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Literature / My Uncle Oswald

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My Uncle Oswald is a satirical softcore pornographic novel written by Roald Dahl (yes, that one) in 1979. It follows two short stories also starring the title character, "The Visitor" (1965) and "Bitch" (1974), both first published in Playboy.

Narrated by Oswald's twenty-something nephew, who learns the story via his uncle's Secret Diary, the first part of the book takes place in 1912 and details the insatiable young Oswald Cornelius's globe-trotting adventures as he searches for the world's most powerful aphrodisiac (with a lot of digressions into his sexual escapades).

The second part, set in The Roaring '20s, returns to a slightly older but no less randy Oswald, who plans to use his newly-acquired aphrodisiac to steal and sell the sperm of the greatest men of 1920s Europe, with the help of Arthur Woresley, a biology professor, and Yasmin Howcomely, a nymphomaniac secretary who is all too eager to help seduce a variety of famous figures—all in the name of Science, of course.

This book features the following examples:

  • Awesomeness by Analysis: Yasmin had a real scare while adding Albert Einstein to the collection: he immediately connected his sudden randiness to her little gift of chocolate. Luckily he didn't know enough to deduce her motive.
  • Been There, Shaped History: Oswald's crew, who (almost) scandalized every male celebrity and crowned head in Europe and collected their sperm. Though, he gives himself no credit in most cases - it's his field agent Yasmin who shakes up a number of relationships.
  • Bestiality Is Depraved: On hearing Oswald's story about a lab rat that died from exhaustion after breeding with too many other rats, the Mexican ambassador comments that he too hopes to die from "too many women". The German ambassador immediately snarks "more likely too many donkeys and goats in Mexico."
  • Black Comedy Rape: The Blister Beetle unleashes All Men Are Perverts and All Women Are Lustful alike, for comedic purposes. The rape element is downplayed in that the unconsenting party here is actually the rapist.
  • The Caper: Our cheerfully criminal protagonists are out to steal the genetic material of every marketable public figure they can.
  • The Casanova: Oswald. His nephew says the real Casanova was a monk in comparison.
  • Continuity Nod: The Oswald stories were written in Anachronic Order and presented as the narrator selecting specific episodes from his uncle's multi-volume diary. The novel thus contains references to details established in the previous two stories, the events of which have yet to happen.
  • Darwinist Desire: Oswald collects the sperm of geniuses in order to sell it to women who want to have genius babies. Woresley, the scientist of the team, points out that it's really the sperm of the genius's father that would be a desirable item, but Oswald points out that (a) By the time a man is recognized as a genius in his own lifetime, his father is usually deceased, and (b) This is marketing, not eugenics.
  • Dirty Old Man: While still a dirty young man for the majority of the novel, his nephew the narrator assures the reader that Uncle Oswald remains dirty well into old age.
  • Femme Fatale: Yasmin is brought into the scheme solely because she fits this Trope.
  • Food Porn: Oswald is very easily distracted from his story by descriptions of the gourmet meals he has along the way.
  • Foreshadowing: A really subtle one, of the Absence of Evidence type: for all the pride and enthusiasm Oswald takes in his scheme of selling the semen of a great deal of famous men for impregnation of the willing women, he only ever mentions in his memoirs the fourteen "children" of Proust. That's because he simply doesn't know what exactly became of all the other men's straws of semen, as Yasmin and Worseley swindled him of them by the end of the story, leaving only Proust's sperm behind.
  • Framing Device: The story is presented as the diary of Oswald, left to his nephew and only seeing the light of day now because its contents were too explosive, etc.
  • Freud Was Right: Parodied in the most hilarious way.
    Freud: Ja, ja. It may interest you to know, fräulein, that the carrot and the cucumber are both very powerful sexuality symbols. They represent the masculine phallic member. And you are vishing either to chop it up or to pickle it!
  • Funetik Aksent: Used frequently for comic effect, particularly with Freud's (see example above) and Einstein's German-tinged English.
  • Groin Attack: Yasmin talks about having to hold onto George Bernard Shaw's "snozzberry" with all her might, and giving it a twist or two to keep him in line.
  • Head-Turning Beauty: Yasmin Howcomely was selected as the third member of the team for exactly this reason.
    Never in my short life had I seen a girl or a woman with such a stench of salacity about her[...] She was wearing a mackintosh and a wooly scarf but she might just as well have been stark naked.
  • Historical Domain Character: The book contains a laundry list of various real-world historical figures only to put them into silly sexual situations. They're all pretty much parodies of the genuine articles.
  • Man of Wealth and Taste: Oswald Cornelius, 'the connoisseur, the bon vivant, the collector of spiders, scorpions and walking-sticks, the lover of opera, the expert on Chinese porcelain, and without much doubt the greatest fornicator of all time.'
  • "Not If They Enjoyed It" Rationalization: Invoked and played with. Technically it's the rapist who's being assaulted, since he didn't consent to being drugged into performing. However, the victim assumes he's acting on his own power and believes he's the one who committed rape upon Miss Howcomely, who of course not only expected this reaction, but has a grand old time herself. Since both parties ultimately enjoy the act, the matter of whether or not this counts as rape is glossed over in the text (although there are several moments when Oswald and Woresley rather jovially refer to it as rape).
  • Out with a Bang: In order to sell his aphrodisiac to a party of ambassadors, Oswald tells a story about feeding a concentrated dose of it to a male lab rat - which preceded to copulate with every female lab rat it could find until it dropped dead from exhaustion.
  • Patriotic Fervor: A Meta example of sorts. It is a much milder example than most, but it's hardly a coincidence that the only person who manages to totally foil - from the moral standpoint as well - our amoral protagonists in this novel by Anglo-Norwegian Roald Dahl is the King of Norway.
  • Raging Stiffie: Nine minutes after the victim swallows the beetle powder. Female victims have a corresponding response.
  • The Roaring '20s: The second half of the book happens in this period.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: A surprising amount of the story turns out to be one... from Oswald's perspective, that is.
  • Spanner in the Works: The effort to drug and swindle Pablo Picasso fails because Yasmin doesn't get a chance to pull out the drugged chocolate, the 'autograph' paper or the condom - he ravishes Yasmin the second he sees her.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Yasmin has to dress up as a man to get the donation from Proust.
  • Unfortunate Item Swap: Yasmin seducing men by feeding them an aphrodisiac-filled chocolate truffle, while eating a perfectly normal truffle herself? That has to go wrong at some point, and when she gets to the King of Norway, it does.
  • Unusual Euphemism: "Snozzberry" for penis.
    His Majesty: Control yourself, madam!
  • The Vamp: Yasmin. Or rather, she's used this way by Oswald; not that she herself's not into it though.
  • Zany Scheme: The main thrust of the whole book is a scheme by the world's dirtiest old man to steal and sell the sperm of the world's most famous geniuses by inventing the world's most powerful aphrodisiac.

The short stories also feature the following examples:

  • Bed Trick: While staying at a rich Egyptian's house in "The Visitor", Oswald notices the man's beautiful wife and daughter. That night someone comes to his room in total darkness and sleeps with him. The morning after, he can't tell which one of them it was, then it's heavily implied that it was neither.
  • Coitus Uninterruptus: The Bitch formula causes this, with the male test subject ignoring orders to stop made at gunpoint, and even warning shots.
  • Disguised Horror Story: "The Visitor", the first story written yet the last chronologically, becomes one due to its Wham Line.
  • For Science!: The effects of Bitch are studied in an experiment with Biotte's young female lab assistant being sprayed with the scent and having a young fit male boxer approach her, while Biotte and Oswald watch with noseplugs on, noting everything from the effective distance of the scent and the duration of time it affects the male test subject. Oswald calls Biotte a Dirty Old Man, and Biotte retorts that he's a scientist. The lab assistant herself willingly participates because it's for science, and eagerly asks for another dose when it's over.
  • Naked People Are Funny: After the effect of the Bitch scent wears off, the males affected don't remember what they did, including ripping their clothes off.
  • Neat Freak: Oswald especially in "The Visitor", almost to the point of being Terrified of Germs, often scrutinizing the cleanliness of his surroundings and the people around him.
  • No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: Biotte dies before he can write down the formula of Bitch.
  • Out with a Bang:
    • Henri Biotte because of his discovery. His lab assistant Simone accidentally causes his death when she uses up nearly all the doses of the Bitch formula on herself and surprises him, and he has a heart attack in the following chaos.
    • Implied to be Oswald's fate after contracting an incurable disease. He lasts many years yet though, and it's implied that he blew his fortune trying to find a cure in vain, leaving only his diaries to the narrator.
  • Wham Line: After Oswald's host for the night escorts him away, the former reveals before he drives off that he has another daughter living separately on another floor of his house. This is because she has leprosy, the kind that's almost impossible to cure. But he tells Oswald not to worry because it's only spread by the most intimate contact.
  • Young Future Famous People: The framing device of "Bitch" has the narrator say that he's publishing this entry in defiance of his lawyer's advice because some well-known people involved in its events are still alive. This most likely refers to Biotte's assistant chemist Simone Gautier and the boxer Pierre Lacaille, though they're wholly fictional.
  • Zany Scheme: "Bitch", set after the novel, has Oswald and a perfume-maker/olfactory scientist conspire to isolate and synthesize the mating-instinct pheromone, still active in dogs for instance (hence the title). but which humans have long since evolved past. As in dogs, females should in theory produce it and males should in theory be attracted by it, but evolution has made these biological functions respectively weak and dormant. The scientist, Henri Biotte, manages to do it and amplify the scent a thousandfold, enough for human males to be affected again, causing them to fall into a mindless mating frenzy with the nearest female. Oswald calls the scent "Bitch", they discuss ways to profit from the discovery and Biotte even exclaims that they could rule the world. When the formula is irretrievably lost and only one small dose remains, Oswald plans to humiliate the President of the United States with it during a public appearance, and rigs a flower bouquet to release the scent from a hidden capsule, intending it to be carried in the President's presence.