Re: did VN read Hogg's Confessions?
did VN read Hogg's Confessions?
This question has interested me mildly since I noticed what appears the
incontestable reference (to the title, at least) when first reading Despair,
perhaps 30 years ago.
Browsing on the net, I now came across this comment on Sinner: "A
psychological document compared with which Stevenson's Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a
crude morality" - Walter Allen. The reference wasn’t given, but I suppose it’
s from Allen’s book on the novel.
If VN does allude to it in Despair, the first question is whether the
allusion occurs in the 1932 Russian version. Since I don’t have Russian, I wonder
how it would be phrased in the original, which led me further to wonder if it
had ever been translated into Russian. At one point, I seem to remember, the
Devil is mistaken for Peter the Great, which might have led to Russian
If there is no Russian version, where and when did VN come across it ?
Isn't it simply possible that he read it in English at university (Oxford
was it? or Cambridge?)? I would be surprised to hear that VN had any contact
with André Gide!
Browsing on, I found: “This now-famous book was given a hostile reception
when it first appeared in 1824. It was not reprinted until the late 1830s, when
a heavily bowdlerised version was included in a posthumous edition of Hogg's
collected Tales and Sketches published by Blackie & Son of Glasgow.
Thereafter Confessions of a Justified Sinner attracted little interest until the
1890s, when the unbowdlerised text was printed for the first time since the
1820s. However, the current high reputation of Hogg's novel did not fully begin to
establish itself until 1947, when a warmly enthusiastic Introduction by
Andre Gide appeared in a new edition of the unbowdlerised text.”
I have a copy of the 1947 Cresset (as well as “The Suicide’s Grave”
edition) and had read Gide’s introduction, so I’d formed an impression that Gide
had been the great popularizer of Sinner; but the book must already have been
reasonably well appreciated before he promoted it. Was Gide ever the target
of one of VN’s strongly critical opinions?
However, it’s certainly not impossible VN had read it in English in one of
the earlier editions. Wikipedia tells me: “Vladimir enrolled in Trinity
College, Cambridge and studied Slavic and romance languages where his experiences
would later help him to write the novel Glory. In 1923, he graduated from
Cambridge and relocated to Berlin ….” Carolyn also noted earlier: “In 1924 the
text of the first edition was reproduced in the Campion Reprints series.”
Thus he couldn’t have read the Campion edition when at Cambridge. So if he did
read it at Cambridge, it would have to have been in an edition from the
1890s, or earlier.
Those educated at older universities tend to think of Cambridge as a sort of
better class of technical college, so the likelihood of an 1890s edition of
Hogg’s Sinner featuring in an undergraduate’s reading, or cropping up in
discussion there, during the early 1920s seems slightly improbable, but anything
is possible in VN’s case. Thus its quality could have established itself
in VN’s mind some 25 years or longer before Gide praised it.
It is a pity VN doesn’t refer to it (I don’t think he does) in his essay on
Jekyll and Hyde, considering Walter Allen’s comparison of it with J&H.
Perhaps, for whatever reason, he wasn’t as impressed with it as the allusion in
Despair might suggest, and it was just a passing thought. Der Bestrafte
Brudermord is of course a recurring theme in VN.
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