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While each of these readings provide useful insights into the character, this study suggests that Gil-Martin represents something more than either the devil or Robert's imagination. Instead, one may read Gil-Martin as the specter of Robert's religious fanaticism, that part of his belief that justifies all of his actions. Instead of viewing Gil-Martin as an evil or "negative" influence in contrast to Robert's otherwise religious tendencies, one may view Gil-Martin as the physical embodiment of those religious tendencies, because it is Gil-Martin that allows Robert to do everything he does, who gives him strength, and who justifies his actions.
Just before Robert meets Gil-Martin for the first time, he is anointed and blessed by Wringhim, who uses "these remarkable words" to send him out into the world: "I give him into Thy hand, as a captain putteth a sword into the hand of his sovereign, wherewith to lay waste his enemies. May he be a two-edged weapon in Thy hand, and a spear coming out of Thy mouth, to destroy, and over come, and pass over" (Hogg 126). Robert writes that he has these words "still treasured up in my heart," and the scene is indeed dramatic, and traumatic, enough that it is easy to believe (Hogg 126). However, while the scene passes by fairly rapidly, one must take a moment to consider the effect such words might have had on someone as obviously impressionable and unstable as Robert, because the appearance of Gil-Martin just after, coupled with Robert's newfound confidence in his commission to "cut sinners off with the sword," suggests that this scene is nothing more or less than Robert suffering a kind of psychotic or manic break from reality, which, when framed within the context of his own preexisting belief, gives rise to a divine specter in the form of Gil-Martin.
Anyone who has ever witnessed a faith healer at work can attest to the coercive power of dramatic speech when it is playing off of preexisting belief, and the scene described above demonstrates a similar phenomenon. Firstly, Wringhim appeals to Robert's own personality with his talk of swords and spears, because as Robert later notes, he "rejoiced in the commission, finding it more congenial to my nature to be cutting off sinners with the sword" (Hogg 126). In other words, Wringhim knows Robert's personality, and so tailors his words to have the greatest effect, in the same way that a politician might modify his or her stump speech in order to appeal to a different crowd. However, because Robert is already so psychologically unstable (the natural result of growing up with Rabina and Wringhim as caretakers), the words are powerful enough to induce a kind of ecstatic break from reality, such that he undergoes a "miraculous" transformation leading to his discovery of "some intimate acquaintance" who he nevertheless cannot recall (Hogg 127).
Robert feels a familiarity with Gil-Martin but cannot recall him precisely because Gil-Martin is the embodiment of that thing which was previously immaterial, namely, Robert's fanatical belief. Robert's transformative experience being commissioned by Wringhim rocks him so much that his belief is made manifest, and appears in the form of Gil-Martin. Of course, this reading must account for the fact that Robert supposedly talked with Gil-Martin before his commission, but even this does not present a true problem, because one might simply suggest that the person Robert talked to before his commission was a real person, who never appears again in the novel; instead, following his commission, Robert imagines his newfound psychical companion to be the same person whom he: took rather for an angel of light" (Hogg 125). In this light, one may read the day of Robert's commission as a process of psychological priming, wherein his initial meeting with the stranger makes him especially susceptible to Wringhim's words, such that he suffers a break from reality and subsequently imagines a physical embodiment for his faith. It is important to note that to call Gil-Martin a product of Robert's psyche is not quite the same as saying that he is a "figment of imagination," because the latter suggests a status roughly on par with an imaginary friend who "exists" as a consciousness apart from Robert. Instead, one must view Gil-Martin as a piece of Robert's psyche, made visible as a result of Robert's trauma and responding to that trauma. Because Gil-Martin is essentially Robert's fanatical belief made manifest, one may read Robert's gradual deterioration over the course of his narrative as the somewhat tragic disintegration of his worldview in the face of increasing evidence that his faith is faulty.
This seems to be the ultimate message of Hogg's novel, because although his focus is on Calvinist theology in particular, the process by which Robert is entranced and ultimately subsumed by this belief is the same for any repressive ideology. By using two ideologically-distinct but narratively similar stories, Hogg is able to demonstrate the destructive effects of fanaticism on the individual, using Robert as a kind of tragic anti-hero whose descent into madness is indicative of anyone who finds him or her self unlucky enough to fall under the sway of fanatical beliefs. Thus, while one could never really call the Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner a hopeful story, it does at least provide the reader with important insights into the dangers posed by fanatical ideology, serving as a kind of warning tale.
Hogg, James. The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. London: J. Shiells & Co, 1824.
MacKenzie, Scott. "Confessions of a Gentrified Sinner: Secrets in Scott and Hogg." Studies in Romanticism 41.1 (2002): 3-32.
McGuire, Matthew. " James Hogg's Confessions of a Justified Sinner and the Romantic Roots of Crime Fiction." Clues 30.1 (2012): 8-17.
Sandner, David. "Supernatural Modernity in Walter Scott's Redgauntlet and James Hogg's
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