1. Boy makes a fortune off of the Great Depression because he is in the sugar business, and men down on their luck need sweetness. His company, Alpha, has a solid reputation and Boy is 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 his trouble with Leola. Boy has built a kind of relationship with the Prince of Wales, and receives a Christmas card from him every winter. Leola has not grown any more refined, though Boy has tried to teach her bridge, golf, tennis as well as an appreciation of good music and theater. She does not absorb this teaching, though, and to Boy’s dismay remains a small-town woman.
Boy’s success continues to grow, in that his fortune and popularity continue to grow. His marriage, on the other hand, is suffering. Boy does not believe Leola is measuring up to him and his new, impressive life. Boy has tried in vain to change her into someone who fits into his self-conception better. But it isn’t working, and Boy makes a habit of venting to Dunstan, who doesn’t seem to question why he is serving Boy in this way. He is happy to be what others need him to be.
Though Dunstan acts as Boy’s confidante, he has no interest in involving himself in the troubles of Boy’s marriage—he simply finds their lives entertaining and enjoys being a friend of the family. However, in late 1927, Dunstan is involved in a terrible fight between them. Boy, knowing that Dunstan has been working in the photo lab at school, gives him some pictures to develop. Among them are several nude photos of Leola. Dunstan is furious but he is not sure why—perhaps because Boy is dangling Leola in front of him deliberately. Dunstan does not respond however—he simply develops the pictures for Boy and waits to see what will happen.
Dunstan is not helping Boy out of a genuine sense of friendship or duty. There is not really even a true friendship between himself and Boy. He simply finds Boy and his family drama interesting and entertaining. However he cannot stay so distant for very long—soon Boy awkwardly involves him in this drama by surprising him with naked photos of his wife. This is evidence that Dunstan has very little control in his relationships, and is being used as a kind of pawn by Boy.
The next time 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 of Leola. Leola is mortified but Boy cruelly continues, making her wait and watch as he shows the photos to Dunstan one by one.
Boy’s behavior becomes even crueler, as he subjects both Dunstan and Leola to humiliation. Boy seems incapable of stopping and Dunstan seems incapable of speaking up and asking Boy to stop. Boy seems to be aggressively lashing out at his wife, here, for failing to live up to his expectations of her. Instead of appreciating her for who she is, he is angry at her for not being who he wants.
Dunstan asks Boy if he has ever heard the story of Gyges and Candaules, and Boy says he hasn’t. Dunstan tells him King Candaules was so proud of his wife’s beauty he asked his friend Gyges to look upon her naked. In one version of the story, the queen fell in love with Gyges and they together stole the throne from the king. In the other, Gyges kills Candaules. Boy supposes Dunstan will do neither of these things, and Dunstan agrees. But he does think the story stirred something in Boy, for he believes that that night Boy and Leola conceived their second child. Dunstan thinks Boy loves Leola in a complicated way, and he knows Leola loves Boy, and that nothing he might do will ever change that.
Dunstan, in a characteristic fashion, conceptualizes this moment in terms of a myth he’s heard. He implicitly compares himself to Gyges, however in reality he is unlike Gyges. Gyges responds to the affront with action, with human engagement. But Dunstan only responds by telling a story—and the story doesn’t drive him to action, but it does drive Boy to action. It stirs something in him, and Boy and Leola conceive a second child. Dunstan simply resigns himself to thinking about Boy and his wife’s relationship (instead of pursuing relationships himself.)
2. Every two weeks Dunstan makes the journey to Weston to visit with Bertha and Mrs. Dempster. Dunstan can never stay very long, because Bertha believes long visits are taxing for Mary. Sometimes Bertha’s lawyer, Orpheus Wettenhall, also visits while Dunstan is there. “Orph,” as he is known, is a dedicated hunter, and often brings meat to Bertha as a gift. He is cheerful and considerate, and Dunstan likes him a great deal.
Dunstan remains faithful to his visits with Mary, getting to know her aunt and her aunt’s lawyer. Notably these visits are short. Dunstan’s almost singular human connection, though regularly scheduled, is kept brief. Orph will prove to be another example of someone who is more complicated than he seems on the outside.
Dunstan begins these visits in 1928 and keeps them until 1932, when Bertha dies of pneumonia. Orph sends him a letter asking him to the funeral and saying they must talk after. Dunstan has been named as Bertha’s executor, and has also been named as Mary Dempster’s public guardian. Orph is sadder than Dunstan is used to seeing him, and mentions he doesn’t know how things will be for him without Bertha in his life.
Still, fate seems to take over yet again, and the situation becomes more complicated. Dunstan is suddenly charged with caring for Mary, just like he was as a boy. What’s more, Orph begins to reveal a different side of himself, and makes an ominous comment about what his life amounts to now that Bertha is dead.
Dunstan’s spirits rise in the aftermath of Bertha’s death, and he attributes this happiness to a relief of his own guilt. He had thought that the loss of his leg had atoned for his guilt, but now realizes that he has still felt the weight of his childhood actions all this time, and that guardianship of Mary is a more appropriate way to atone. He also begins to think earnestly again about Mary’s sainthood: she has performed three miracles: the reclamation of the tramp, bringing Willie back from the dead, and appearing to him on the battlefield. He is intrigued by the idea of getting to know his saint even better, and believes he might be able to make a contribution to the “psychology of religion.”
Dunstan is happy to be officially the guardian of Mary Dempster as he feels it is yet another way he might be able to atone for his wrongdoing so long ago. He engages in an odd kind of economical thinking: his leg was a kind of exchange for his sin, but his guardianship of Mary is worth even more than his leg, and this makes him happy. He also begins to invest in the idea of Mary’s sainthood even more vigorously. He incorporates Mary into his personal interests, and is excited by the prospect of contributing meaningfully to academic discourse.
Dunstan’s distraction is compounded by a phone call he receives a few days later, during which he is told that Orph has shot himself and that the police want to talk to him. It comes out that Orph had lost a great deal of money in the Depression, but had kept up appearances. The death of Bertha, his best client, had left him without hope and made it impossible for him to go on. The public story is that it had been a simple accident with a gun, but most people know that Orph committed suicide. It also comes out that Orph had been stealing from clients, but the public feels sympathy for him anyway, and agree that Orph had meant to restore the missing funds as soon as he could. Dunstan learns two lessons: “that popularity and good character are not related, and that compassion dulls the mind faster than brandy.”
Orph, far from being the happy and well-adjusted man he seemed, had a dark inner secret. He was stealing from clients, suffering financially, and the death of Bertha was a kind of last straw. The public discussion surrounding Orph’s death teaches Dunstan more about the nature of popularity, deception, and compassion. People’s love for Orph, and their compassion for him in the face of his pain, “dull their minds” in Dunstan’s opinion. He rejects this kind of compassion because it seems to him to be irrational or not academic. He neglects to note that—however irrational—compassion is human. At the same time, the town showed no such compassion for Mary Dempster.
Dunstan does not have enough money to put Mary up in a private care facility and has to admit her to a public mental hospital, much to his own displeasure. When he leaves her there, among the dirty inmates and forlorn facilities, he sees in her face the darkness he saw there in Deptford, and feels crueler than he’s ever felt. But he has no other options.
It is as though Dunstan is beginning the cycle of guilt all over again. He and Mary are both brought black to a place that is reminiscent of their darkest times in small-town Deptford.
3. During this time, Dunstan becomes involved with the Bollandists, a group of Jesuits who record accounts of saints in the Acta Sanctorum, a text they have been working on for many decades. They also publish an annual collection of material under the title Analecta Bollandiana or “Bollandist Gleanings” and Dunstan decides to send his work on Uncumber to the Analecta. He is delighted to find that his submission is accepted, and what’s more he is invited to meet with the Bollandists should he ever be in Europe again.
There is still happiness in Dunstan’s life, and he enjoys continued academic success, even getting published in an obscure but highly respected journal. His labor of love in writing about Uncumber brings him even more joy when others can confirm his work is intelligent and insightful. Though his personal life is suffering, his professional life is successful.
Dunstan tells Boy about his impeding publication, and Boy seems pleased to know he has a friend who is a writer, and begins inviting Dunstan to parties and showing him off. Dunstan finds the rest of Boys friends to be dull and ordinary, and finds no pleasure in talking with them.
Boy is excited about this success, because success in externally verifiable ways makes sense to him. Boy treats Dunstan like an asset, to be shown off at parties, Dunstan doesn’t enjoy this, but does it anyway, for some reason.
Dunstan goes to visit with the Bollandists for several weeks. He is happy there, but often has moments, bent over dusty books, where he wonders what meaning his life has, and what his place in the world is meant to be. But Dunstan believes fate has pushed him here, and he continues his work.
Dunstan has a sense that his life is incomplete, that he spends too much time with books and not enough time living. But he believes fate is driving him in the right direction, and continues on with his work.
Dunstan becomes friendly with the Jesuits in the society, but notes that real intimacy between members seems to be discouraged. When he leaves the Bollandists for Vienna, he travels with one of the elderly members, Padre Blazon. Padre Blazon is an odd man, farcical in appearance and fond of making long animated speeches. Dunstan finds him entertaining and thinks him good company, and often goes with him to dinner to hear more of what he has to say. Dunstan decides to tell him about Mrs. Dempster and her Sainthood, and Padre Blazon says that if he recognizes her as a saint then she must be a saint.
For the most part, the Bollandists do not provide human connection or friendship, only superficial pleasantries and a kind of uninvolved friendliness. However there is one man who does not conform to this standard—Padre Blazon is one of the first people who actually seriously considers the problem of Mrs. Dempster’s sainthood, and suggests an unusual solution: that Mary is a saint if Dustan considers her to be one. Blazon’s idea of sainthood points to the possibility of a more fluid idea of religion, one determined by individuals.
Padre Blazon has many atypical beliefs about the nature of religion, chief among them the belief that the teaching of Christ holds no value for 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 so, he will come to understand her sainthood. He admonishes Dunstan for feeling so guilty and tortured. He tells him to forgive himself “for being a human creature,” noting that if he does not, he will end up in the mad house with his saint.
Padre Blazon, in his lifetime of devotion to faith and religion, has come to understand faith as something that is malleable—as something someone must discover and define for himself or herself. He also, unlike Dustan, has an appreciation for human failings, and does not believe Dunstan’s guilt is serving him in any real way. He preaches self-understanding and self-forgiveness; things we have already seen Dunstan struggle to understand.
4. Even though Dunstan appreciates Padre Blazon’s advice, the visits with Mrs. Dempster continue to weigh on him. Her stay in the hospital has made her dull and dissociative. Every Sunday when he visits she has a hat on, as though she is ready for him to take her away. But Dunstan simply does not have the money to move her, and his life is growing all the busier. He published his first book, called A Hundred Saints for Travellers, and it is selling well in five languages. And he is working on his next book, a bigger and more academic work on the history of sainthood.
Mrs. Dempster’s life in the hospital is sad and pathetic. Though Dunstan feels guilty, he still doesn’t seem to grasp that there is more he can offer her besides tangible things. He boils the problem down to money and time, and his professional life takes him away from her often. He is once again choosing work over interpersonal connection, studiousness over human emotion.
Dunstan’s success makes him all the more attractive to Boy, who invites him over even more frequently. Dunstan does his best to be a good guest, allowing Boy to show him off and enduring boring conversation as best he can. Far more interesting to Dunstan is Boy’s private life, which has become all about sex. Dunstan wonders what Freud or Jung would have to say about a man like Boy, who incessantly pursues affairs with strange women, and whose thirst for adventurous sex seems unquenchable. Boy also treats his children, David and Caroline, according to their sexes—David must be manly, and Caroline must be sweet. Leola is the one person on whom Boy “spends none of his sexual force.” She is hopelessly in love with him, but he finds her boring.
Dunstan’s success is now the kind Boy can completely respect and understand. It seems an interest in Saints is okay so long as you have published work in the field; so long as you have achieved some level of notoriety. Boy’s psychological irregularities are mentioned yet again: he seems to possess a pathological need for sex, and Dunstan tries to understand him in terms of the work of Freud or Jung (notably avoiding drawing conclusions of his own.) Poor Leola has been completely left behind by her husband, who simply thinks too little of her to care about her anymore. Yet she continues to love him.
Dunstan thinks Boy’s desire for sex sounds exhausting, and he is glad he possesses no similar inclinations. He also notes that Boy seems to possess an unconscious sexuality that Dunstan calls “Corporation Homosexuality.” Boy likes to pick a younger man at work to be his protégé, and court him, caringly mentoring him until he disappoints Boy in some way or ceases to be receptive to him. Though Dunstan knows Boy sees these relationships as being purely about business, Dunstan perceives a sexual element in them that Boy does not recognize.
Dunstan, with no sex life (or love life) of his own to speak of, spends time picking apart Boy’s psychological impulses. He believes Boy has a kind of erotic desire to mentor young men, a desire that is also characterized by a kind of insatiability and constant turnover. Dunstan may be right about this—but his rumination on the topic ironically reveals his own psychological issues regarding sex: he would rather intellectualize it than pursue it himself.
On Christmas, Leola discovers a note in Boy’s coat pocket from one of 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 nightgown. She asks Dunstan to kiss her, and he does, but soon recovers himself and tells Leola she should get some sleep. She cries and screams that he has stopped loving her. As Dunstan walks out the door he notes to himself that he hasn’t loved her for over a decade.
Boy’s indiscretions are finally revealed to his wife, and she resorts to attempting to seduce Dunstan. Yet again Dunstan is a kind of pawn in someone else’s relationship—the reader is reminded that he chose or accepted this role instead of pursuing a relationship of his own. He hasn’t loved Leola in years, and his friendship with Boy is insincere. Why does he submit himself to this kind of treatment? At the same time, Leola continued to believe Dunstan did love her, and her scream when she finds out he doesn’t suggests that her belief in his love allowed her to psychologically withstand the pain of her husband’s terrible treatment of her.
The next day, Dunstan receives a note at school telling him he must call the Staunton’s number at once. Dunstan calls, and hears that Leola has tried to kill herself by slitting her wrists in the bath. She left a note addressed to Dunstan, saying she has always loved him. Dunstan is furious at her because had she been successful she would have implicated him in her suicide. He disposes of the note and they never speak of it. They try to reach Boy at his business address in Montreal but cannot find him. The children suffer more than anyone during this whole ordeal—David becomes an introvert and Caroline becomes a rebellious and angry young child.
Dunstan cares so little for Leola, in fact, that her attempted suicide makes him angry rather than upset, as it might implicate him in the affairs of other people. Boy is unavailable, though this is perhaps not any different than he has been for quite some time. The children—who are notably not often mentioned in this novel—suffer greatly. They will have to carry on the weight of their family’s dysfunction the rest of their lives, much like Dunstan and Boy have themselves.