Cheeky Fictions: Laughter and the Postcolonial

By Susanne Reichl; Mark Stein | Go to book overview

SUSAN LEVER


The colonizer’s gift of cursing
Satire in David Foster’s Moonlite

In the central section of David Foster’s novel Moonlite (1981), a poor Scottish undergraduate at one of England’s old universities is led by his wealthier fellows into a life of drinking and gambling. Finbar MacDuffie, known as Moonlite, is an albino with night sight, a complete oddity who gains his only social value as an exotic curiosity. Lady Virginia Creeper invites him to a country house party where several other peculiar people compete for attention – including an effete poet and a German scientist. Readers of eighteenth and nineteenth-century English novels may find this scene strangely familiar; it could be from one of the country house satires of Thomas Love Peacock, with shades of earlier satirical writers such as Fielding.

Yet this novel has already hinted at a slightly different viewpoint:

Without wishing to scant the contributions made towards science and the arts by
gentlemen, who alone have the means of pursuing them, it must be said that Colonial
gentlemen take a very different view. The contrast is nowhere better exemplified than in
the New West Highlands, where seventy years after colonisation it is rare to find a man
who can name a single indigenous plant or bird. The English gentleman in new
surroundings will always replace them as quickly as he can with a facsimile of his own
ancestral seat, complete to the very vermin, and far from deriving any benefit from his
love of nature, foreign species are forced to contend with a ruthless policy of depreda-
tory rape, that must be seen to be believed. Then, not every man will leave a toilet seat
as he would wish to find it, and the ideal society would contain no English gentlemen.
(Foster: 139)

The mention of the toilet seat shifts the formal voice of the passage into a more contemporary and colloquial realm. While the novel’s literary models

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