Lori's Book Nook

The Fifth Business

The Fifth Business is the first in The Deptford Trilogy, and yes, probably the first book that anyone thinks of when they refer to Robertson Davies. Is it his best book? I don’t know. I think I prefer The Cornish Trilogy (maybe because of the major female character?). But we’ll start here.

Penguin has a reading guide, with some interesting questions.

So, we’re reading this book. Let’s let discussion happen in the comments section below, and see what happens. (Why not use a forum site? For now, this is one login less. And a dialogue, no structure necessary.)


115 Responses to "The Fifth Business"

I like this question about mothers from the Penguin Reading guide: “Young Dunstable’s flight from his mother colors the rest of his life. When he contemplates his relationship with Diana, his first lover, he shuns the motherly quality of her affection: “I had no intention of being anyone’s dear laddie, ever again.” How and why do the other men in the novel (Boy Staunton, Paul Dempster) flee their mothers? What are they seeking in a woman? How are the ideal and the reality of motherhood and womanhood conveyed in Ramsay’s reflections on the virgin Mary?”

There’s a lot in this book (I just finished reading it this morning) about women, and mothers in particular. The women are such stereotypes — you’re always conscious of Dunstan as narrator, writing these descriptions for his Headmaster’s benefit…as if he’s trying to place them in a context that his ‘public’ will understand, because he understands them on a mythic level.

I just got my new copy from Amazon the other day and have started rereading it … interesting reading this with Dunny’s relationship to his mother in mind.

I’ve always felt that Davies’ women were never as complex and satisfying as his male characters.

Someone I once knew back in Toronto was actually one of RD’s students when she was at university. She told me that Davies was an insufferable snob and a total chauvinist, possibly even a misogynist … meanwhile, she was one of those rather fervent and humourless staunch feminist types whose opinions of men I’ve never quite trusted.

I’m sure RD was a product of his time in many ways — with a lot of the assumptions of the day, mixed in with his broader understanding, that he clearly has in his books. A ‘fervent and humourless’ feminist would probably easily take umbrage with him…but a more mellowed feminist would just take his entrenched attitudes with a grain of salt, and revel in his mind.

About his female characters — have you ever read the Cornish trilogy? Or Salterton? Some good female characters there — much more richly described than the women in Deptford — except for Liesl of course, but then she’s a brilliant grotesque in so many ways. Makes me think he’s creating his own ideal woman-friend in her.

I think one of the points of the Deptford books is that all the women are described from the point of view of the male narrators, and this is a very deeply Jungian series. In Fifth Business, we Dunstan’s p.o.v. on all the women — with his archetypes projected onto them.

Yeah, I’ve read all the trilogies – Maria in Cornish is definitely his most well-rounded female character, but she still pales next to, say, Simon in terms of depth and understanding, don’t you think?

Quite agree with you about Liesl.

I am staking a claim here for Monica Gall and a the cornish trilogy. firslty, Monica is as “fully rounded” and developed as any female character, and, in my view, occupies centre stage for far longer than any other female in RD’s world’s. For reasons i just dont fully grasp, the COrnish Trilogy (and poor old Monica) remains the most overlooked of RD’s major works, and is often described as his “weakest” work. I wonder if the shorthand that now rules the world of short descriptions means that someone, somewhere, may once have expressed a relatively negative opinion which is now recieved wisdom. I have always thought the S trilogy to be utterly captivating, and I am quite surprised at the lack of comment on Monica in this forum when considering his “women”. Finally, I would also say that feminist critics would do well to think about Monica, who is anything but typecast.

Loricat – its good to be back on the site.

Oh stake a claim for Monica! I like her character too.

I think the Salterton trilogy is overlooked because it was there…then Fifth Business hit the stage. Also, when we think Salterton, we think Monica and the third book, not as much of the first two. Good yarns, but not the psychological depth of the third.

Personally, my true favourite of his books is the Cornish, the third series. What’s Bred in the Bone is probably my favourite of RD’s books. (That or the Samuel Marchbanks writings…)

I finished up the Deptford trilogy not too long ago, and have recently been reading “The Merry Heart”, a postumous collection of Davies’ bibliophile essays and lectures. For some insight into the writing of “Fifth Business”, you guys might want to check that one out, as the success of the first Deptford novel seems to have been very much on Davies mind any time he spoke in a public venue.

In reference to the discussion of Davies’ female characters, he also routinely brings up the question of whether or not a writer of one sex can competantly write a character of the opposite sex. He site George Eliot as a woman who wrote men well, and Flaubert’s comment, “Madame Bovary, c’est moi,” as an explanation of how Bovary ended up being such a well written character. So if Davies’ female characters are more two-dimensional than his men — and that’s an if that I can only judge by the Deptford trilogy, which is, of course, narrated by a string of women-bedevilled men — the explanation we can derive from Davies’ own writing might be something along the lines of, those two dimensions are the only thing he, as the author, could identify with in women.

I wish I had my copy of “Fifth Business” with me so I could make sure of the name, but maybe the most compelling female character in the trilogy isn’t Liesl — urbane, yes, but she doesn’t do much to drive the plot or the reader’s emotions — but Boy’s second wife Denyse. She’s second rate Lady MacBeth, really, but her shabiness as a foil is part of what makes her believable as a person.

Hey! Hi Mad, good to have you drop by!

About Liesl. In a lot of ways, she reminds me of late Heinlein characters — have you read his later stuff? He was getting a bit dotty, and wrote some real extended fantasy stuff. His one character, Lazarus Long, was just utter perfection of body, mind, spirit — 1,000s of years old, perfect genetics, perfect open love life, perfect adventures…one ageing author’s fantasy of the potential of human existance.

That’s what Liesl is, I think. RD’s fantasy of what a human being could be, if given the chance: extremely well-read, mentally exacting, psychologically ‘individualized’ (to use the Jungian term), artistically-gifted (if not in actual craft, but in appreciation), utterly content with herself, physically and socially (having overcome some major challenges), and to top it all off (or is this the root of it?), lots of money.

On another note — I’ve got almost all of his essays/speeches/writings…even some of his plays. Love his non-fiction stuff.

Oh, almost forgot — I read somewhere that supposedly the three books of the Deptford Trilogy were edited in 3 different styles: Canadian, US, British/International. And I did forget — I just breezed through the 3 again, and didn’t think to look. Argh.

So glad you didn’t wait for me to get started! This will be fun. Can I really toss aside the other books I’m still reading to pick up one I’ve already read (though 20 years ago?) in order to participate in the conversation? I surely think so! Thanks, Lori, for getting this together. Back shortly with my first comments. (Talk amongst yourselves.)

Okay, just finished yesterday. I can’t remember how many times this makes, or when the last time was. But it was a lovely experience, like going to visit an old friend. I’m sure you all know that one.

Hello MadArchitect and davidbale – nice to meet you.

So okay, my general feeling while rereading the book was my sheer admiration of RD’s storytelling ability as well as of the constant sparkling prose, full of wit and wonderful turns of phrase.

I’m now thinking a bit about this whole ‘mother thing’ you mentioned, Lori. I think that Dunny’s mother actually represents social hypocrisy, or perhaps the social burden of feeling one has to do ‘what is right’ and deny one’s inner passions. Yet the passions will always rise to the surface when one isn’t concerned about ‘saving face’. The father is portrayed as both strong in personal conviction at his job but a weakling in terms of ‘domestic politics’. Again, the focus of blame is placed on the mother for being overly demanding … why not on the father for being overly passive?

The Liesl character is a very complex yet still rather two-dimensional one. But isn’t this usually the case when books are written in the first person?

Another character I adored was Padre Blazon, adding much wisdom and basic knowledge to the story in such a witty and entertaining manner that you almost don’t notice being lectured to.

It’s een said that Dunstan Ramsay was the character closest to RD’s heart – and possibly closest to his own personality.

Liesl in this book is two-dimensional, I was really thinking of the series as a whole.

I like your take on Dunstan’s mother, Azahar. Let’s look at Mary Dempster — not ‘strong’ (what does that mean?) on the domestic, nor social, fronts. “Simple” she’s called. Describing her today, I’d say more like ‘flighty’ — but enough to have her committed? What came first, the inability to function, or having the ability to function taken away from her (by being first over-protected, then tied up, then…)

So, another question from the Penguin reading guide is a good one right here:
“”If you think her a saint, she is a saint to you,” says Padre Blazon of Ramsay’s fascination with Mary Dempster. What place does she come to occupy in his psychological landscape? Why is he so possessive of her, refusing to ask for Boy’s assistance for her care?”

It’s a popular damn book — every day I’ve got people finding my blog because of The Fifth Business.

Yeah and I’ve been a damned lazy old so-and-so for not participating more (sorry!).

I’m now rereading World of Wonders – rereading The Manticore was very interesting and timely in terms of what I’m going through in my life atm.

So, got distracted. And I’m a damned lazy so-and-so. Oh, already said that.

What was the question?

Looks like there ain’t nobody here but us chickens…

((hums the tune))

That’s not true. I get at least 3 or 4 people a day, looking for our Mr. Davies, and probably cuttin’n’pastin’ our comments for their essays. 😉

Anyone of you know who can be fifth business in the book fifth business??

like who should be the one that helps carry out the message but is not the main character.

I get people searching out this book daily — not many actually pause to ask a question.

So, James, thanks for stopping by. I think your question is a good one, because I think it’s an easy thing to confuse. Dunstan Ramsay may be the central character of his memoirs, but he’s not the central character to the greater story. What’s the greater story? Depends on your point of view. In mine, it’s the sum total of all three books. In Fifth Business, we are introduced to our Fifth Business (which, by the way, is a concept out of Robertson Davies’ head), and we read this one man’s account of himself. As a main character, does he change much? No. We’re getting Dunstan’s autobiography, written to his headmaster on the occasion of his retirement. He’s annoyed that what he sees as his great adventure was downplayed by the public write-up in the paper.

But all he’s really doing, in a simple sense, in that autobiography, is tying himself to the bigger events around him, and to the life and death of Boy Staunton, and to Magnus Eisengrim, and even Liesl — all more colourful characters than our staunch Canadian boy Dunstan.

And James, before you cut’n’paste this response for your school essay…I’m probably all full of shit. :p

From the intro to Fifth Business:

Fifth Business … definition

Those roles which, being neither those of Hero or Heroine, Confidante nor Villain, but which were nonrtheless essential to bring about the Recognition or the dénouement, were called the Fifth Business in drama and opera compnies organized according to the old style; the player who acted these parts was often referred to as Fifth Business.

Which is to say that all Heroes and Heroines in a story need someone solid to ‘bounce off’ in a sense, giving these larger than life characters a solid base to work from. Which in this novel is represented by Dunstan Ramsay, with his two no-nonsense feet (one real, one wooden) planted firmly on the ground. Ramsay makes sure that the other more colouful characters don’t run away with the story being told.

Oops, sorry about the typos – typing one-handed these days …

‘run away with the story’ — how true. He’s there for us, grounding their flights of fancy.

It’s a great concept, the Fifth Business — and I like the fact that the ‘was often referred to’ sh*t was all made up. 🙂

I’m an adult student learning about the world and human nature through any means necessary. May I respectfully first say that not all students take the easy way out by pasting other peoples ideas and comments but learn and create their own concept using the insight and wisdom from others. I have an exam on Fifth Business (where we’ll be comparing it to The Outsider) and wish to gain knowledge about the roles all the other characters play. Dunstan is fifth business, however I’m having great difficulty dissecting the others. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you so much, your banter has been very helpful and has given me more confidence:):):):)

Dani, thanks for the comment. You’re right of course, I used the word ‘student’ rather loosely…I meant “lazy students who would rather find the answer on the Internet than think for themselves”.

It’s been years, eons even, since I read the Outsider. ((Pause, while I read the Wikipedia version of events.))

Compare Fifth Business to the Outsiders?! Wacky. There’s a suicide, male friendship…There are elements of Ramsay in Ponyboy — feelings of responsibility & guilt for actions that were not his fault just because he witnessed them, being narrator of the story of a group of childhood friends/acquaintances…The girl being interested in the Greaser, but staying with the Soc…

Az, help us with this. Let’s dissect our characters a bit more, with the help of this question from the Penguin Reading Guide:

If Ramsay is truly “Fifth Business,” as Liesl describes, who are the hero and heroine, sorceress, and villain of the story? Do they correspond to the “usual cabal” described at the book’s conclusion? Who are “the Basso and the Brazen Head” Liesl refers to in her letter? Who was the woman Boy knew and the woman he didn’t know?

If the Hero and the Heroine are those that do something heroic, then who are they? Is Paul the Hero because he pulls himself out of his awful life and makes something of himself? Boy is the hero of his own story — is he the Hero of ours? Or is he the Villain? Is Liesl the Sorceress or the Heroine, or neither? What about Mary Dempster?

Personally, I think that little bit of doggerel was all Davies being showy for Liesl’s character, who likes to be mysterious, and it was also him playing around with us, the readers…and test-writing English educators the world over, given them something to torture students with! 🙂

This’ll require some thinking … perhaps best left until I get back from Lisbon.

Fabulously fantastic! I think I got it firured out. Paul is the hero, Mrs D is the heroine, Boy is the villan, and Liesl is the confidante. However, I LOVE comparing them to themselves within relativity to their own lives. Now if I could only stop panicing for one minute and remeber Mrs D’s third miricle. Willie was the first, then the Madonna………..see PANIC!!!!

Dani, I don’t know if Davies really meant to be so clear-cut, but if it makes sense to you, and you can argue it convincingly, then you’re in.

The third miracle? Off-hand, I can’t remember. Az? Are you back yet?

Wasn’t the third miracle Dunny’s perception of her “madness” after the sexual contact changing to some sort of divinity?

You’re right..nothing is clear cut with D. i Think I can make an effort at it…and the third miracle was turning the tramp to God! Thank goodness for technology!!!! And thanks for your help!!!!!!!!!

I’m just trying to sort out the ending now. I’m stumped on who Liesl is referring to in her letter to D at the end when she says: “join the Basso and the Brazen head. We shall have some high old times before The Five make an end of us all.” Any thoughts??

Dani — it’s funny…when you wrote “Willie was the first” I thought that was the bum. Blanked on the brother. Ah well.

I would say the ‘Basso and the Brazen Head’ are Eisengrim and herself. I think Liesl actually says at some point (it might be in the 2nd book, The Manticore, where she meets David, Boy’s son) that she was just pulling words out of her hat for the showmanship. The Five would be the makers of the story — the idea being (this is me just pulling a theory out of my hat!) that finding yourself saddled with an archetype in a story, realizing that you are one of the Five (male & female heros, male & female villains, and the Fifth Business of course 🙂 ) would probably make you want & need some ‘high old times’.

Reminds me actually of Lois McMaster Bujold’s book The Curse of Chalion — where the main character finds himself being, well, ridden by a god…he and another ‘saint’ find solace in getting pissed together.

Since Leisl refers to Paul as the “basso” at the end of the novel, I always thought she was suggesting that he was the villian (I think it says somewhere that the villian is usually portrayed by a bass). But then, before that, she says that the Fifth Business “knows the secret of the hero’s birth,” which would suggest that Paul is the hero. I’m not sure which is which, and I don’t think there is necessarily a correct answer.

As for the others, though, I’m almost certain Mrs. Dempster is the heroine–Davies adds tiny little hints everywhere, like when Leisl describes the heroine as “often a fool.” Leisl is probably the confidante or sorceress (it seems that the two positions are interchangeable). Based on Davie’s Jungian philosophy, I’d say she is meant to represent Ramsay’s shadow; Davies often hints that she is the devil (like when Ramsay twists her nose), and the devil and the shadow are essentially interchangeable. I’m not sure how this fits into the opera structure, though.

Hello Lori, Azahar.

I’ve just finished reading the book for the third time, and I tried to focus on the women in the novel this time around. Mrs. Dempster really stood out for me; she was a driving force in Dunstan’s life and it’s astounding how influential she is. if my memory serves me right, she played a role in his joining the army, as well as his somewhat career shift into the study of saints. Overall, what is her role in the novel? It’s difficult for me to put into words because I understand it when I look at the big picture. Her character was “simple,” but most certainly effective.

Yosra — thanks for stopping by.

Mrs. Dempster role…in the simplest terms? Dunstan’s muse? His anima? She is the female that defines/filters how he perceives every other female in his life. Davies was very much into Jungian psychology…

Az? Care to take a stab at this?

Is she much of a mother figure to Dunstan? I’m perplexed by his loyalty to Mrs. Dempster throughout the years. It’s definitely his guilt driving him. It saddens me to see her as an outcast, especially after the incident with the tramp. Her position in the town seems like a trivial one that is mostly good for gossip and such.

I don’t think it’s fair to characterize her role in the simplest terms :P.

I’m also wondering about Mrs. Dempster’s effect on the male characters in the novel (more specifically, Paul, Boy, and Dunstan).

Her effect on Dunstan is obvious; but what about Paul and Boy? You could argue that the snowball incident bothered him all his life even though he does not admit it and he tries to rid himself of this guilt by helping Dunstan with financial matters. Why else would he help Dunny? =/

As for Paul, I guess he blames her for the way he’s ridiculed in the town and at school. He sees her as a disgrace to his family, and he is ashamed of her. Does Mary Dempster affect Paul’s relationships with women? If so, how? The novel doesn’t mention much about Paul and his relationships, but does he somehow become emotionally detached from the women in his life?

My brain hurts O.o

Boy is such a subtle character — we see him only through Dunstan’s eyes, so he’s not very multi-dimensional. Dunstan remembers the incident with the snowball, because he was the intended victim, and he was right there when Mrs. Dempster was hit. We know Dunstan is a thinker, a romantic, an academic, an analyzer…it is clear that he’ll be thinking of the incident for the rest of his life.

But Boy — in that scene, isn’t he just (‘just’ used cautiously) a normal (‘normal’ ditto! :)) boy, a bit of a bully, throwing a snowball at another boy that may or may not have a rock in it — in his memory?

Is Davies making a point here about memory? Memories of an event are not fixed — do we have any indication at all that Boy remembers the rock at any time, other than when he’s confronted with it that night he dies? To Boy, Mrs. Dempster is the crazy woman that Dunstan’s obsessed over.

And I’m going to wimp out a little with Paul — here’s a little boy that goes from a mother who was tied up in the house (weirdness in itself), to the life on the carnival. When, if ever, did he meet a ‘normal’ (there’s that word again!) woman? He knew Dunstan’s mother, a bit, that old busybody… Really, in the end, probably the only woman who he could handle would be someone just like Liesl — individual and nutty in her own way.

Again, just my thoughts.


I’m a highschool student about to write a 40000 word essay on the Deptford Trilogy. I’m choosing to write about it because Fifth Business was so inspirational. Halfway through the Manticore. I will probably focus in on the theme of the unlived life as well as that of trying to escape one’s past (holding on vs. letting go).

Anyways it’s great to see this site! I was excited today when I read in the Manticore (pg 77) Dr. Von Haller’s comments on one’s Shadow. She says that “we are not working to banish your shadow, you see, but understand it” as well as “you must recognize him” and “he is not a terrible fellow if you know him.” This seemed a complete reiteration of Leisl’s point in Fifth Business when she tells Dunstan to shake hands with his personal devil. It seems as if Davies pushes a theme of personal balance in his books. That one must acknowledge and get to know thier “bad side” so to speak, in order to live life to it’s fullest and find themselves.

Thanks for your response, and good luck with the paper! Do you think Dunstan’s life is unlived? If so, or partially, how so? And what exactly do you see his role as Fifth Business to be? Thanks!

In terms of Paul Dempster and Mary’s effect on him it has been profound. I mean, living with Mary, Paul was bullied and he had no mother to protect him growing up. He felt and was portrayed by Dunstan, as very weak. I think that he resented his mother and the emotional pain/stress she caused him so much that he completely reinvented himself even to the point of changing his name to Magnus Eisengrim. Paul not only changed his name though, but he completely became Magnus Eisengrim who was the exact opposite of tiny, weak Paul who had no control or structure in his life. Magnus was graceful, strong and almost superhuman as an illusionist.
In terms of Paul’s relationships with women, Mary could have effected them for sure. Mary was a pitied, simple, weak women in the end. Paul associates himself with Faustina and Leisl at the end of the book, two women who are polar opposites of Mary. Faustina is a “woman of the earth” (I tihnk Leisl calls her that.) Leisl, as we know is intelligent, sturdy and wise. Emotional detachment with Paul? Well his relationships with women as you know are never discussed in detail yet I think Dunstan mentions he and Faustina share a room in FB.
Mary’s effect on Boy? Well, who knows. I mean, Boy denies remembering the snowball incident at the end of FB or who Mary and Paul were. I think that Boy felt guilty about the snowball incident yet delt with it entirely differently. Boy tried to shrug of his guilt while Dunstan dramatically consumed himself with it. There are some definite similarities between Mary and Leola. Both seem to lose themselves and thier minds. Boy knew he threw that snowball. Boy knew it hit Mary Dempster. Perhaps the fact that he claims he didn’t feel all that guilty hints at his views towards women; that his actions with them have consequences he doesn’t need to accept.

Katie, Thanks for joining in.

The personal balance, and being aware of (or on speaking terms with) your shadow are very much part of Jungian psychology — and Dr. Von Haller is Jungian of course. [A great, readable intro to Jungian analysis is “Boundaries of the Soul” by June Singer — I highly recommend it.]

Have fun with your essay — and if you like the first two books of the trilogy, hold on to your hat when you dive into the third!!

[…] Robertson Davies, again I’m not a hit hound by any means, but I do check them, just to see. And the most popular page on this blog is the space where we were discussing The Fifth Business. […]

[…] alejna, also lifted from the rather literate casa az, who happened to have a copy of the fabulous Mr. Davies on her bedside table. (Go and read their posts — lovely and […]

i just wanted to say i LOVED Fifth Business, i had to read it for school. I happen to come to this site for help, and it is great!! (no copy and pasteing!! just a helpful development of ideas!!) lol Thanks!!

Thanks “L” — what a nice thing to say: ‘development of ideas’. 🙂

Anyone still visiting this forum? I have a couple of questions/observations: one – Paul was born tiny and covered with long hair – almost a wild beast kind of creature, a bear perhaps – a sign that he will be a mythical figure in the story? And why the egg shaped rock in Boy’s mouth at the end? The only other egg in the story is the one Dunstable steals from the kitchen at home, which brings about the break with his mother. Two eggs, two breaks…

Thanks Jacquie, for raising these issues. The one about Paul born with long hair = mythical figure is interesting. I’ve never thought about that one. Didn’t Dunstan pursue stories etc. of the bearded woman, Saint something-or-other? There could be a theme there of mysticism and unnatural hair.

The egg-shaped rock in Boy’s mouth at the end is the question to end all questions — the rock is from Dunstan’s desk, that he had kept all those years, as it was the rock that Boy had put in the snowball that started the whole story. Dunstan confronted Boy with it, with Paul in the room…then discovered it gone. Did Paul take it (Did Paul kill Boy?)? Or did Boy take it (Did Boy commit suicide?)?

But the significance of the egg-shape…tied to that egg that Dunstan stole as a child? Good question. (Too tired to speculate tonight…)

hey! i just finished reading 5th business and loved it! what a great novel.

Does anyone have any ideas regarding the inhabitants in the village of deptford and how they could be depicted?

JJ — Don’t forget to read the rest of the trilogy, now that you’re hooked! 🙂

The inhabitants of Deptford? The town is modeled after a specific one in Ontario, the name of which escapes me at this moment. But it really is Everytown, Ontario, Canada.

The town is modeled after Thamesville, I believe.

Hi Shelly — welcome! You are probably right. (I could also go downstairs to my library and look it up in one of his essays, or the biography…)

So, are you a big fan of Mr. Davies? Or just of this book?

hello- just finished reading the fifth business book for Gr. 12 English and I was searching online for some ideas others may have for the last few lines of the book when I clicked you’re blog. I must say the ideas and questions are truly interesting.

Although this blog is already been up for quite a while, I was wondering is you were still willing to bounce ideas off of me?
Anyways, I’ll continue.

“Mrs. Dempster role…in the simplest terms? Dunstan’s muse? His anima? She is the female that defines/filters how he perceives every other female in his life”
I think you made this comment somewhere above.

I always thought that if there was a filter, Diana and Mrs. Ramsey was also filters that Dunstan used to judge the women he met in life. Mary is important through his life but he’s always shifting between admiring her to pitying her madness, but always loving her. He liked Leola than pitied her and rejected her, but he was always jealous of Boy having her. At the same time he did not wanting her- and Leola is like a carbon copy of Mary. On the other hand, we first start to see Dunstan’s lack of love towards Leola thorough his first lover Diana. Diana’s not the only intellegent woman who saves Dunstan. Liesl, our macho but superbly intelligent person acting as the devil saves him as well. Dunstan’s relationship with girls is just a bit weird in my opinion because he’s always loving and pitying stupid women [Mary dempster, Faustina, Leola] and befriending ad being saved by intellegent ones (Diana and Liesl). Dunstan also seems to use Mrs. Ramsey as a filter for judging Diana, even though he had deep respect for Diana.. Right now though I’m having trouble finding aspects in his life where he’s directly referred to Mrs. Dempster as a comparison to other ladies in FB, I was wondering if you had any points there?

(Wow I really got away with the female roles and filters business from this blog! But this is fun.)

The original reason I wanted to ask about was the whole deal on liesl’s note to Dunstan. Why did he find it horrifying? I couldn’t understand that part, along with how cryptic the message was. I agree with the idea that the basso and the brazen head are Eisengrim and liesl and sort of agree that the five are the hero& heroine, villain & villainess, and fifth business. But I’m still having trouble with the five, who’s the villainess? Who’s the villain, boy could be the villain, but I feel that there’s much more to his character. The villainess I have no ideas about. If paul is considered the villain like liesl refers to (the basso), what did he do that made him the villain? Why did boy have the rock he threw at Mary in his mouth- to carry his sin to the very end? If paul really did kill boy, did that mean he had more attachment to Mrs. Dempster than he kept on saying? If I read the rest of the Deptford trilogy will some of those questions be answered?

This book can be so frustrating

but its really interesting to read.

Anyways, sorry about this particularly long comment, but I think it might be alright for the blog with its deep discussions.
If you’re reading this far- thanks for doing that- I tend to ramble.

“The original reason I wanted to ask about was the whole deal on liesl’s note to Dunstan. Why did he find it horrifying? I couldn’t understand that part, along with how cryptic the message was.”

Don’t know whether you’ll ever read this but as I recall, Dunny was not horrified with the note from Liesl so much as he was by Liesl’s (the Brazen Head’s) words when an audience member during the famous magic show asked “Who killed Boy Staunton?” This is because Dunny hears himself implicated in the death of Boy. Dunny is “the keeper of the stone” and “the keeper of his conscience”; this makes him part of Boy’s death which he had not expected or realized until that moment. This shock was enough to give him a stroke: he is the fifth business in the story of Boy Staunton. The other members or forces involved are complex. The woman he “did not know” could be the repressed Mary Dempster or, it could be the Jungian anima, as he never knew the feminine as Dunny did in all its complexity. It is a force that does him in, in the end too. That letter by Liesl is an inside way of letting Dunny know he is part of them now, those who operate cabalistically. But i think it could mean more, and Davies takes great pains to conceal and be esoteric about the “illuminati” throughout the novel. So his invitation to join Liesl and Magnus Eisengrim in Switzerland could be a way of suggesting he is bought off (corrupted) and must work for/with them as they now have the dirt on him. I like to think it reflects the way Government leaders get installed who have a panama. In Davies’s time, Trudeau. Today, Obama…

“If I read the rest of the Deptford trilogy will some of those questions be answered?”

I’m sorry, Alice…but that line made me laugh aloud! 🙂

You know, I’m glad you stopped by. If you notice the comment thread here, it’s been building slowly, and it is my most popular post…I like knowing that people come to this post and go away with a lot more questions. That’s how I feel about R. Davies’ writing.

You asked about evidence that M. Dempster is the filter that Dunstan uses to view the women in his life…Wow. I would have to do a close reading to find any actual evidence! That came to me from having read the book so many times, at so many different times in my life, that Dunstan is like a real person to me. And a real person would be influenced by the people he grew up around — esp. if like M. Dempster, they were really really memorable.

I liked the point you made about the rhythm of pity and love that Dunstan feels for M. Dempster, then Leola, his ‘first love’…compared to how he feels about the stronger women in his life.

I think the important thing to keep in mind is that in a way, these *are* real characters…so Liesl’s cryptic message is not necessarily the author telling us everyone’s role in the grander scheme of things, it is a very intelligent, but human, woman giving a performance at a magic act. She brings in ‘true’ elements, but is also speaking in broad, sweeping, dramatic, literary strokes. And try to tell me her pride is not in there, making more of her creative connections than are really there! (See, she is very real to me!) Because, I still contend that each character has elements of the hero, the villain and the fifth business in him/her.

And if you read the rest of the trilogy…beware, it isn’t the same as a more ‘normal’ trilogy. The Manticore is the story of David, Boy Staunton’s son, in therapy (Jungian) — sounds dull, but it ain’t. Fascinating. The third book is all about the large ego himself, Eisengrim, or Paul Dempster.

Anyway, a long comment to answer a long comment. Thanks, Alice!! 🙂

I have to compare Fifth business to World of Wonders, but i have not read the Manticore. My intentions were to compare the themes of guilt and innocence as they are opposites(at least in a court of law). I also wanted to talk about Dunstan and Paul’s relationship how is changes. Finally i wanted to talk about Paul’s journey, how his name changes and so does he. Any helpful starter would be gratefully appreciated.

Hi David. Welcome.

It’s interesting that you haven’t read the Manticore, but refer to guilt vs. innocence in a court of law. The Manticore is David’s story (Boy’ son), who is a lawyer, and spends the book in Jungian therapy trying to get out from under his right brain, analytical, lawyer-ly way of thinking.

If I were to start a discussion on guilt and innocence in those two books…I’d start with guilt/innocence in the children. The boy Dunstan who fees guilt over something he never did (He is not the one who threw the snowball.), vs. the boy Paul who felt no guilt in the petty crimes (and not so petty) he committed in the carnival circuit. Dunstan seems always trapped in the rigid protestant ideology of his upbringing, whereas Paul gets away from it, and creates from himself something different, beyond the ethical/moral dilemmas that delineate Dunstan’s world.

Hmm. Where am I going with this? Is it a question of awareness of a moral compass? Dunstan has one, Paul doesn’t. Dunstan becomes a well-respected person in society, but envies Paul/Eisengrim’s…eccentric majesty. [Innocent of intent, guilty of the green-eyed monster?] Paul is not respected — his talent and arrogance are admired by some, but he’s generally disliked…but is unaware of it. [Guilty in the sin of pride, but innocent it its effect on his life?]

Both books are theoretically auto-biographies…Dunstan’s story is written to his headmaster upon the occasion of his retirement; Paul’s is recounted to an audience. Dunstan chooses his audience, forces the story on someone else…frustrated with the account of his life in the school paper. Frustrated ego. Paul’s is ‘dragged out of him’ (of course only when he himself is ready and wanting to tell it) by a fascinated, if not always friendly, audience. Stuffed satisfaction. Both guilty of the sin of pride.

Well, that may not have made much sense, but thanks for the question. It’s always good to think on these books from different angles!

Counterposing Paul/Magnus and Dunstable/Dunstan takes me directly to the matter of their both being transformed by association with Liesl — who strikes me as wonderfully amoral yet ethical. (She of course is also transformed by meeting Magnus, who scolds her out of angry temperamental rage over her disfigurement by acromegaly.) She has that feel of obeying the laws of a cagey God rather than the explicit laws comprehensible by Man. She often seems to me to be Davies’ mouthpiece for the idea that baldly transgressive acts are necessary for the people involved, perpetrators or “victims,” to find their soul or their destiny — Paul himself remarks that without being abducted and “made the pathic of a drug addict,” he’d have stifled as a preacher’s son in Deptford. And it’s not hard to see Boy Staunton’s death, which he precipitates, as a release from a ghastly senescence. Peccate fortiter. But of course the issue there is that these are exactly the questions that transcend the law-courts, as David has to realize in a different context.

hey sledpress, I’d heard you were a Davies fan (a little az-bird told me!).

“Pecca fortiter”…gads, I had to look that up! 😀 “Sin without fear”, or the greater the sin, the greater the forgiveness, so the idea (heresy) being that to better experience God’s love, through His forgiveness, one should commit enormous sins… I see your point. Burn big, burn bright, and you’ll experience, learn, grow more.

I agree, that yes, Liesl transforms both men, but wouldn’t you say that she finishes their transformations, by giving them permission to live more boldly? They’d both already been through their own great changes prior to meeting her. I’ve always believed that Liesl was Davies’ favourite character, maybe because I think we all wish we had a bit of her in us…I like how you put it, the following “the laws of a cagey God”. I’m not sure how I’d state that in a non-theist way, but it strikes a chord in me.

“Peccate fortiter” has also always carried the freight, to me, of not hanging back from doing what’s in your heart trying to get out, even if you sense it might be a “sin” seen from whatever ethical framework you’re living in. Davies does a lot with that idea. Even Parlabane’s unreadable novel in the Orpheus trilogy is called “Be Not Another’s.”

I liked it that Davies, who was so consciously Jungian, made his “tame” muse an explicitly Jungian therapist, Dr. von Haller, and set up the contrast between her and Liesl, who is scary and a guide to scary (and undignified) experiences. He seems to be saying the necessary transformation into a living expression of your real self will only happen if you are willing to be frightened out of your wits, or made ridiculous (Ramsay whaling away with his artificial leg or David crapping his trousers in the bear-cave), that’s one reason you have to sin bravely.

Hey everyone,

Lori, I love your insights and this is a woderful website.
I was wondering who views Dunny as a hero and who does not?

Thanks Jeanie.

Is that a poll question, or a question regarding character point of view?

If it’s a poll…I can easily say that Dunstan is a hero. Depending on your point of view. He was a hero in his own eyes, in the eyes of Mrs. Dempster (if she thought about it), a war hero to Diana…Boy would never have considered Dunny the hero — good god no. To the boy Paul? Maybe. The adult Paul, with his own carefully built mystique? No.

It’s a general question I suppose. I can see your point. Though, I don’t think Mary Dempster would have viewed him as a hero. But if he was a hero wouldn’t he have completely all the steps of a Hero’s Journey?

The Departure/Call to Adventure
The Intiation
The Road of Trials
The Innermost Cave
The Return: He never returns to Deptford/old world; thus, his heroic journey is not complete, can he still be called a hero?

I’m having a dicussion with much disagreement putting events with these stages, my colleagues and I are debating about this, maybe you could help?

Hmm. Good question…but I don’t know if I’m in any position to help. I’m a reader who writes a blog where one post gets poked continuously by people with really interesting perspectives on one of the best books in the English language. I am not a professor, nor did I major in English Literature in university…

But I will give you my ‘take’ on the matter:

(1) The only one who is truly on a Hero’s Journey, by the definition/stages you give, is Paul Dempster.

(2) This is just a novel, written by a man, albeit a great writer, who was fascinated by the ideas of Jung, but may not have had the actual steps of the Hero’s Journey on a post-it next to his typewriter.

(3) I still think that Liesl states the “truth” (as much as a fictional character can state truth!), that the words she speaks are for showmanship more than from any actual insight into the situation. Sure, in her mind, those archetypes can be found in any given drama, but I don’t think she could have been expected to know that much about the situation to be able to truly assign roles.

(4) Davies later stated that the quote that begins the book, the piece about the Fifth Business, was a load of balderdash, thought up by him. Perhaps *that* is the point of the book, that people muddle through their lives, with the occasional flash of insight into their possible position in a grander scheme of things, but in the end it is only ego. It is ego of Liesl to think the way she does, that she has some mysterious, deep insight because she is European or ugly or aristocratic. Ego pretty much defines Paul as a grown man. Ego is the primary driver of Boy. And ego is the reason the book is written in the first place, as an autobiography written by Dunstan, prompted by his ire at a dismissive article about him in the school paper. To each and every one of them, they are the Hero of their own tale.

Trying to eke out a definitive answer to the question “Who is the Hero?” makes for an interesting intellectual game, but in the end, this is (gasp!) only a book, written by a man who has (inadvertently or intentionally) created a legacy that will mess with our minds for a long, long time.

I like this book but i don’t quite understand it. i have an question for english asking how jungian psychology plays a role in the book and i don’t know how to answer it. i know mary dempster is dunstans anima i think..help please!

Well, gardenqueen, why don’t you start by researching the basics of Jungian psychology, then reading the book again, with those basics in mind?

I don’t mind taking a stab at a well-thought-out question that shows that the asker is taking their own stab at a deeper understanding of the book. Your question is more along the lines of “please write my thesis for me” — for that, I would normally charge money.

Something like this
might be a place to start with Jung (I used to have a boffo illustrated intro called Jung For Beginners, but though two books of that title are available at Amazon neither one looks like the one I had.)

Thanks! I’m a fan of Boundaries of the Soul by June Singer, but then her goal is not a quick synopsis of the ideas.

What exactly makes Dunny, 5th business? also, who is the hero and the heroine in the novel?

Hi Jasmine, welcome.

If you read all the way through this comment thread, you’ll see that I don’t really believe that Dunstan is the 5th Business. Liesl calls him the 5th Business, because she is the heroine of her life, Magnus her hero, and any hero and heroine need a 5th Business to facilitate their lives. (Also, keep in mind that Davies made up the idea of the 5th Business…it’s a great idea, but it’s not a tradition in literature or opera as he makes it out to be in the frontpiece ‘quote’.)

So, the question is, who helps Dunstan be the hero of his life — who is his Fifth Business? And who is his heroine?

Or, to stick with your original question, what makes him 5th business is the perspective of Liesl…in my opinion.

Thank you for your answer. I have another question. I am writing an in class essay and the topic is: Does Dunstan satisfy the requirements for “fifth business?”

In the novel itself, Liesl says to dunny, “you are the one who knows the secret of the heroe’s birth, or comes to the assistance of the heroine when she thinks all is lost, or keeps the hermitess in her cell.”

Throughout that description, who is the heroine and the hermitess? I feel Dunny must be fifth business only becaue Liesl mentions that the person who is 5th business, knows the secret of the heroe’s birth… and the hero is Paul…

Please get back to me as soon as possible, Thank you so much.

Thanks for the answer but I do not think I can write an essay disagreeing with the fact he is fifth business.

So just to make things easier, what are 3 major points that represent Dunny’s role as fifth business?

Oh, and Jasmine… of course you can write an essay disagreeing with the thesis that Dunstan is the fifth business…you can write an essay defending any point as long as you make a convincing argument. That’s the whole point of what you should be learning in lit classes.

when liesl tells dunstan that the 5th business is someone who helps the heroine when she feels all is lost, and keeps the hermitess in her cell, WHO is Liesl talking about?

In other words, who is the heroine and who is the hermitess?

Jasmine and Danielle,

If you’ve read any/all of the discussion here, you’ll know that I don’t write people’s essays for them. You’ll also know that I will tell you that there is no one answer…the ‘three points’ you’re looking for to satisfy the structure of an essay for school should be what you think about the question.

So, if you’ve read the book, who do you think is the hermitess? The heroine? Or better yet, who do you think Liesl thinks they are?

Find the answer to that, from your own reading/thinking, and voilà! There’s your essay.

Good luck.


Wow. i just read through the ENTIRE comments thread (was that potentially over half an hour ago that i started reading? haha) and i found myself questioning alot more than i intially was. Also, I found my interest spiked by the ideas of the second and third books of the trilogy (mostly the second one) which i initially was not interested in reading.

After reading some of these comments, i became curious as to the women in the novel’s effect. [By the way, Is it really safe to compare Mary Dempster to Leola as an effect she had on Boy? I thought it was a coincidential occurance that both happened to be simple (etc etc) and not out of any reaction to Mary Dempster that Boy got with Leola.]

Also, (some of) you mentioned that Mary Dempster did not have a huge role on Dunstan, but i felt as though he lived his entire life around her. His going to war was due to her, (as was his increased interest in the Saints) all his guilt through the years were connect to her and thus so was his desire for atonement. I felt as though when he cried at her funeral, it was not sadness as much as relief from the guilt he carried around since he was a boy as to ruining her life (which i thought was sort of egoistical of him: her life or lack thereof is not his fault for not being hit by the snowball.)

Yes, i too felt as though Leisl was an intruiging character. I’m not sure if this relation is correct as i haven’t read the book recently but isn’t she the only one to psychoanalyse Dunny as he did for Boy? (did he even psychoanalyse Boy or am i just making stuff up now?)

As for his mother, i feel like she is the reason he never really allowed himself to truely love or experience the joys of love with anyone. Ever since his mother beat him, whenever he mentions his mother the tone is much darker and he clearly lost his respect and love for her, He was relieved when she died rather than sad! He lived in his abusive (if only emotionally) mother’s world until Diana came around. He broke up with because she was too much like his mother, which is ironic, since she is the one who helped him finally break the hold his mother had on him and allows him to find his new self, giving him the name “Dunstan” instead of his mother’s maiden name “dunstable”.

Just my thoughts. I might be wrong, but hey, it’s a learning proccess right?

well, zee23, I’m impressed that you read all the comments on this thread…that was quite a challenge! I hope you’ve been inspired to re-read the book…and look up the others.

Liesl. Probably the most intriguing character of the bunch, for me. (You’ll find much more of her in both of the next two books.) She does do a bit of armchair psychoanalysis of Dunstan, you’re right there. I like to think, and I think I say it somewhere in the thread above, that Liesl is Davies’ ideal woman, or his Anima more likely. Capable, enigmatic, highly literate, manly, artistic, adventurous…

One problem I have with people leaving their thoughts here is that it always makes me think “hell, I know. Maybe I should read the book again!” But then I’ve got a pile of other books to read…and when I do give it another read, I forget what I’m supposed to be reading it for, and just get wrapped up in the story!

zee, keep thinking these thoughts, and pick up the book again. Read it, then pick up The Manticore and World of Wonders. Trust me, you won’t regret it!

What Jungian archetype does Denyse Hornick fall under? Is it the same archetype as Liesl’s ?

Good question. And one I don’t know the answer to…if it were as simple as having an answer. I might have an opinion, but I’d have to sit and have a think about it, review the Jungian archetypes, re-read sections of the book on Denyse….

So, because it’s 7:15 a.m., I’ve started with putting “Jungian Archetypes” into Google, and ended up at this site http://changingminds.org/explanations/identity/jung_archetypes.htm which gives me the following list:

“Jung said that there are a large number of archetypes. These are often linked to the main archetypes and may represent aspects of them. They also overlap and many can appear in the same person. For example:

* Family archetypes
o The father: Stern, powerful, controlling
o The mother: Feeding, nurturing, soothing
o The child: Birth, beginnings, salvation
* Story archetypes
o The hero: Rescuer, champion
o The maiden: Purity, desire
o The wise old man: Knowledge, guidance
o The magician: Mysterious, powerful
o The earth mother: Nature
o The witch or sorceress: Dangerous
o The trickster: Deceiving, hidden
* Animal archetypes
o The faithful dog: Unquestioning loyalty
o The enduring horse: Never giving up
o The devious cat: Self-serving”

What archetype(s) do you think fit her character?

Is it ever quite so facile? Denyse and Liesl both have elements of Anima, and elements of Shadow (who tend to travel together, for a man). The opposite-sex and shadow-figures in dreams and fiction and fantasy always partake of what a person has consciously rejected and needs to integrate, or over-idealized — given too much importance — and needs to confront as an equal.

The thing about archetypes is that they are not like positions on a team. They slip, slide and morph.

And never forget what Robert Bly said: “If someone turns to you and says ‘You are my anima,’ you should immediately run like hell,” or words to that effect. No one pops into only one bottle, even in fiction — think of Liesl who is the anima as loathly lady (the perfect foil for someone whose inner feminine has been as evilly treated and invoked as Paul Dempster’s) but also the Trickster.

Denyse affects me as the worst, unconsidered side of the Mother — someone who is managerial and controlling toward everyone in her life and even trails around a child who will never grow up (Caroline). It’s almost as if she’s rendered herself one-dimensional by her death-grip on the power implicit in that role — when you get to the point in the story where she could function as the aspect of the Goddess or anima that leads a person into the next world, the whole Maid, Mother, Crone thing, instead there she is screwing around with death masks and making a repulsive farce of the funeral.

Hey sledpress…great comment. Thanks for reminding me of the scene of Denyse attempting the death mask — I wholeheartedly agree with you!

Never heard the Robert Bly quote, but have had some guy tell me I was his anima. Definitely creepy. (Oh, one’s 20s…)

It’s one of the few “right on” things Robert Bly ever said, IMHO.

Does Denyse have the archetype of the hermaphrodite? Because she had a masculine mind and sacrificed so much of her feminine self? Or does this archetype apply more to Liesl? And I don’t know how Denyse affected Dunstan directly and what her role really was in his life.

Point 1: You’re welcome.
Point 2: You seem to be fishing for answers to essay questions – I don’t do that. You’re welcome to engage with me and those online friends of mine who stop by to talk about one of their favourite author’s writing. Ask the questions, but indulge in some thinking of your own, read the previous 64 comments for insight, dialogue with those who leave comments in reply to what you’ve posted, and do your own research.

I’m sorry for not thanking you for replying. And it’s just that I thought it would be okay to ask someone who reads so much to share their opinion. I was going to say that she is almost like Mrs. Ramsay and contributed to his aversion of women… but that’s obvious. I haven’t read The Manticore yet to comment on her as a mother. I did read the previous comments. But I’m focusing on the role of all the women in Dunstan’s life… and I don’t see how Denyse affected him any differently than Mrs. Ramsay. What makes Dunstan think that she is not intelligent? The fact that she cares so much about external things?

Hey Lisa, thanks for taking some chastisement and coming back!

I will always contend that the narrative of the Fifth Business is truly Dunstan’s story, and more importantly, his point of view, reflecting his sensibilities. Without diving back into the book, which I don’t have the time to do right now, I’d say you might be right. Dunstan, remember, is an academic, a hagiographer, so the things he finds important would be the opposite of what Denyse finds meaning in. Personally, I don’t remember him thinking of her as unintelligent…but then I don’t have the book with me right now.

I still say, trust your instincts, and make your case. Davies wrote a great book, with really strong characters. If he were alive today, would he laugh at us here, trying to make sense of what he may not have done as deep an analysis of while writing it!

Keep a watch on this space, and one of my online friends may comment further.

i am not the only one on this blog to think that RD is one of the most, if not actually THE most under appreciated writer in the English language of the past 100 yrs or so.

Denyse appears to me to be wholly under-done. there are not many characters in many parts of RD’s work where there is an impression that the creation started is a work left incomplete, but Denyse is one such example. I dare not make this a criticism of a book so incredibly rich, but which continues to this day to stimulate much hand wringing when it comes to the old canard of RD’s treatment of women in his fiction.

Welcome, Ilyas. You’re among friends here, in RD-land.

As always, the value of the person vs the value of their output are never quite equal. Lots has been written about his attitudes towards women…but that doesn’t detract from the richness of his writing.

I like your thoughts on Denyse. Bears thinking about, the next time I do a read-through. I’m a believer that RD never lost Dunstan’s point of view, so if D didn’t spend too much thought on Denyse, then the audience doesn’t get to either! (That’s my throw-away comment at the end of a long day of work.)

Lori, there is an interview somewhere on the internet, where RD talks about a message of moderation and that things ought not to be pursued beyond a “reasonable” limit. The boundary between RD the writer and RD the person is less easy to navigate at the best of times, but I do agree that there is a test of reasonableness beyond which one ought not to complicate one’s enjoyment of the books by contemplation of the person.

On that note, I am reminded of the great Gore Vidal who cautions against getting to know one’s hero’s too closely given the likelihood of great disappointment.

I am glad to be a part of your community and hope to hear from other RD fans.

Hear, hear.

I love Neil Gaiman’s work — it moves me to tears — but I haven’t been able to read any again since I met him. Sobering experience.

i have been reading all of the posts on this page for the last 45minutes and they have definitely helped!!
My essay topic, althoug it seems easy enough after reading this, is the influence of the women in Dunstan’s life. I came up with all of my points a few days ago, but my one continuous flaw throughout all of highschool has been searching for quotes to support my ideas.

For Dunny’s mother,I know that she isolates and ditances him from other women, thus causing him not to have any real female relationships. I know that this is evident especially in Diana because we see that he realizes she is exactly like his mother and leaves her.

Diana brings him back to health and although he doesn’t love her romantically, she renames Dunstable.

Mary Dempster sort of robbed Dunny of his childhood as he felt constant guilt for the state she was in. She was the only person he ever really loves, and seeing her face saves him at Passchendaele.

Liesl makes Dunny realize that he has no emotion and helps him learn to show some, bringing him from isolation. Liesl is also Dunny’s ideal woman. ( one question: does Anima mean the female version of Dunny himself?)

I know it is tedious work, and no one wants to sit there and help some random highschool student find a bunch of quotes for her essay, but i would really appreciate anything anyone can offer!!

Thank you soo much!

You know ‘pleasehelp!’… part of me would actually like to help, as I do enjoy reading through this book again (and again!), but I don’t have the time. I work, I have volunteer commitments and household responsibilities…and I already know how to read with a critical eye and support my arguments.

I hear you, though. Looking for the quotes that will support your opinions is hard, but it is the point of the activity.

In answer to your question about anima — yes, a man’s anima is, in the simplest of terms, his female side. The animus is the male side of a woman, a theory from Jung’s pschology (Wikipedia is as good a place as any to start to get a background in Jung’s place in thought).

And to find a quote that makes your point…The women in The Fifth Business are more or less confined to specific sections…his mother in his youth, Liesl in later years, etc. You’re lucky there. Re-read each section paying close attention to how that woman is portrayed in the language. A line that makes you stop and think is likely a good quote.

You will benefit greatly from learning to do this — go ask your teacher for some help. DON’T ask your teacher to do it for you — bring some quotes to discuss that you’ve discovered. Normally, what frustrates a teacher is when ‘please help me’ translates to ‘please do the work for me’. When ‘please help me’ actually means ‘I’ve done part of the work and I need some guidance now’, teachers can be counted on to be there!

Good luck!

Why is Paul the hero in fifth business

Em, good question. Maybe you might want to start with “Is Paul the hero?” before you get to “Why?” Because if you’ve answered the first question, you’ll have the answer to the second.

What do you think? What is the definition of a hero? Does Paul fit that definition? If so, what examples can you find to support that position?

Denyse is certainly an important character in the novel, as she is the reason Boy and Dunny are separated from each other. But what exactly is Denyse’s role in the development of Boy’s and Dunny’s character?
Thank You.

Well Mike, another good question. What do you think the answer is? As with all literary questions, the answer is so often in the eye and mind of the reader. I’ve honestly never given Denyse much thought, since she’s a bit of a cow….and as Boy’s wife, was very much an enabler of his ego, and a factor in distancing the two men from whatever friendship they might have had. But I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.

Well…She doesn’t like Dunny, however, and tries to separate her new husband and his old friend, which is one of her purposes in the novel. Also, she is a foil of Leola, Boy’s first wife. Unlike Leola, who was sweet and rather simple, Denyse is rather cold and very determined.
But is there anything else that is key in her character?

Keep in mind, it’s been awhile since I’ve read the book, and to be honest, I’ve never paid her much attention. The one thing that stands out for me about Denyse is her own greed and ambition…you might want to re-read the sections with her, and look at how maybe Boy might have not pushed his own ambitions as far, if he hadn’t been egged on by her. How much of his perception of his reputation was dependent on her own ambition. If he killed himself, how much can she be ‘blamed’ for creating high expectations for him, which perhaps he couldn’t live up to (especially when faced with his own locked-down/unacknowledged guilt for the rock in the snowball)? What does the incident with the death mask represent to you? For me, that’s all about her ambition to be the wife of a Great Man, someone worthy of a death mask. But it could represent more, esp to someone reading it again, looking at her motives, and her influence on Boy.

Hey, everyone your comments are really helpful. I was just wondering what was the significance of names and name changes in the characters lives. Is it just that they wanted to escape from their childhood?

Ha! Good question. I’ve never really read it with that in mind…Escape, rebirth, or ? what makes people change their names. Or, have them changed for you — Dunstan is given his new name, is he not?

If Dunny is considered a hero, then how can he be Fifth Business? Could there be more than one fifth business in the novel? I was thinking in a sense Liesl could be one.

Denise, that’s the big question. My contention is that (1) Liesl just threw that whole business of the Hero/Fifth Business/etc out as part of the show, although she intellectually believes in the categories; (2) Davies himself created the concept of the Fifth Business, so the whole point is moot, really!; (3) Dunny is, in my opinion, the hero of his own story, but he accepts Liesl`s opinion that he is the Fifth Business…and (4) maybe everyone is the Hero of their own story, but the Fifth Business of someone else`s. If you think Liesl could be a Fifth Business, then make the argument that she is.

Do you think it is worth arguing that anyone could potentially be fifth business in the nevel depending one the persona they give off?

Why not? If you feel you fully understand what is meant by the concept of the Fifth Business, and it makes sense to you that more one person takes on that role (inadvertently), then argue that. You’re not saying it *is* anything, you’re arguing that it *could be*. Some people have argued that Father Whatshisname in the story is the true Fifth Business…but then I can’t even remember his name. 😉 Read through the comments here again — there’s an interesting discussion with sledpress up above regarding Liesl and her ‘finishing’ of men. You might find that relevant. Good luck!

So in other words, Fifth Business is like a sidekick who knows the secret of the hero’s (Paul) birth. Dunny, Boy,and Liesl all knew the secret of Paul, does this make all three of them Fifth Business?

hey guys, just decided to drop in . I’m wrting an essay on 5fth business for my grade 12 culminating paper and clicked on this link out of curiosity

*The previous post was a test to see if the post function works.* 🙂

Anyway, I wonder if anyone still visits this incredibly long chain of posts. We all remember when Dunny was visiting Padre Blazon for the last time near the end of the novel and they were having a discussion over Liesl being a representation of the devil in Dunny’s life.

Can someone shed some light on that because I didn’t really understand what Padre meant by Leisl representing a devil.

Hi HP…ah, it’s been a long time now since I’ve read it, although this ongoing thread keeps it alive, that’s for sure.
Off the top of my head, I would say that the Padre Blazon is a man of god, and Liesl is a bit of a troublemaker. Keep in mind, what any character says is from his/her point of view — I truly believe that Davies was strong enough in his writing to be able to keep the characters separate from his own point of view…so make the case about what would be true for Blazon as he listens to Dunstan’s story, how would he react to the characters of Dunny’s life?

My advice, as always, is go back and read the section in question, and think about the implications of the characters’ perspectives. 🙂

Liesl’s representing a devil means Liesl is that figure in one’s life journey that gets the protagonist to confront his demons (devil) head on. This is to say, the person which makes one face and overcome his biggest fear. Dunny’s greatest fear was to do something irrational (i.e. bad, immoral, foolish, dangerous, etc.) as this was driven into him by his strict mother and overbearing religious practices as a youth. As a result Dunny spectated more than lived, since living requires risk. Finally, at middle age Dunny is tested unexpectedly in this regard when he encounters Faustina and is uncharacteristically lusting over her. But, again he finds excuses for not satiating his desire, mainly – he’s too old and ugly for her who is so young and beautiful. Liesl can see this debilitating character-trait in Dunny and tells him so. Liesl tempts Dunny to act (much like the Devil did with Christ), and when he does act he overcomes his weakness and is liberated. But it wasn’t easy: Liesl is described as huge, gargoyle-looking, simian, etc. and he really had to physically battle her. It is noteworthy that he defeats her by twisting her nose just as the mythical St Dunstan did to the devil, thereby symbolizing his place in myth. Ironically Dunny sleeps with the ugly Liesl, not Faustina, an act he would never have dreamed of. He has met the devil and left “him” on good terms. Now Dunny is ready for his biggest confrontation: facing up to Boy and admitting to Paul his role in wrecking his family.

I didn’t quite read every post, but I did notice that my personal favorite character, Blazon, was not mentioned. I consider him extremely significant to the development as the story, as he essentially vocalizes many of the novel’s most pivotal questions. I believe that he can be seen as the Fifth Business to Dunny’s life. It is he who identifies the true solution to classifying Mrs. Dempster as a saint. He realizes that it is not important if Mrs. Dempster

…is truly worthy of sainthood, but why Dunny needs her to be a saint.

I don’t know if there is an identifiable correlation, but I am intrigued by Dunstable’s obsessions: magic, becoming a “polymath” and the classification of saints. I wonder if they say anything about his personality, or have any deeper significance that you can discern? The symbolism of magic also intrigues me, what is its relevance to the story? It is a Davies novel, so I expect it was not included on a whim, it seems every aspect of the novel has a purpose…any thoughts?

These obsessions might show the dualism of his personality: magic being associated with the mysterious, irrational, marvellous, unscientific,.. whereas hagiology is scientific, clear, rational, organized,… (even though Blazon tries to show him the underworld of hagiology). Dunny’s essential problem is with his identity : how does a rational man deal with those elements that stir his irrational side…such as Faustina, fashion, celebrity status, etc.? His lifelong predeliction was to rationalize or supress them until finally Liesl shows him that they are natural parts of the person and should be embraced. In a way, his obsessions symbolize his dualism before he reaches individuation.

On another level the magic and mysticism motiefs make possible the ending, namely that things of significance (Boy’s death/Justice) in the world occur because of synchronicity or cabalism, and not because of reason. Davies knew he could not talk openly about the way things really get done in the world…

hi, im a highschool studenti i have to come up with discussion topics on “saint and saint making” in fifth business. I have a few question but im struggling to make ones that will actually lead a discussion. any ideas?

looking from a feminst point of view.. do you guys think women are somewhat disrespected and different in this novel? in what ways would that be? thank 🙂

how did dunstans ambition affect his hero’s journey in fifth business

i mean he didn’t chase after his dreams of becoming a magician as a child or never fought for leola so how else did his ambition or lack there of affect his journey?

banshee, first off, if you’ve read all the comments, as would be wise, you’ll see that I don’t answer essay questions. Do your own thinking — and that’s what your teacher expects/wants from you.

Look at what you’ve said in this comment — you’re pointing out that he seemed to lack ambition. Perhaps, if that’s what stands out for you, *that* could be the thesis that you follow. Good luck with your paper.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Book Discussion Pages

Here on the Book Nook you can discuss: The Fifth Business by Robertson Davies, as well as the next two books in the Deptford Trilogy, The Manticore and World of Wonders, and if that's not enough for you, see what's up on the forums at BookTalk.org!
%d bloggers like this: