The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner is a novel presented as a ‘found document’ with an introduction by an ‘editor’. The ‘editor’s narrative’ relates the family history of Robert Wringham and is followed by a ‘confession’ presented as a published document and manuscript. In the confession section, the protagonist describes the crimes of which he is accused. The final section refers back to the ‘finding’ of the supposed manuscript. The different parts create a disjointed text – indeed the writer seems to be questioning the narrative form itself. The disruptions of time and the inclusion of a letter printed in actuality in Blackwood’s Magazine, mirror and frame the themes and emotions of the plot.
The text revolves around classic Gothic themes, including the supernatural and the doppelganger. The autobiographical confession follows Robert’s descent into despair, as his doubts about the validity of his religious drive are countered by Gil-Martin’s increasing control of his mind, driving him to criminal acts.
How does the text connect to Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde?
There are several incidental connections to Robert Louis Stevenson and his novel, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The plot is set in Edinburgh in the 17th century, the period of covenanting history, when strongly independent Scottish Puritanism was being suppressed by the government. There is a continuous structure of dualism present, in the relationship between Robert’s parents, and between Robert and his brother George, and between Robert and Gil-Martin, his alter-ego/conscience.
There is a strong connection to Jekyll and Hyde in this last relationship; particularly as the reader is never fully sure whether Gil-Martin is real or a fantasy. In addition, Gil-Martin is able to change appearance at will, and to act as a catalyst to bring out the religious and violent fanaticism that causes Robert to commit murder. Gil-Martin states at one point that ‘I am wedded to you so closely, that I feel as if I were the same person’.