How One Word In Hogg’s “Confessions” Unravels Nearly 200 Years of Literary Criticism

The word seventeen is one of the most peculiar words in James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner.

For one thing, seventeen is a hapax legomenon—a Greek term for “a word that occurs only once” within a book, letter, or some other written context.

While there are plenty of words that occur only once in James Hogg’s “Confessions,” some 509 hapax legomena, the precise use of the word seventeen is what makes it quite peculiar and significant…

“Seventeen” on page 17. Coincidence?

As explained in the Afterword of this edition, the word seventeen occurs only once throughout the entire book—precisely on page 17.

For those of a more skeptical persuasion, it’s worth noting that the word seventeen occurs within the phrase “nearly seventeen hours.” This may not seem like a big deal, however, the phrase “nearly seventeen” occurs precisely at the very end of line 16.

Hence, the phrase “nearly seventeen” occurs nearly on line 17, on page 17. And as explained in the Afterword, the hapax legomenon seventeen is part of a devilishly elaborate scheme.

And it’s also important since it bears significance not only upon the vocabulary of the book—but the form of the book as well.

Unraveling 192 years of literary criticism—with one word…

In this regard, it’s just one of many examples supporting the argument that James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner isn’t just a “text,” or a “narrative” or a set of conflicting “narratives” told by “unreliable narrators” in a fog of socio-psychological ambiguity—it’s an astoundingly precise, deftly composed literary work of art in the form of an illusory book.

The singularly precise use of a hapax legomenon on a particular page, in particular position, on a particular line, evidences that Hogg’s “Confessions” is not merely “a text” that can be extrapolated from its form.

Rather, as I’ve been arguing for quite some time, by its very design—the clear and deliberate intent of its author—James Hogg’s “Confessions of a Justified Sinner” is an illusory book: a literary work of art, with significance and meaning that cannot be extrapolated from its form.

We all know what can happen to intent, meaning, and interpretation when words are taken out of context. Likewise, taking words—out of their form—can obscure if not obliterate their significance and meaning. And by taking words out of their precise form and context, and not preserving the words and pagination of the original 1824 edition, every subsequent scholarly edition of Hogg’s “Confessions of a Justified Sinner” paradoxically distorts the meaning and significance of the words and the book itself.

Not one scholarly edition (nor the more than 120 editions currently available) preserves the original text, layout, and pagination of the 1824 edition.

And not one literary scholar or critic in the past 192 years has mentioned the significance of the word seventeen on page 17, or any of the other “secrets of the curse” hidden in the form of the book—until now.

So whether it seems polemical or provocative, here’s my argument: most of the literary criticism concerning Hogg’s “Confessions” within the past 192 years can be undone with a hapax legomenon—literally, one word—the occurence of the word seventeen on page 17.


MLA Citation for this article:

Chaix, Jaix. “How One Word In Hogg’s “Confessions” Unravels Nearly 200 Years of Literary Criticism.” Word Exo Inc., 5 Dec. 2016. Web.

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