Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Sinner Manuscript, Continued
Samuel continued his story of the village of Auchtermuchty, where a man came and preached in a way that thrilled the inhabitants. Only one man, Robin Ruthven, was disturbed and claimed he was the devil. No one believed him, but during the sermon Robin pulled the man’s robe up and everyone saw the cloven feet.
Robert listened to this and did not believe Samuel’s insinuation that Gil-Martin was actually the devil, but he still realized he was having trouble doing what the Lord would want him to do. Gil-Martin noticed that he was pulling away and became intolerable.
Robert was scared of the witness attached to his brother’s murder, and his time at Dalcastle was becoming onerous. One day Samuel told him he better fly because his mother and the young woman’s bodies had been found. The howling mob of the locals would tear him to pieces. Samuel said it was Robert’s friend who had made the discovery.
At that moment Gil-Martin entered; Robert spoke to him bitterly, but Gil-Martin said it was time for him to save Robert’s life. He gave him different garb and Robert was able to escape. As he left he saw the two dead bodies on boards, and actually felt a strange sense of pleasure. He turned and looked back at Dalcastle, though, and ruminated on how his time there had been miserable and filled with terror.
Having little money, he had to beg charity from people. He stayed with a weaver who was hostile to him, wondering if he was the wretch that killed all those people. Robert worried that Gil-Martin had given him up. The weaver locked him up, and when he awoke he was startled to see that the garb Gil-Martin had given to him was replaced by his own clothing that people knew he had been wearing. He asked the weaver where the other clothing went, but the man did not know. Robert also became entangled in the threads of the looms and the weaver beat him cruelly. His wife urged him to stop, but they both were disturbed when they realized the weapon they’d locked up the night before was missing too.
Robert left, hungry, lame, and depressed. He had little money and nowhere to go. His only friend was now a menace to him. He stayed at another place, and called himself Elliot. His roommate was Linton, and worked for the printing house of Mr. James Watson. Robert got a job there and decided to ask Mr. Watson if he could publish his journal and memoirs, which he had recently had the idea to begin. He told him that it was a religious parable like Pilgrim’s Progress.
Robert pauses and says he now has to wrap up his narrative. It becomes a diary format.
He mourned the loss of his manuscript, for his Linton came home and told him the devil came to the printing house and the men were frightened. Mr. Watson heard and looked at the manuscript and was stunned by what he saw. Robert asked Linton if he actually thought the devil had called for him, and Linton described the man as gentlemanly and a foreigner.
Miserable and horrified, Robert took the only handwritten copy of his work and left town. He headed for England, and took up residence at a yeoman’s house along the way. There he experienced scenes of terror when the horses on the farm became monstrously affrighted, and a dark intruder came on the premises in the night. Robert was forced to leave.
He continued, beyond mournful, and remarked how it was a wonder he kept his faith. He “was become a terror to myself; or, rather, my body and soul were become terrors to each other” (169).
Walking along, he came across the being he most wanted gone from his life: Gil-Martin. The man now looked haggard and diminished, although he still retained resemblance to George Colwan. Gil-Martin told him that he had saved him at the farmhouse from the evil ones, and he must flee with him. Robert begged him to leave him alone, and became disturbed when he thought he detected a bit of glee in his friend’s face at his plight.
Robert walked away his tormentor and hoped he would not follow. He went to stay at a small inn in the village of Ancrum, but the people there were hesitant to welcome him since when he said he was a student of theology on his way to Oxford, they concluded he was involved in the black arts. That night in bed, which he shared with the landlord, he was kept awake by terrors. Loud cries and noises besieged the house and the women there were afraid. He was thrown out onto the street again.
On his way out he felt surrounded by “hideous fiends, who gnashed on me with their teeth, and clenched their crimson paws in my face” (173). Gil-Martin arrived and beat back the fiends, but Robert wished they would take him instead. Gil-Martin told him that the time had come for them to both take their own lives, but Robert could not agree because he still struggled with the idea of infallibility. When he looked on his friend’s face, “My immortal spirit, blood, and bones, were all withered at the blasting sight” (175).
He fled and took up residence with a poor hind. That place seemed safer from the siege of devils, so he stayed there until he heard that someone had been traveling around and asking for him. It was time to leave, so he fled again.
He became a cattle-herd for a bit, but those with whom he stayed started to think he was haunted. He was told he would be banished from the main house to an outhouse to stay alone. His despair increased to untold amounts.
Gil-Martin came to him again and said he was there to protect him from infernal beings. Finally, Robert agreed that all he could do was kill himself. He wrote his last journal entry and said it was his last day of mortal existence, and that he was sealing up his book.
The Editor wonders what kind of book this is. He says some think it is a religious parable or an allegory. He presents an extract from a letter published in Blackwood’s from 1823. The letter is from a James Hogg, who writes of how the bones of a suicide were dug up. Stories had been told of the man hanging himself, but that the rope was singular, as it did not seem to be able to hold a man up. Two young men opened the grave and found the top part of the corpse, which still had fleshy cheeks. The clothes were cut up and distributed to local people as curiosities.
The Editor finds the letter fascinating and journeys to visit a friend and to find Hogg. The Editor and his friend talk to locals about what had happened at the grave. They travel there and find parts of the body that had been dug up. It is in tatters, its head gone; later they find the skull, which was smashed in by a spade. They see the part that had never been opened, and start to dig and analyze the findings.
The shoes are fresh and new, with a layer of dung. The clothes are partly made of a thick, amazing cloth. The bonnet is puzzling since it is not like the other pieces. The limbs are too flimsy and fall apart. There are things with the body including a printed pamphlet, wrapped up tightly. The Editor wonders how the body had been preserved so well, and wonders if it has something to do with the book.
Thus, the manuscript is printed, and he confesses freely “I dare not venture a judgment, for I do not understand it…It is certainly impossible that these scenes could have ever occurred” (188). Even though the wretch who wrote it could have been involved with the death of the young Laird, he concludes “I account all the rest either dreaming or madness” (188) and “we must conceive him not only the greatest fool, but the greatest wretch, on whom was ever stamped the form of humanity; or, that he was a religious maniac” (189).
Brief explanations on a few matters may be necessary here before moving on to a more thorough analysis of the strange and confounding end of the novel. First, in reference to Oxford theology and the black arts, Hogg is slyly mocking the Presbyterian discomfort with the fact that Michael Scott, a 13th century philosopher, astrologer, and supposed warlock, studied at the university. Second, suicides were not allowed to be buried in consecrated grounds in Scotland, and were also not allowed to be buried at night. Third, the comment made about the “vent of the ear” (185) references phrenology, the science of looking at the skull and making claims about one’s character. This was popular and controversial in Edinburgh at the time; Hogg ridiculed and satirized it. This protuberance would have meant a brutish pleasure in killing a man, seeing them killed, or causing pain. It makes sense that Hogg would include this titillating detail to suggest the evilness of Robert, although knowing that he was skeptical of phrenology makes this a nice joke.
At the end of the novel, much is left unclear. The Editor fills in a few more blanks about how he heard about the manuscript and how it was found, but he frankly admits at the end that he does not know what to think about it. It could be a religious parable or allegory, he suggests, or a work of madness. Robert could be telling the truth in part, the rest being madness. He could be a religious maniac or mentally ill.
The critic Magdalene Redekop looks at the end of the novel in terms of its structure and inability to bring closure to the reader. She begins by saying that the last addition to the list of doubles in the text is the reader and the text. Hogg has trapped us in our own faulty expectations about the rigid expectations of the genre, just as Gil-Martin trapped Robert in his antinomian heresy. The book’s end is indeterminate, and it “comes complete (or rather incomplete) with a Derridean ‘supplement’ to a dead Book and an author whose signature is always deferred.” Redekop muses that perhaps the ambivalence in Hogg’s text, which seems more like a postmodernist novel than an early 19th century one, comes from his own biography in that he was always torn between wanting to appeal and wanting to puzzle and provoke; he also comes from a background of ballads and oral histories, but now resides within the proper Edinburgh literary world.
The various genres which are present in the novel–detective story, autobiography, sermon, folktale, parable, allegory, romance, diary, confession, chronicle, picaresque–“form, dissolve, and reform while we read because they are subordinate to Hogg’s focus on the process by which we create genre.” The gothic novel and the detective story are most subverted, Redekop writes. With the gothic novel, our own desire for a rational ending, which Hogg has led us to expect by melding it with the detective story, subverts the genre; and the detective story is clearly subverted by denying us a rational ending with rewards and punishments.
The desire for closure often wars with the desire for mystery in the reader, but here the tension is absorbed into the reading experience, which allows the reader to be involved in the process of making and breaking patterns: the reader is aware of the multiple conclusions and can anticipate them coming one after the other. As we read, the mirrored moments of the tennis match, Arthur’s Seat, George’s death, and the flight from Dalcastle dissolve in terms of coming together into one narrative. The supernatural elements present make what the Editor is trying to do impossible, but Hogg doesn’t give us the answers we want in terms of what exactly those supernatural elements mean.
When we reach the end of the novel, it is clear that Wringhim’s memoirs are “a kind of fake religious confession, true penitence being excluded by his antinomianism. He himself compares it to Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress….but he makes no progress.” Redekop notes that by this time, though, we have pity for Robert and the publication of his narrative is the only way to fully banish Gil-Martin. The reader’s job, then, is “not to judge or even to understand but to forgive and thus to work toward that strongly imagined end–Jerusalem–of which the antinomian last judgment is a hideous parody.”