Fifth Business by Robertson Davies

Flashcard maker : Lily Taylor
p. 35 – “It was my first encounter with the emotional power of popular morality.”
Early on a lot of his challenging encounters seem to take catch him off guard. Aging and the wisdom that comes with it can very often cause our worlds to shrink. Is it aging and the shocks that come with experience that leads him into the role of fifth business? Or is he always such and aging only makes him come to be aware of it?
p. 69 – “I felt that everything was good, that my spirit was wholly my own, and that though all was strange nothing was evil.”
Dunstans’ belief in saints and mythology makes for an interesting idea of Blasphemy.
p. 81 – “Then I was in love with herself after all, said Diana, making one of those feminine leaps in logic that leave men breathless.”
Interesting idea of “feminine leaps” of what Diana says is true…Do we discredit females simply based on their sexuality?
p. 91 – “…the hero who is tremendous on the field of mars but slighted in the courts of venus.” Was he really tremendous in battle and unlucky in love? Or was he actually just lucky in battle and a self-saboteur in love?
As he really tremendous in battle and unlucky in love? Or was he actually just lucky in battle and a self-saboteur in love?
p. 166 – “Forgive yourself for being a human creature…” -Padre Blazon
Padre Blazon seems to be his fifth business. Offers advice and lead him in certain directions that he may not have gone otherwise.
p. 169 – “I was the man who could be called to dinner… talk to the dullest woman…”
p. 186 – “But where, I ask myself, will mercy and divine compassion come from then? Or are such things necessary to people who are well fed and know the wonders that lie concealed in an atom? I don’t regret economic and educational advance; I just wonder how much we shall have to pay for it, and in what coin.”
Quote that stuck out for me as it is relevant to how we perceive our world and the divide between economic/educational advancement and sacrificing other necessary “coins”…Which one will win?
p. 187 – “…a certainty that faith was a psychological reality, and that where it was not invited to fasten itself on things unseen, it invaded and raised bloody hell with things seen. Or in other words, the irrational will have its say, perhaps because ‘irrational’ is the wrong word for it.”
Did Boy ever really forget what he’d done with the snowball? Or did he carry the guilt but, unlike Ramsay, was too proud to admit it? Is that the real reason he kept Ramsay in his life?
p. 196 – After flattery from Liesl, “Delightful prose! I must know more of this.”
Does he wish for greater prominence? It seems like he’s hoping for deliverance from being fifth business but does not see it as in his power to change that. Are all characters in this book necessarily a sort of fifth business in themselves? Is the author trying to say that really, we’re all fifth business to someone? That is, we’re all equal and there are no leads except from our own individual, limited perspectives?
p. 198 – “This looked like an adventure, and, at fifty, adventures do not come every day.”
Did true adventure ever come to him? Or was he only ever riding piggyback on others’ adventures? Even as a war hero he did not believe it. Even at his best was he always just secondary?
p. 207 – “I had seen a good deal of egotism in my life, and I know that it starved love for anyone else and sometimes burned it out completely.”
Despite Ramsay’s claim of truth, how much of the story really is? Could it be possible that the mild newspaper summary of his retirement really is entirely true? Is he an important person on his own, an important person in relation to others (as fifth business), or is he actually unimportant and only dreaming of importance?
p. 208 – “That is your privelege, you pseudo-cynical old pussy-cat, watching lie from the sidelines and knowing where all the players go wrong. Life is a spectator sport to you.” -Liesl
The idea of being fifth business by choice,but is it an unconscious choice? It definitely doesn’t seem to be shyness that leads someone into a fifth business sort of role, but rather a different/less prominent form of arrogance as they stand back and observe.
p. 213 – “This is the revenge of the un lived life, Ramsay. Suddenly it makes a fool of you.” -Liesl. Dunstan ends his story with the words, “And that, Headmaster, is all I have to tell you.”
-Are all characters in this book necessarily a sort of fifth business in themselves? Is the author trying to say that really, we’re all fifth business to someone? That is, we’re all equal and there are no leads except from our own individual, limited perspectives?
“Cast by Fate and my own character for the vital though never glorious role of Fifth Business!” (9).
has he led a rich and full life, in his own way?
p.187 “A man with my physical needs can’t be tied down to one woman – especially not a woman who doesn’t see sex as a partnership – who doesn’t give anything, who just lies there like a damned sandbag”
Boy doesn’t respect his wife Leola. The culture towards women is interesting in this novel .They are either viewed as sexual objects , or mentally ill asylums (Mary dempster)
p. 240 – After mentioning that he could share all he knows about Boy… “And even then, would it have been the truth?”
Perhaps he is confessing that he’s an unreliable narrator. But is he unreliable in the sense of being a liar and a fake? Or is he unreliable because memory is a tricky thing and perspectives differ from person to person? Did Boy ever really forget what he’d done with the snowball? Or did he carry the guilt but, unlike Ramsay, was too proud to admit it? Is that the real reason he kept Ramsay in his confidences — as a sort of penance?
p.43 “had not been raped, as a decent woman would have been.”
The wives of the community privately prohibit their husbands from expressing any public help for the disgraceful Mary Dempster/ What does this say about their society, and are we any different from them right now? Are we all subconsciously more obsessed with the idea of morality, even in the most unmoral circumstances? Why do we strive to be “morally right”, and judge others based on that?
p.272 “Was he was killed by himself, by the woman he knew, by the woman he did not know, by the man who granted his wish, and by the inevitable fifth, who was the keeper of his conscience and the keeper of the stone.”
Leola could be the woman he didn’t know, and the marriage to her further deepened the bad parts of his character because of his inability to know her. The woman he did know could be represented by his second wife. She was of very similar character to Boy; so much so in that they had such ambition that actually made Boy questions his own social climbing. Perhaps her personal quest for power and prestige, which he recognized as his own character trait, made him re-examine his own motives for ambition. Upon this examination his life was found wanting and hopeless, and, perhaps, he took his own life because of it (or allowed himself to be murdered, perhaps.)
p.112”[He is] not seeking to posture as a hero on this memoir”.
Dunstan is jealous of Boy because of Leola , again idea of being second best…Relives old hurts of Boy and Dunstan
p.157 “Next time I dined with them all the pictures were brought out, and Boy went through them slowly, telling me exactly what H.R.H. had said as each one was taken. At last we came to the ones of Leola”.
Boy forces Leola to become his perfect match . Again, culture of power of a man and submissiveness of the women (Leola).

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