Fifth Business

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Liesl is a hideously ugly but highly intelligent woman who manages Paul’s magic show. She has read Dunstan’s work on saints and chooses him to write the autobiography of Magnus Eisengrim. Dunstan is physically repulsed by her, yet he admires her intellect. One night she tries to seduce him, but Dunstan fights her off. She comes back to apologize, and tells Dunstan his greatest error in life is learning how to love his work and Mrs. Dempster, and nothing and no one else. Dunstan sleeps with her after this conversation. Later, he will tell Padre Blazon that he met the devil in the form of Liesl, and that she taught him how to live with and enjoy the devil without compromising his own morality (or making a “faustian” bargain).

Liesl Quotes in Fifth Business

The Fifth Business quotes below are all either spoken by Liesl or refer to Liesl. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Religion, Faith, and Morality Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of Fifth Business published in 2001.
Part 5 Quotes

“Life is a spectator sport to you.”

Related Characters: Liesl (speaker), Dunstan Ramsay
Page Number: 208
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage the hideous Liesl confronts Ramsay about his feelings for the beautiful Faustina. Ramsay is concerned that if he shows physical affection for Faustina, his actions will offend Paul, who has a relationship with Faustina. Liesl accuses Ramsay of being passive in the face of reality: he just sits back and soaks everything in, not really committing to any one person, idea, or cause.

Liesl has a point. Ramsay thinks of himself as moving through life, guided by magical forces like chance and fate. He controls his own soul, and yet he seems remarkably indifferent to the external events of the universe, from war to suicide. Ramsay does concern himself with certain people, such as Mary, but even here, there's always the sense that he's holding back, placing more value in abstract concepts than in his relationships and feelings for individuals. Liesl sizes Ramsay up pretty well, even if she is otherwise seen as an almost devilish character.

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“You make yourself responsible for other people’s troubles. It is your hobby.”

Related Characters: Liesl (speaker), Dunstan Ramsay
Page Number: 212
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Liesl and Ramsay have wrestled and argued with each other. Liesl explains that she wanted to have a fight with Ramsay to prove to him that he was a human being, not a concept or a spirit. Liesl knows all about Ramsay's life, and she's determined that his problem is his desire to make himself responsible for other people at all costs. We've seen this firsthand: he blames himself for other people's problems, even when he had little or nothing to do with such problems (for instance, he blames himself for Mary's accident). Ramsay's desire to make himself responsible for everyone else, paradoxically, translates into a kind of distance from the world: because he sees himself as the scapegoat for everyone, he's a friend and lover to no one. Ramsay's mistake is to make a distinction between his life and his spirit: he thinks that what happens to him in real life is ultimately irrelevant to his spirit, and therefore he doesn't really care about it. Liesl wants to unite Ramsay's spirit and his external life, showing him that one can only be truly human by savoring the here-and-now.

“It is not spectacular but it is a good line of work…Are you Fifth Business? You had better find out.”

Related Characters: Liesl (speaker), Dunstan Ramsay
Page Number: 214
Explanation and Analysis:

In this important passage, Liesl tells Dunstan that he's meant to be the "fifth business" in life. Dunstan has an important part to play in his peers' existences: he's not really the hero of his own life, nor is he the antagonist or the comic relief. And yet Dunstan must eventually play a different role in life (a role that Liesl nicknames the "fifth business"--a character that doesn't fit a traditional role, but is nonetheless crucial to the plot). In order to find out what his "fifth business" is, Dunstan must actively engage in life, instead of standing aloof from others.

The passage is interesting because of the way Liesl both challenges Dunstan's beliefs and reconfirms them. Dunstan already believes in the notion of fate; the idea that people just play roles in life, which have been written for them by other people (or God, if you prefer). And yet where Ramsay thinks that he should escape his role by maintaining a stoic control over his own spirit, Liesl insists that he should try to explore his role in life (the role of fifth business). In short, Liesl and Dunstan seem to believe in two different version of fatedness: Dunstan thinks of fate as something to be accepted passively, with the help of one's spirit. Liesl, on the other hand, thinks that fate requires human beings to try hard and play an active role in life: just because life is fated doesn't mean that we get to put our feet up.

Part 6 Quotes

“Come to Switzerland and join the Basso and the Brazen Head. We shall have some high old times before The Five make an end of us all.”

Related Characters: Liesl (speaker), Dunstan Ramsay
Page Number: 252
Explanation and Analysis:

The novel ends ambiguously, with Dunstan recreating the letter he's received from Liesl, the woman who tried to bring him enlightenment (but who was also presented as a devil-figure). Liesl wants Dunstan to join up with her and Eisengrim, so that they can travel around the country performing magic and discovering their own unique form of spirituality.

The implication of the passage is that Dunstan's enlightenment is a constant, ongoing process, rather than a distinct event. Dunstan has learned to invest himself in other people, thanks to Liesl's mentorship, and yet he's still a neophyte. It's suggested that after writing his letter he chooses to rejoin Liesl and discover what it means to invest himself in his relationships with others (rather than holding his soul aloof and believing in destiny, as he had previously). The biggest surprise of the novel is that we're never given an entirely satisfying account of what the "fifth business" is: instead of telling us the solution to the mystery, Davies suggests that Dunstan must struggle and act in order to find out what his role in life is (if, indeed, he really has one). It's important to recognize that the end of the novel is really the segue into the second book in the trilogy: we're left with a lot of questions, but perhaps some of the questions will be answered in the later books.

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Liesl Character Timeline in Fifth Business

The timeline below shows where the character Liesl appears in Fifth Business. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 5: “Liesl”
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3. The hideous woman’s name is Liesl, and she attends lunch the next day. Dunstan discovers she is not so bad as... (full context)
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Dunstan is impressed by Liesl’s knowledge of hagiography (the study and writing of the lives of saints), and has to... (full context)
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...later, when he has grown utterly sick of Eisengrim and his crew. He especially hates Liesl, but their mysterious work appeals to his loneliness and he cannot back out. They sometimes... (full context)
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Dunstan finds himself telling secrets of his life to Liesl, who has a way of drawing information out of him even though he is not... (full context)
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...only a day, until Dunstan passes by her dressing room and is horrified to see Liesl and Faustina naked and pleasuring one another. Dunstan says he has never “known such a... (full context)
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Late that night, Dunstan answers a knock at his bedroom door and it is Liesl. She sits on his bed and asks him to sit with her, telling him she... (full context)
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To Dunstan’s astonishment, Liesl suggests they sleep together. She is stronger than him, and tries to wrestle him down... (full context)
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...a crucial one, and a “good line of work.” After this long talk, Dunstan and Liesl have sex, with what Dunstan describes as a “healing tenderness.” (full context)
Part 6: “The Soirée of Illusions”
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...sells “like hot cakes.” He writes the book a few days after his encounter with Liesl. Shortly after that, Eisengrim and his crew leave to tour the rest of South America... (full context)
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...if he has met the Devil yet. Dunstan tells him briefly about his encounter with Liesl. Padre Blazon is thrilled to hear it, and agrees that a relationship with the Devil... (full context)
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...someone asks the Brazen Head “Who Killed Boy Staunton?” and the Brazen Head (voiced by Liesl) responds that he was killed by himself, the woman he knew, the woman he did... (full context)
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...falls to the ground. When he wakes in the hospital, he finds a note from Liesl, apologizing for causing his illness, and asking him to come to Switzerland and re-join the... (full context)