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It explores a number of universally-relevant themes and questions: the nature of good and evil; whether individual beliefs should take precedence over social obligations; whether we are responsible for our own actions. This is a powerful study of the corrupting power of religious extremism, with obvious resonances for modern readers.
Hogg, best of all, forces the reader to play a dynamic role: this could almost be described as an interactive novel.
His first book, Scottish Pastorals, had appeared in He had demonstrated his credentials as a novelist with religious interests inThe Brownie of Bodsbeck , set in the Covenanting period, and explored moral issues in The Three Perils of Man and Three Perils of Woman He had, equally, shown a willingness to experiment in style and form, for instance, in the various personae of his magazine The Spy As a working farmer, who had shepherded in Selkirkshire and Dumfriesshire, and spent a period in Edinburgh building his literary career, Hogg drew on his knowledge of specific locations for the Confessions.
Most memorably, Edinburgh features as a city which is civilized on the surface but rough and, at times, sinister beneath: there is brawling in the streets; beyond Holyrood there is wilderness. Traditional beliefs are very relevant to Confessions, with its demonic central character of Gil-Martin. He draws, in this respect, on current notions of sanity and insanity, applying these to Wringhim and his thoughts.
In Confessions, he explores a variety of religious modus operandi, from the moderate and appealing religion of Blanchard, to the overwrought pronouncements of Wringhim senior. Hogg was familiar with historical religious disputes, too, and the key notions which underpinned them.
One of the ministers in Ettrick in the early eighteenth century, was Thomas Boston, who was accused of holding antinomian beliefs a heretical doctrine that stated Christians are exempt from moral law. The concept of justification, which is central to the novel, is rooted in specific Biblical passages. However, it is the New Testament that the idea emerges man can be foreordained to Glory, or justified. The idea is rooted in Romans 8: All things work together for good […] to them who are the called according to His purpose.
For those whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the first born among many brethren […] whom he did predestinate them he also called; and whom he called, them he also justified, them he also glorified […] If God be for us, who can be against us? Justification, according to Calvin, involves five decisions by God: elective knowledge; predestination both of these are invisible and outside time ; calling this happens on earth ; justification and glorification the last two are also outside time.
All these ideas are relevant to the religious development Wringhim perceives himself as undergoing, during the course of the novel. It is often said that Hogg was influenced, in this respect, by E. The depictation of the two brothers—a clear example of nature versus nurture—gives the novel much of its drama, and its humour, too.
The younger brother, Robert Wringhim, is an inspired creation. His elder, George Colwan, the young Laird of Dalcastle, is a different person altogether. My first pupil was joined by his friend, who was also struggling, and I was soon teaching A-level maths as well as physics.
At the end of their first year, these so called under-performing students were obtaining A and B grades. I did not realise it at the time but this quiet, leisurely start to private tutoring in maths and science would lead in the following years to a demand for my services that I could have little hope of meeting. With my first pupils, I allowed myself the luxury of believing it was the quality of my teaching that was bringing about the improved results.
However, this notion was quickly dismissed after the parents of my two first pupils asked me to help their sons with the statistics module of their A-level maths syllabus.
I let them know that my knowledge of statistics was rudimentary, but the lads were doing so badly I could not abandon them.
It took hours of my time to learn the material I was to teach but eventually, after a few weeks, the boys gained confidence to such an extent that they were leading me a merry dance in the subject.
They both gained A grades in their statistics papers, not because of the quality of their teacher but because for one session a week they had the chance to speak to an adult who was conversant with their problems. It is this kind of individual tuition in our independent schools that makes them so attractive to middle-class parents.
They pay out many thousands of pounds each year for their children to be educated in small groups. But still many of them feel the need to fork out more money for home tutors. Many of the inquiries I now receive about private tutoring are from parents who send their children to some of the most prestigious independent schools in London.
Some middle-class parents are increasingly prepared to squeeze out and pay for any extra little advantage they can obtain for their children, in addition to that conferred by the education given by independent schools. There is little doubt that the nationwide shortage of maths and science teachers is affecting the independent sector as well as state schools.
This has to be the case, otherwise the independent schools would not be paying over the odds for the poor teaching that is being served up in these subjects. It is not uncommon for me to find in the science workbooks of some of my independent school pupils page after page of notes that have been laboriously copied from a chalkboard or overhead projector.
When I ask how the pupils feel about this, the stock reply is that the teacher is "so boring". Such teachers ought to take their methods into some of our comprehensives. They would be eaten alive. It is not just the teaching methods that can give cause for concern with some independent school teachers.
Sometimes I find that their subject knowledge is a real worry. In one lesson last spring I was reviewing, with one of my pupils, a multiple-choice science test paper she had been set by her teacher. Her paper had been marked and three answers out of 30 had been marked wrong when in fact they were correct.
This was no aberration because other pupils' papers had been marked in a similar way. The criticisms levelled at maths teaching in this country seem to apply equally to independent schools as to state schools. Final-year GCSE students in both sectors are still over-reliant on calculators.
Too many of my private-school pupils find long multiplication and division difficult because they have not yet sat down and committed multiplication tables to memory.
Some can eventually tell me that 7x9 is 63, but not before they have written seven nines in a line and then added them up.
Unfortunately for these pupils, the GCSE maths exams now have non-calculator papers and they often come unstuck. The quality of science and maths teaching is only one of the reasons middle-class parents call me in to help out. Another factor is the in fluence that the highly competitive nature of independent and grammar schools has on the confidence and self-esteem of some of their pupils.