecedent of modern virtual phenomena that in fact offers a unique opportunity to gain traction in a markedly slippery field: the history of reading. Analyzing the Shepherd as an avatar in our present sense has the potential to offer modern-day readers a unique, experiential knowledge of the context within which Romantic-era readers would have read Sinner context being an essential component of any investigation of reading history.

In the case of Hogg, this context serves not simply as background to his texts but instead as a potent environment in and of itself—one that exists in a dynamic relationship with readers and with the texts they consumed.

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The notorious difficulty of Sinner , I will argue, is not due to the discord between readers and the text on a narrative level alone, but also to the ways in which the novel pushes the limits of the synthetic textual realms created by the media of Romantic-era Edinburgh. And thus, in turn, Sinner becomes a pivotal text for illuminating the dynamic interplay of virtual and real environments in Romantic media culture, as well as a lesson for current-day readers of Romanticism. In re-appropriating the Ettrick Shepherd and putting him in the pages of a novel, Hogg can be seen as a forward-thinking figure who attempted to manipulate a virtual world of texts that, for all of its play with human identity, is still embedded in a material world—a phenomenon familiar to users of modern social media.

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Present-day avatars exist across a range of software platforms, most conspicuously in social media and gaming, and take a wide variety of forms. One of the most popular but by no means lone social environments within which avatars exist is Second Life, an Internet-based synthetic world launched by Linden Lab in To live a virtual life is not, however, to live a life wholly divorced from the material world.

As Steven E.

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Platforms such as Second Life, or the even more popular Facebook, do not uncouple human subjectivity from bodily constraints so much as provide an additional layer of identification with which others may interact. The inseparability of this layer of metadata and actual persons is made apparent in Second Life in a number of ways. First, the manipulation of a mouse or keyboard is necessary in order to create and maneuver an avatar Jones For example, the Educational Support Management Group manufactures structures within Second Life designed specifically for use by writing tutors at colleges and universities.

These are only a few examples of how the user-generated content that exists in Second Life and other Web 2. Avatars account for some of these objects, which, given the nature of the Internet, enjoy a marked durability.

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Even though the data that marks the avatar is ostensibly about the user, the owner of the Internet server upon which that avatar resides is the ultimate steward of that data and any of its derivatives. In this way, the alternate dimensions of existence offered by Web 2.

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These objects, in turn, interact with other objects within an ever-expanding synthetic landscape. It is important to recognize, however, the extent to which these virtual objects depend on some measure of material existence in order to be sustained.

The Shepherd replies that he does not dream when he sleeps but enjoys visions of poetic genius while awake:. His description is governed by detailed verisimilitude that speaks to his identity as a Scotsman, shepherd, hunter, and writer. Yet the scene is marked by so many bits of data that refer back to Hogg, his writing, and the actual terrain of Scotland that even though it is an imagined scene within an imagined realm, its meaning is bound to what readers would have known about Hogg and his identity in the material world: chiefly, his nationality and his occupations as shepherd and poet.

Like the periodical itself, which relies on the circulation of printed text, the construction of avatars creates the potential for conflicts that are invested in material attachment—such as when the persons to whom avatars are attached are uncomfortable with their virtual representation.

But in addition, it seems appropriate to read Sinner as a unique, responsive literary form designed to cultivate a new relation to the virtual realm for real-world readers as well. Thus the Editor casts himself as a historian who has researched the plight of the Colwan family and who is offering us an alternate and ostensibly more authoritative version of the events that will be described by Wringhim, the author of the manuscript that follows. The precise nature of Gil-Martin as a character is unclear.

One of the young men seized the rope and pulled by it, but the old enchantment of the devil remained,--it would not break; and so he pulled and pulled at it, till behold the body came up into a sitting posture, with a broad blue bonnet on its head, and its plain around it, as fresh as the day it was laid in!

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg - Free Ebook

I never heard of preservation so wonderful, if it be true as was related to me, for still I have not had the curiosity to go and view the body myself. When Hogg is denied access to the synthetic world of the magazine, he creates a synthetic world in a novel and, via his letter to the Editor, creates the means by which the Shepherd may be transported. This transport is not entirely successful, however, because, as we have seen, an avatar is not so much a singular entity as a series of iterations. As several critics of the novel have noted, Sinner is a difficult read.