Dunstan Ramsay Quotes in Fifth Business
But what most galls me is the patronizing tone of the piece—as if I had never had a life outside the classroom, had never risen to the full stature of a man, had never rejoiced or sorrowed or known love or hate.
The passage introduces Dunstan Ramsay as an outspoken, energetic, somewhat curmudgeonly person, who teaches at a school. The conceit of the book is that Dunstan is writing a letter to his headaster, responding to a recent article in a newspaper that claims that Ramsay is a boring, old-fashioned, and generally uninteresting man. Ramsay takes great pains to correct the newspaper's position, writing a long, careful letter to the headmaster (the book itself) in which he explains his rich, strange, and complex life.
The passage sets the tone for the entire novel by endeavoring to show how ordinary things (or people, rather) often have extraordinary capabilities and histories. To his students, Ramsay seems like an ordinary, boring man, and yet his life has been full of passion and magic, even if the passion and magic haven't been shared with the people he lives among now.
Can I write truly of my boyhood? Or will that disgusting self-love which so often attaches itself to a man’s idea of his youth creep in and falsify the story.
Ramsay is going to tell us (or rather, the headmaster) about his extraordinary life, and yet he worries that he won't be an unbiased source. Ramsay considers the possibility that, when talking about his life, he'll unknowingly or knowingly distort certain details in order to present himself as better (or at least different) than he really is.
Notice that the passage doesn't offer an answer to Ramsay's own question--in fact, once the question is raised, no answer could possibly satisfy readers! Because Ramsay is our only source throughout the novel, we'll have to take what he says with a grain of salt. Here, Davies seems to wink at readers, acknowledging that what we're about to see is not exactly real or trustworthy.
I had made her what she was, and in such circumstances I must hate her or love her.
Dunstan Ramsay forms an unusual attachment to Mrs. Dempster. A snowball is thrown at his head, and Dunstan ducks to avoid it: as a result, the snowball hits the pregnant Mrs. Dempster in the head, causing her to become "simple" and go into labor early.
Dunstan feels a strong sense of guilt for what he did to Mrs. Dempster--though of course, he didn't really "do" it at all. He thinks that he's responsible for her fate, and as a result, he concludes that he "must" either love or hate her. Dunstan's thought process might seem unusual, and yet because Mrs. Dempster is such a huge part of his life, whether he likes it or not, he's forced to make a such a drastic assessment of her. At time Dunstan is a somewhat comical character, we'll see, because he can't even entirely control what's happening around him, and yet his first instinct is always to take full responsibility. It is this sense of fatedness, responsibility, and guilt, that makes Dunstan feel a connection to Mrs. Dempster for so many years.
Nobody—not even my mother—was to be trusted in a strange world that showed very little of itself on the surface.
In this passage, Dunstan learns an important, if ambiguous, lesson about human beings. Dunstan has become obsessed with magic tricks: he's still a child, and gets a lot of pleasure and wonder from making objects disappear and reappear. Dunstan plays with an egg and accidentally breaks it: a "crime" for which his mother beats him, only to apologize later, tearfully. Dunstan isn't sure how to interpret his mother's actions: his conclusion is that his mother's aggressiveness and affection are linked at the core, and that nobody can be entirely trusted or understood, not even his own family members.
The passage is a good example of the way that Davies conveys a sense of magic and enchantment without ever actually showing any magic: Mrs. Ramsay is a confusing, mysterious person, meaning that her personality itself is like the magic trick (she "transforms" anger into love in a flash; not a bad illusion). The passage is also a good summing-up of the novel's Freudian motifs (a broken egg, for example, is a classic Freudian symbol for fragmented motherhood and femininity, suggesting that Mrs. Ramsay somehow feels out-of-joint from her son).
In later life I have been sometimes praised, sometimes mocked, for my way of pointing out the mythical elements that seem to me to underlie our apparently ordinary lives.
Dunstan and his peers are sent out into the night to track down Mary Dempster, who's gone missing suddenly. Dunstan is sent out to the gravel yard at the periphery of his community, and as he goes off into the night, he feels a sense of exhilaration: he's having an adventure.
Dunstan is smart enough to acknowledge that his sense of magic and wonder is totally arbitrary (it's all in his head, at the end of the day). And yet Dunstan seems proud of his ability to spin wonder and meaning out of the most trivial occurrences. Mrs. Dempster's disappearance isn't really much an adventure at all, but Dunstanmakes it an adventure. He is already a historian, in a way, finding larger narratives and meanings within seemingly ordinary events.
I cannot remember a time when I did not take it as understood that everybody has at least two, if not twenty-two, sides to him.
Dunstan is now fighting in the war (World War One), and one day he entertains his fellow troops by doing an impersonation of Charlie Chaplin, which everyone finds highly amusing. Dunstan's peers are amazed that Dustan can be so amusing--they'd always thought of him as a dry, humorless kind of person. One gets the sense that Dunstan is used to being taken for a humorless man, and then disproving his peers (just as he's doing with the headmaster in his long letter). It's even possible that Dunstan enjoys surprising people: he enjoys seeming ordinary and then revealing his "other sides."
Dunstan clarifies his point by noting that all people have many sides to their personalities: his point seems to be that it's impossible to know people completely--at best, we can know a couple of their "sides," but never the complete human being. Thus, we can never know the real Dunstan, the real Mrs. Ramsay, etc. As with magic tricks, so with people: we must preserve a certain sense of wonder and enchantment, accepting that there is always something more beneath the surface.
I felt that everything was good, that my spirit was wholly my own, and that though all was strange nothing was evil.
In the midst of World War One, Ramsay is struck down in combat and sent to the hospital, where he spends the next half a year. Ramsay awakes in a hospital bed and learns that he was hurt on the battlefield. He's not shocked or traumatized by his experiences, however: he remembers seeing the apparition of Mary Dempsey just before he lost consciousness. Ramsay accepts that his life isn't fully in his control. And yet he also believes that he is in complete control of his own spirit: no matter what happens to his body, he'll maintain an inner strength and peace, rooted in his acceptance of magic and mystery.
Dunstan's beliefs in the independence of the spirit can be vague and frustrating, but it's clear that he believes that the world is a place of wonder. Dunstan tries to keep an open mind when he explores the world, even when he's a soldier risking his life in battle. He's an eternal optimist, who believes that everything is happening for a reason, even if the reason is very hard to see.
We are public icons, we two: he an icon of kingship, and I an icon of heroism, unreal yet very necessary; we have obligations above what is merely personal, and to let personal feelings obscure the obligations would be failing in one’s duty.
Ramsay is wounded in the line of combat in World War One but survives, even killing some Germans before he loses consciousness. He only gets into danger because he loses his way, and yet he's ultimately rewarded for his behavior with the Victorian Cross--the highest military honor awarded to Canadian soldiers. Here the King himself gives Ramsay the Victorian Cross. Ramsay isn't dazzled with his award, however--on the contrary, he's thrown into an existential crisis as he wonders why, exactly, he is being given an award. If he hadn't lost his direction, or if he'd been wounded a little earlier, nobody would think him a hero at all. Total randomness led to Ramsay's receiving the award, but everyone treats him like a hero. Ramsay comes to see that, like the King, he's just impersonating a hero and playing a role, rather than being one.
If honor and achievement are random, is Ramsay's entire life random? Although Ramsay's achievements are always dictated by random chance, he seems to maintain a sense of control and independence in his own spirit. No matter what happens to him externally, we've seen, Ramsay is still the same person, deep down: happy, optimistic, worshipful, mystical.
She had fallen in love with me because she felt she had made whatever I was out of a smashed-up and insensible hospital case.
Dunstan finds himself in the middle of a relationship with Diana Marfleet, the nurse who helped restore him to health. Dunstan thinks that Diana has come to love him because she took care of him in the hospital: as with plenty of other nurses, she's come to think of him as her own creation, almost her own child.
The passage has a heavy Oedipal flavor (in Freudian psychology, men feel a strong desire for the mothers, or for maternal figures; Diana could be considered one such maternal figure). The passage is also a challenge to Ramsay's philosophy of the soul: Ramsay, deep down, is the same person he always was (his spirit has remained intact, even as his body and his life change). And yet Diana thinks that she exerts control over Ramsay by virtue of having tended to his body.
It was characteristic of Boy throughout his life that he was always the quintessence of something that somebody else had recognized and defined.
The contrast between Boy and Ramsay couldn't be clearer. Boy grows up to be a conceited, successful person, who makes lots of money and succeeds in everything he does. And yet Boy defines himself by his outward success: his material wealth, his professions, and particularly his ability to become what people want him to be. At every turn, Boy measures himself against others'opinions and beliefsabouthim. On the other hand, Ramsay never achieves remotely the same success that Boy achieves--but he doesn't seem to care too much what other people think of him (even when he gets his medal from the King, he's strangely indifferent, thinking of the occasion as an example of the arbitrariness and meaningless of success). Instead, Ramsay maintains control over the purity of his own spirit: his life and his achievements in life are always secondary to his inner happiness. (One could argue that such a way of living is heavily influenced by Christian ideals.)
I was rediscovering religion as well…The Presbyterianism of my childhood had effectively insulated me against any enthusiastic abandonment to faith
Ramsay becomes obsessed with tracking down the mysterious statue that he thinks he saw just before he lost consciousness on the battlefield (the statue that, supposedly, looked just like Mary Dempster). As he researches the religious statues of Europe, Ramsay finds himself developing a passion for religion and religious studies itself. Oddly, he claims that by growing up in a strict Presbyterian home, he was "insulated" against enthusiastic faith.
What is the difference between religion and faith? Ramsay suggests that the Presbyterian, with all its tenets and rules, is designed to train Christians to be stoic, reserved, and orderly in all ways. To have enthusiastic faith, on the other hand, has nothing to do with following rules or prohibitions: instead, faith comes from within (i.e., from Ramsay's spirit). Ramsay rediscovers his religious faith, it's implied, during his hunt for the statue, precisely because it's he and he alone who's embarked on such a quest--and because he's passionate about what he's searching for. (The journey, as the cliche goes, is more important than the destination.)
I rather liked the Greek notion of allowing Chance to take a formative hand in my affairs.
As Ramsay pursues the religious sculpture, his investigation is contrasted with the life of Boy. Boy converts to Anglicanism because he wants to please or rebel against the people around him (such as his father). Where Boy thinks in terms of external events, Ramsay thinks in terms of his own spirit and his faith. In turning away from the external world, Ramsay implies that he's putting his fate in the hands of random chance, like the ancient Greeks (supposedly).
In practice, what does it mean to submit to the power of Chance? Ramsay doesn't explain exactly what he means, but it's suggested that he sees the kind of political and worldly "climbing" in which Boy engages as futile, precisely because it ignores the supremacy of Chance in all earthly affairs. Although Ramsay describes his worldview as Greek, it's also somewhat characteristic of Christian theology: the material world is an arbitrary, uncontrollable place, so we should focus on our souls, putting our trust in the grace of God.
“A fool-saint is somebody who seems to be full of holiness…but because he’s a fool it all comes to nothing…because it is virtue tainted with madness, and you can’t tell where it’ll end up.”
In this passage, Ramsay, obsessed with the potential sainthood of Mrs. Mary Dempster, goes to speak with a priest, Father Regan, about the issue. Ramsay describes Mary's supposed "miracles," and tries to convince Regan of his position. Regan, however, is highly skeptical of Mary's status as a saint, and his reasons for skepticism are interesting. Regan argues that Mary is a "fool-saint," not a real saint. A fool-saint, as he understands the term, is a person who's capable of seeming holy (and maybe even capable of performing holy acts), but who is too mentally unstable to be considered fully in control of their actions.
In other words, Regan believes that sainthood isn't just about external acts, as Ramsay seems to believe. A saint must accomplish miracles, but must also exemplify a certain state of mind and be a virtuous person. Someone who appears saintly but isn't really sane (like Mary) isn't really an appropriate model for human behavior--she's just stumbled upon holiness.
Now I should be able to see what a saint was really like and perhaps make a study of one without the apparatus of Rome, which I had no power to invoke. The idea possessed me that it might lie in my power to make a serious contribution to the psychology of religion.
Thus I learned two lessons: that popularity and good character are not related, and that compassion dulls the mind faster than brandy.
“What good would it do you if I told you she was indeed a saint? I cannot make saints, nor can the pope. We can only recognize saints when the plainest evidence shows them to be saintly.”
Why do people all over the world, and at all times, want marvels that defy all verifiable facts?...The marvelous is indeed an aspect of the real.
“Life is a spectator sport to you.”
“You make yourself responsible for other people’s troubles. It is your hobby.”
The Autobiography of Magnus Eisengrim was a great pleasure to write, for I was under no obligation to be historically correct or weigh evidence.
Boy had always been fond of the sexual pleasure that women could give him, but I doubt if he ever knew much about women as people.
“You created a God in your own image, and when you found out he was no good you abolished him. It’s a quite common form of psychological suicide.”