“With regard to the work itself, I dare not venture a judgment, for I do not understand it.”
Welcome to the Gothic Lit Classics Circuit tour! Make sure to go and visit the Classics Circuit blog to find more posts for this tour, as well as information for upcoming tours.
I was really excited when this tour was announced. For one, I am not a big "scary book" fan, so this was a great opportunity to read something out of my element. And two, it would also give me the opportunity to read something NOT on my list of classics.
After looking at the suggestions on the sign-up post, I did some searching online to find something obscure. Call me crazy, but I really wanted to go outside the box and pick something I had never heard of. It was between this title and Jane Talbot by Charles Brockden Brown. I decided on this one for length, and because no one else chose it! (sue me, I wanted to be different).
I am glad that I went with this one. Published in 1824, the novel was originally published anonymously. Even though Hogg (based on what I've read) was well-known, he was a little unsure of whether he wanted to place his name on it. It was a book that wasn't received all that well at the time, but has gradually gained a readership over time.
I found my copy of the novel through Project Gutenberg and read it in its entirety on Homer (my NookColor). Without a physical copy of a book I was so unsure of, I had no idea what to expect from the novel.
It starts out normal enough-with a great deal of back story into the characters' lives and an eerie mood from the beginning. It begins with the marriage of Rabina to George Colwan. Rabina isn't too thrilled with her marriage...and quite frankly, she isn't a fun lady. she disapproves of her husband's drinking and partying and soon she mentally checks out of the marriage. She does have a son with George, and they name him after his father. She also has another son, while married to George, that she names Robert. Robert is rumored to be the son of the preacher in town...so of course, that causes a lot of tension.
Robert is raised by his "supposed" father and never meets his brother until he is older. Robert is very intense in his religion, and throughout the beginning of the novel, the reader doesn't really understand who he is or why he does the things he does. He believes, fervently, that only some are allowed into heaven. He feels, in some way, that it is his duty to get rid of those who are unworthy. So when he finally does meet his brother, he is arrogant, angry, and absolutely insane.
He begins to stalk his brother, which obviously freaks George out. He makes attempts on George's life. Then George winds up dead.
This is where the novel gets interesting. For the first section of the book, we are merely observers. We are along with Robert as he hunts and stalks his brother throughout the countryside. We watch as Rabina acts like an idiot to her new husband. Then George is dead and we are drawn into the mind of Robert.
It is an awkward and horrible place to be. Robert descends into a kind of madness. He has delusions that cause him to do things to others. As an observer and realizing what sane and normal humans do, the reader is kind of at a loss as to how to understand Robert's mind. On one hand, I thought he was just plain crazy. But on the other....
Hogg makes Robert an interesting character, and maybe even understandable. Because where George was given opportunity as the proclaimed son of a Duke, Robert was shepherded away as something awkward and uncomfortable. His illegitimacy probably had some kind of impact on his mind...
And then Gil-Martin appears. Gil-Martin is either Robert's other personality, or just a doppelganger that arrives to mess things up. Robert's thoughts continue to get jumbled and mess up until you just don't know WHO Robert is and what exactly he had done. The end leaves you scratching your head in wonder.
I really, really enjoyed this. It was far more than a "scary" title. Instead, it offered a lot to think about in regards to upbringing, family, and the real meaning of insanity. I like that the whole story was unclear. As a reader, I wasn't quite sure who I was supposed to be rooting for. Was Robert the hero? I don't think so...but then again, I'm not quite sure.
My one critique of the novel is the beginning. It sets a slow pace. for the first 60-75 pages, I wasn't sure where the "gothic" element was. I mean, I was at a wedding with Rabina and old George, then muddled through description of their unhappy marriage...I wanted murder!
But when the action finally hits, it HITS. You can't help but be fascinated by what Robert "does" and his descent into, well, madness. It is creepy, entertaining, and very well-done.
I can see why this one may not have been a hit with the audiences of Hogg's age. It is an uncomfortable kind of novel-one that doesn't leave you with any warm fuzzies or any feeling of understanding. Instead, it causes you to question sanity and what it means to have a grip on life. It is more of a psychological thriller, which is why is more familiar today than it was when it was originally published.
So, if in the future you are looking for a creepy and disturbing look into a man's mind, look no further than Hogg's The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, even if the title drives you crazy because it is just way too long. :)
**I do want to point out that I skimmed over much of what happens in the novel. I mean, I could have gone heavy duty into the spoilers, but I really don't want to ruin what happens by getting too specific. There is a lot more depth than what i covered here (I didn't even tough on the religious fanaticism that takes over a great deal of the writing). So go enjoy it for yourself at some point!**
Also, be sure to visit the Classics Circuit to find more reviews of other Gothic type novels, and to watch out for future tours!