Saturday, 25 April 2009

27. James Hogg - 'The Expedition to Hell' (1836)

'There is no phenomenon in nature less understood, and about which greater nonsense is written than dreaming.'

(Peter Haining, ed., Great British Tales of Terror: Gothic Stories of Horror and Romance 1765-1840, Penguin, 1973, p.496)

Another tale from the same Haining anthology as the Thackeray, and from the same year. This is notably more melodramatic, less satirical and creates a good deal of tension. Not a great deal to say other than that this is a notable piece of Scottish Gothic, rooted in Edinburgh - progressing to a subjective Hell.

Nice to see some accented dialect captured; this has been relatively rare in my survey; Barstow and Lawrence, obviously, but relatively few others that come to mind. Dialogue such as points the way towards Kelman and the like: 'Weel, weel, ye maun tell him that he mauna keep that engagement at no rate.' (p.504) 'no' rather than 'not', is another example.

Hogg plays with ambiguity and mystery in how he presents the central dream of George, the coach-driver, only being certain that we cannot be certain - and that the whole affair was of course extraordinary. A notable feature is the present narrator, seemingly Hogg himself, declaiming as in the epigraph above; pontification discounting rational explanations for dreams is followed by his telling of George's story.

It is all rather enjoyable; a before-its-time presentation and manipulation of the state of dreaming. Perhaps lacking that extra dimension Poe brings - as in 'The Facts of M. Valdemar' (1845) - but it is a canny old read, foraging almost unknowing into the uncanny.


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