"Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner"
Thomas de Quincey
Public DomainThomas de Quincey - Credit: Project Gutenberg
Whilst the Editor’s Narrative employs the allegedly objective style of historical writings, Robert’s ‘memoirs’ draw on the tradition of confessional literature. Rooted in religious works such as St. Augustine’s Confessions – an account of sinful youth and subsequent conversion that provides a clear touchstone for the Private Memoirs – the genre saw a boom in popularity during the Romantic era. The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau were published posthumously in 1782; Thomas de Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater came out in 1821; Philip Meadows Taylor’s Confessions of a Thug in 1839. By aligning Robert’s narrative with these accounts, Hogg brings into play assumptions concerning confessional literature. Most obviously, confession implies self-revelation, honesty and the idea that subjective truth can transcend the observable. Such qualities, however, are not to be found in Robert’s account. It quickly becomes clear that his solipsism and questionable mental state render him incapable of perceiving either himself or those around him with any clarity. His memoirs, resisting any single conclusive interpretation, do not so much illuminate his mind as reveal the countless impenetrable layers of obscuration of which it is composed. Reflecting this, Hogg undermines the idea of a higher narrative authority in the act of retelling the same tale from wildly conflicting viewpoints.