Fifth Business

Dunstan Ramsay Character Analysis

Dunstan (Dunstable) Ramsay is the narrator of the story, which takes the form of a letter to the headmaster of Colborne College, where Dunstan works as a history teacher. Dunstan’s life has been defined, it seems, by a single moment from his childhood. Percy Staunton threw a snowball at him, but he ducked so that the snowball hit the pregnant Mrs. Dempster, and the trauma caused her to go into early labor. Dunstan, a serious, lonely, and contemplative person, cannot forgive himself for his role in this accident. He eventually comes to believe Mary Dempster is a saint, capable of performing miracles. He devotes much of his life to the study of sainthood, getting a degree in history, and working as a teacher so that he can take advantage of the long summer breaks to travel Europe and study little-known saints. Dunstan is brilliant and good at his work, but struggles with forming human connections, and spends much of the novel learning how to love and how to give his life meaning.

Dunstan Ramsay Quotes in Fifth Business

The Fifth Business quotes below are all either spoken by Dunstan Ramsay or refer to Dunstan Ramsay. 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 1 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Dunstan Ramsay (speaker)
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

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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.

Related Characters: Dunstan Ramsay (speaker)
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

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I had made her what she was, and in such circumstances I must hate her or love her.

Related Characters: Dunstan Ramsay (speaker), Mrs. Mary Dempster
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

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Nobody—not even my mother—was to be trusted in a strange world that showed very little of itself on the surface.

Related Characters: Dunstan Ramsay (speaker), Mrs. Fiona Ramsay
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

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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.

Related Characters: Dunstan Ramsay (speaker), Mrs. Mary Dempster
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

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Part 2 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Dunstan Ramsay (speaker)
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:

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I felt that everything was good, that my spirit was wholly my own, and that though all was strange nothing was evil.

Related Characters: Dunstan Ramsay (speaker)
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

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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.

Related Characters: Dunstan Ramsay (speaker)
Page Number: 77
Explanation and Analysis:

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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.

Related Characters: Dunstan Ramsay (speaker), Diana Marfleet
Page Number: 84
Explanation and Analysis:

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Part 3 Quotes

It was characteristic of Boy throughout his life that he was always the quintessence of something that somebody else had recognized and defined.

Related Characters: Dunstan Ramsay (speaker), Boy (Percy Boyd) Staunton
Page Number: 103
Explanation and Analysis:

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I was rediscovering religion as well…The Presbyterianism of my childhood had effectively insulated me against any enthusiastic abandonment to faith

Related Characters: Dunstan Ramsay (speaker)
Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:

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I rather liked the Greek notion of allowing Chance to take a formative hand in my affairs.

Related Characters: Dunstan Ramsay (speaker)
Page Number: 117
Explanation and Analysis:

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“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.”

Related Characters: Father Regan (speaker), Dunstan Ramsay, Mrs. Mary Dempster
Page Number: 127
Explanation and Analysis:

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Part 4 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Dunstan Ramsay (speaker), Mrs. Mary Dempster
Page Number: 149
Explanation and Analysis:

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Thus I learned two lessons: that popularity and good character are not related, and that compassion dulls the mind faster than brandy.

Related Characters: Dunstan Ramsay (speaker), Orpheus Wettenhall
Page Number: 150
Explanation and Analysis:

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“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.”

Related Characters: Padre Blazon (speaker), Dunstan Ramsay, Mrs. Mary Dempster
Page Number: 161
Explanation and Analysis:

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Part 5 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Dunstan Ramsay (speaker)
Page Number: 186
Explanation and Analysis:

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“Life is a spectator sport to you.”

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

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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:

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“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:

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Part 6 Quotes

The Autobiography of Magnus Eisengrim was a great pleasure to write, for I was under no obligation to be historically correct or weigh evidence.

Related Characters: Paul Dempster (speaker), Dunstan Ramsay
Page Number: 215
Explanation and Analysis:

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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.

Related Characters: Dunstan Ramsay (speaker), Boy (Percy Boyd) Staunton
Page Number: 220
Explanation and Analysis:

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“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.”

Related Characters: Dunstan Ramsay (speaker), Boy (Percy Boyd) Staunton
Page Number: 227
Explanation and Analysis:

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“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:

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Dunstan Ramsay Character Timeline in Fifth Business

The timeline below shows where the character Dunstan Ramsay appears in Fifth Business. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1: “Mrs. Dempster”
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1. The book opens with narrator Dunstan Ramsay accounting for the exact date and time that his “lifelong involvement” with Mrs. Dempster... (full context)
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Mr. Dempster asks Dunny for help and he agrees. Mrs. Dempster is put on the sled and Dunny pulls... (full context)
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...condition of Mrs. Dempster. She decides to go over and see if she can help. Dunny recognizes this as a curious decision—Mr. Dempster is the Baptist minister in this small Canadian... (full context)
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Dunny stays up late and hears his mother come back to the house for supplies, saying... (full context)
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2. Dunstan explains to the headmaster, who is the ostensible recipient of this letter, why he begins... (full context)
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Dunstan concludes to the Headmaster that he must lay down his strange life, its truths and... (full context)
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Dunny’s father owns a paper, The Deptford Banner. This puts their family in a good social... (full context)
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All this time, Dunny is convinced that the premature birth of Paul Dempster is his fault. He talks to... (full context)
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One night a few months after Paul’s birth Dunny overhears his mother telling his father that Paul will likely survive—but that Mrs. Dempster seems... (full context)
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5. As time passes, Percy’s refusal to accept guilt eventually translates to Dunny’s inability to blame him anymore—he comes to find himself alone responsible for Mrs. Dempster’s condition. (full context)
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Dunny is tasked by his parents with looking after Mrs. Dempster and Paul most afternoons after... (full context)
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6. Dunny faces some social rejection due to his time spent with the Dempsters, but he has... (full context)
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But Dunny believes he is truly in love with Mrs. Dempster. He loves her not in the... (full context)
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7. Dunny is thirteen, and should be getting the hang of the printing business. But he is... (full context)
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Dunny becomes especially interested in slight of hand tricks, partially because they are the only ones... (full context)
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...to find that no dinner has been made, they immediately side with Mrs. Ramsay, and Dunny is made to apologize to her. She forgives him, and hugs him and kisses him.... (full context)
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8. The incident doesn’t keep Dunny away from magic—in fact it makes him more enthusiastic. He takes up card tricks next,... (full context)
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Eventually Dunny progresses from card tricks to coin tricks, which are vastly more difficult. Dunny has clumsy... (full context)
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9. Dunny’s hatred is reserved for Mr. Dempster, whose first name is Amasa. Mr. Dempster’s devout religiosity... (full context)
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One afternoon Mr. Dempster calls Dunny into his study and scolds him for bringing sin into his house by teaching Paul... (full context)
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Dunny is angry with himself for forgetting how much Baptists dislike cards and card-playing. And as... (full context)
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Dunny does not see much of the Dempsters after this. Every once in a while, he... (full context)
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...in October in 1913, Mrs. Dempster disappears. The village organizes a hunt for her, and Dunny is told by his mother to go help. Dunny feels he has been acknowledged as... (full context)
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...across the pit in search of Mary Dempster. After about a quarter of a mile, Dunny hears a rustling in a clump of small bushes—he makes a sound that brings the... (full context)
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...who defend her are thought by women to be adulterers themselves. At school, boys pester Dunny about the details of what he witnessed in the pit, and Dunny tries to avoid... (full context)
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One day Dunny goes over to visit Mary. She is uneasy at first but then warms to him... (full context)
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Dunny must also keep this secret from his mother, who would be furious if she knew.... (full context)
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Eventually Dunny becomes so comfortable he doesn’t even notice the harness Mary has tied around her, or... (full context)
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Though they grow increasingly close, Dunny can never bring himself to ask Mary about the night with the tramp. He notes... (full context)
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12. Besides Mrs. Dempster, Dunny has no friends, and his life is lonely. Other kids at school accuse him of... (full context)
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Dunny’s father, in the aftermath of the mess with Mrs. Dempster, tries to befriend Dunny, and... (full context)
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...have paid Mrs. Heighington off. Percy is sent away to boarding school (Colborne College, where Dunstan will eventually teach), and despite his betrayal, Leola still pines for him, which makes Dunny... (full context)
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...to his back—grows worse. He is having kidney problems, and has become delirious and weak. Dunny is asked to look after him one afternoon, and Willie begins moaning and thrashing. Dunny... (full context)
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Without knowing why, Dunny feels compelled to get Mrs. Dempster. He brings her back, and she touches Willie and... (full context)
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...Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay get home Amasa is with them. Amasa takes Mary home and Dunny’s parents grill him about why he chose to get Mrs. Dempster and not a doctor. (full context)
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When Dr. McCausland does arrive, Dunny tells him Willie died and came back to life. The Doctor dismisses this, concluding that... (full context)
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14. Gossip gets out about Dunny’s story, and the fact that he believes his brother was brought back from the dead.... (full context)
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Dunny’s mother, whom Dunny thinks understands loyalty to be the same as love, cannot understand why... (full context)
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Though his parents are angry, his classmates admire Dunny for his brave decision. Leola, who still pines for Percy but who has not seen... (full context)
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Dunny knows that he will be called to fight in WWI soon, and cannot bear to... (full context)
Part 2: “I Am Born Again”
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1. Dunny fights in the war from 1915 until 1917. Though there was much camaraderie and bonding,... (full context)
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Dunny goes home one leave before being sent abroad, and he and his parents do not... (full context)
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Dunny heads off on his ship, and listens to officers tell stories about German atrocities, and... (full context)
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Most of the time, however, there is no fighting. In his down time, Dunny reads the only thing available to him—the Bible, and earns a reputation for being very... (full context)
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...day an impromptu show is organized, and a call for volunteer performers is put out. Dunny decides to perform, and does a good imitation of Charlie Chaplin, telling disparaging dirty jokes... (full context)
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2. Dunny’s fighting days come to an end sometime in early November of 1917. His group is... (full context)
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Dunny hears the bombardment stop, and as flares light up the sky he sees a statue... (full context)
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3. Dunny wakes up in a bed with a very pretty nurse watching over him. He feels... (full context)
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The nurse’s name is Diana Marfleet. She is an intelligent, compassionate and beautiful girl, and Dunny thinks his unusual rate of progress is due to her. She tells him he has... (full context)
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Diana says she will let Dunny’s parents know at once, so that they may stop mourning him. But she soon receives... (full context)
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4. In fact it is years before Dunny can think of his parents’ deaths without feeling relief. He confides in Diana, with whom... (full context)
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Eventually Dunny realizes that Diana wants to be with him, romantically. He meets her equally intelligent and... (full context)
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5. Though Dunny is not absolutely in love with Diana, he is flattered by her attention. He knows... (full context)
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The next great moment in Dunny’s life is his reception of the Victorian Cross from the King himself. The most memorable... (full context)
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6. Dunny is not sure what to do about Diana. He knows she loves him in part... (full context)
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Diana has made it clear she expects Dunny’s future will be her future. Every two weeks, she delivers Dunny a letter from Leola,... (full context)
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...make up, but there is still distance between them because their expectations are mismatched. Finally, Dunny tells her he cannot see himself getting married. They talk late into the night, and... (full context)
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Diana asks Dunny if she can do one more thing for him—she wants to rechristen him, and name... (full context)
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7. Dunstan goes back to Canada, where there is much ceremony and pomp waiting for him. He... (full context)
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After the ceremony, Dunstan takes Leola in his arms in front of Percy and kisses her. Percy nervously tells... (full context)
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...there is a bonfire, and an effigy of a German soldier is hung and burned. Dunstan watches in horror as the kind, patriotic people of his hometown descend to a level... (full context)
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8. The next day Dunstan goes to get his hair cut, and finds Milo Papple is the barber. Milo updates... (full context)
Part 3: “My Fool-Saint”
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1. In 1919 Dunstan enters the University of Toronto as a history student. He decides to study history because,... (full context)
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While Dunstan cuts a rather dull figure as a university student, Percy is exactly the opposite—he has... (full context)
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Dunstan says he must admit that he is indebted to Boy for his financial advice. Boy... (full context)
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...very fond of Leola, but supposes he is not in love with her. This angers Dunstan—he does not want Leola, but it irritates him that Boy has her. He often yearns... (full context)
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2. Once Dunstan earns his Masters in History from university, he gets a job teaching at Colborne College... (full context)
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...teacher, serving his students well without ever getting too attached to them. Many suspect that Dunstan—a single man working at a boys’ school, is homosexual, but Dunstan is clear that he... (full context)
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Dunstan mentions that he has had a series of casual and rather dispassionate lovers, but that... (full context)
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3. Dunstan is Boy’s best man at his wedding. Leola is a radiant bride and Boy a... (full context)
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Dunstan and the Stauntons part ways when the ship docks. Dunstan goes back to the battlefields,... (full context)
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5. Back at school, Dunstan’s teaching duties keep him busy. Boy is also beginning a kind of career in education,... (full context)
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...Anglicanism, and Dr. Staunton refuses to see him on religious grounds. Similarly, Boy worries about Dunstan and his interest in saints—Dunstan cannot seem to stop talking about them. Boy points out... (full context)
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...makes a speech about the redemptive powers of God. During this speech, he calls out Dunstan for appearing skeptical. Dunstan should perhaps feel embarrassed but he does not—for he recognizes Joel... (full context)
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Dunstan goes to the Mission that very night. He confronts Joel about his speech and about... (full context)
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Dunstan eventually tells Joel they have met before, and asks him about that might with Mary.... (full context)
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Dunstan goes back to Deptford to ask about Mary’s whereabouts. Milo tells him she’s living with... (full context)
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...manners. Bertha tells him that Mary is in no real condition to have visitors, but Dunstan wins her over with his kind words about Mary and her influence on his life.... (full context)
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8. The following spring, in 1929, Dunstan gets a call from Boy, who tells him to sell certain stocks immediately. When the... (full context)
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Dunstan hunts for traces of Uncumber in remote villages across Europe. In one small town his... (full context)
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The bearded lady of the circus takes a special liking to Dunstan after he tells her about the saint Uncumber. She confides in him that the circus... (full context)
Part 4: “Gyges and King Candaules”
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...admired by the public for his altruism and sensible business practices. Boy begins to see Dunstan more frequently, as Dunstan is the only one he feels he can talk to about... (full context)
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Though Dunstan acts as Boy’s confidante, he has no interest in involving himself in the troubles of... (full context)
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...he goes to their house for dinner, Boy asks what he thought of the photos. Dunstan denies looking at them, and Boy insists on showing the pictures to him in front... (full context)
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Dunstan asks Boy if he has ever heard the story of Gyges and Candaules, and Boy... (full context)
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2. Every two weeks Dunstan makes the journey to Weston to visit with Bertha and Mrs. Dempster. Dunstan can never... (full context)
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Dunstan begins these visits in 1928 and keeps them until 1932, when Bertha dies of pneumonia.... (full context)
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Dunstan’s spirits rise in the aftermath of Bertha’s death, and he attributes this happiness to a... (full context)
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Dunstan’s distraction is compounded by a phone call he receives a few days later, during which... (full context)
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Dunstan does not have enough money to put Mary up in a private care facility and... (full context)
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3. During this time, Dunstan becomes involved with the Bollandists, a group of Jesuits who record accounts of saints in... (full context)
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Dunstan tells Boy about his impeding publication, and Boy seems pleased to know he has a... (full context)
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Dunstan goes to visit with the Bollandists for several weeks. He is happy there, but often... (full context)
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Dunstan becomes friendly with the Jesuits in the society, but notes that real intimacy between members... (full context)
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...an old man—for Christ had died young, and knew nothing of old age. He believes Dunstan should determine who Mary Dempster is in “his own personal world” and that in doing... (full context)
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4. Even though Dunstan appreciates Padre Blazon’s advice, the visits with Mrs. Dempster continue to weigh on him. Her... (full context)
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Dunstan’s success makes him all the more attractive to Boy, who invites him over even more... (full context)
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Dunstan thinks Boy’s desire for sex sounds exhausting, and he is glad he possesses no similar... (full context)
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...his mistresses. She is distraught and confronts him, but Boy is unapologetic and storms out. Dunstan goes upstairs to check on Leola, and finds her on the bed in a revealing... (full context)
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The next day, Dunstan receives a note at school telling him he must call the Staunton’s number at once.... (full context)
Part 5: “Liesl”
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Dunstan passes quickly over WWII. Boy is made even richer and more famous by this war.... (full context)
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Dunstan feels bad for Leola, but his caring for her had been a “matter of duty.”... (full context)
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Boy says he hopes Dunstan will stay on as a teacher, and Dunstan agrees, but demands a six month leave... (full context)
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2. A few months later, Dunstan is in Mexico, touring old churches and learning more about the existence of Saints there.... (full context)
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One day, Dunstan finds an advertisement for a magic show, and, since he has never lost his love... (full context)
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After the show Dunstan goes backstage in search of Paul but is told that Magnus Eisengrim takes no visitors.... (full context)
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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 she looks, and is really quite intelligent. Paul... (full context)
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Dunstan is impressed by Liesl’s knowledge of hagiography (the study and writing of the lives of... (full context)
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...loneliness and he cannot back out. They sometimes seek his opinion on the show, and Dunstan suggests a new act called the Brazen Head, where a head would be “levitated” above... (full context)
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Dunstan enjoys working on these illusions, but believes it is destroying his character. In returning to... (full context)
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Dunstan finds himself telling secrets of his life to Liesl, who has a way of drawing... (full context)
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Though this weighs heavily on Dunstan’s mind, the issue of his love for Faustina is even more painful. He knows it... (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... (full context)
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To Dunstan’s astonishment, Liesl suggests they sleep together. She is stronger than him, and tries to wrestle... (full context)
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She suggests that Dunstan should “get to know his own personal devil,” and that the “twice born” know how... (full context)
Part 6: “The Soirée of Illusions”
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1. Dunstan enjoys writing the Autobiography of Magnus Eisengrim, because there is no obligation to be “historically... (full context)
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Dunstan is able to transfer Mrs. Dempster to a private care facility. His happiness and relief... (full context)
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2. Dunstan is depressed by the fact that his own stupidity is to blame for Mrs. Dempster’s... (full context)
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...and they are married rather soon after they meet. Caroline and David dislike her, and Dunstan comforts them. (full context)
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3. Denyse has a strong dislike for Dunstan and his odd enthusiasm for religion and saints. She finds interests of this sort repulsive,... (full context)
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To Dunstan’s surprise, Boy crumples under this criticism and reveals that he has been severely unhappy, even... (full context)
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4. A year after Boy and Denyse are married, Mrs. Dempster dies. Dunstan thinks his disclosure of Paul’s existence broke her in some way, and led to her... (full context)
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That night Dunstan weeps for the first time since his mother beat him because of the missing egg.... (full context)
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5. The following summer, Dunstan goes to Europe hoping to speak to the Bollandists about the success of his latest... (full context)
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Padre Blazon is delighted to see Dunstan, and asks him quickly about his fool-saint. Dunstan recalls Father Regan is the only person... (full context)
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After he listens to the story, Padre Blazon is tired, and Dunstan goes home for the night, returning in the morning. Padre Blazon tells him he has... (full context)
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He then changes the subject, and asks Dunstan if he has met the Devil yet. Dunstan tells him briefly about his encounter with... (full context)
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Dunstan leaves to tour other places in Europe. In Salzburg, he recognizes the Madonna that he... (full context)
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...affair. Denyse makes it as close to a state funeral as possible. Denyse grimly asks Dunstan to write “the official life”—she wants an account of Boy’s earlier years and supposes Dunstan... (full context)
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But Dunstan has a heart attack three days later, and decides afterwards that he will no longer... (full context)
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...Canada. He performs at Colborne College, and after the show walks down the hall with Dunstan where they happen to run into Boy, who is delighted to see them. Boy says... (full context)
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Boy tries to make fun of Dunstan’s bookish living quarters, but Eisengrim remarks that he likes Dunstan’s space, and Boy relents in... (full context)
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...thing, and suggests Paul may be confused. He asks Paul again what his name is. Dunstan interjects and tells him this man is Paul Dempster, and waits for Boy to remember.... (full context)
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...him Pidgy Boy-Boy. Boy demands to know how Paul could know this, and Paul says Dunstan told him once. Dunstan denies this, but he doubts himself—perhaps he did mention it to... (full context)
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...Deptford, especially Mrs. Ramsay, whom he believes was the most hardened and cruel of all. Dunstan surprises him by telling him the story of how his mother kept him alive during... (full context)
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Dunstan tells him guilt is the reason, and discloses the story of the snowball, and his... (full context)
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Boy is fed up—he accuses Dunstan of trying to humiliate him in front of Paul, and says that Dunstan is simply... (full context)
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8. The Saturday following Boy’s death, Dunstan goes to see Paul’s show, now called The Soirée of Illusions. During the show, someone... (full context)
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As this happens, Dunstan has his heart attack and falls to the ground. When he wakes in the hospital,... (full context)