Fifth Business


Robertson Davies

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Fifth Business Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Robertson Davies's Fifth Business. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Robertson Davies

William Robertson Davies was an acclaimed author of novels, plays, and essays as well as a journalist and professor. He grew up in a small town in Ontario in a Presbyterian household, and even as a child demonstrated a love of reading and drama. He studied at Upper Canada College and Queen’s University before leaving Canada to study at Oxford, in England. There he met his wife, Brenda Matthews. He returned to Canada, teaching at Trinity College and writing and acting prolifically. He became one of Canada’s most renowned and respected authors, many of his books drawing on themes from his own life: his childhood in a small town, his religious conversion from Presbyterianism to Anglicanism, and his love of stage performance, academics, and learning. He died in Toronto a highly decorated and famous author.
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Historical Context of Fifth Business

The novel spans both WWI (in which Dunstan Ramsay fights) and WWII as well as the Great Depression. It examines the psychological effect of these events on the lives of individuals throughout Canada and Europe, often referring to the thinking of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, whose work was influential in the West during WWI and afterward. In many ways the novel constitutes an examination of the psychological and spiritual content of historical accounts of the prewar and postwar periods.

Other Books Related to Fifth Business

Texts referenced in the book are usually religious or mythological in nature. The Bible (especially the Old Testament) is referenced repeatedly, and compared to fictive or mythological texts like Arabian Nights or various Greek myths. The novel is interested in the differences and similarities between fictional and factual writings, and in historical writing (including biography and autobiography) as a kind of art form.
Key Facts about Fifth Business
  • Full Title: Fifth Business
  • When Written: 1969-1970
  • Where Written: Canada
  • When Published: 1970
  • Literary Period: Postwar literature
  • Genre: Conceptual / speculative fiction, historical fiction, postwar literature.
  • Setting: Deptford Canada, Europe, South America.
  • Climax: Dunstan finally confronts Boy about his role in the Dempster’s tragic lives. Boy astonishes him by revealing he doesn’t even remember the Dempster’s existence.
  • Antagonist: Percy (Boy) Staunton
  • Point of View: First person (Dunstan Ramsay)

Extra Credit for Fifth Business

That’s Not All. Fifth Business is only the first and most famous installment of The Deptford Trilogy. All of the books focus on the effects of the same single event: a snowball striking Mary Dempster in the head.