The Fifth Child

by

Doris Lessing

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David Lovatt Character Analysis

David, an architect, is Harriet’s husband, and he is the father of Luke, Helen, Jane, Paul and Ben. David and Harriet fall in love at an office party after they discover that they are both shy and old-fashioned and that they want a large family. David grew up in the two homes of his divorced parents, each remarried. He saw his true home as being his bedroom at his mother’s house in Oxford and this influences his firm belief that each of their children deserves a room of their own, where they can be safe and secure, even when the family is going through turmoil. Though he and Harriet are equally idealistic in the beginning of the novel about their potential to attain happiness through an ever-expanding family, David reveals himself to be the more pragmatic of the two once the couple’s financial and familial difficulties begin. While Harriet concentrates all of her energy on the couple’s troubled son Ben, David prefers to take actions that benefit the family overall, trying to save the unit in favor of pouring resources into only one child who might not ever improve. This leads David to put Ben in an institution at the suggestion of the extended family, which is a morally-fraught decision, in that he knows the institution will be cruel to Ben, but he prefers to focus on making sure that the rest of the family can live in peace and happiness. Unfortunately, the period of happiness while Ben is in the institution is to be the family’s last. Once Harriet retrieves Ben from the institution against David’s wishes, the family descends back into chaos, and David—ever the rational pragmatist—blames their fate on a combination of bad luck and bad choices.

David Lovatt Quotes in The Fifth Child

The The Fifth Child quotes below are all either spoken by David Lovatt or refer to David Lovatt. 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:
Nature vs. Nurture Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of The Fifth Child published in 1988.
Pages 3 – 33 Quotes

She knew his look of watchful apartness mirrored her own. She judged his humorous air to be an effort. He was making similar mental comments about her: she seemed to dislike these occasions as much as he did. Both had found out who the other was.

Related Characters: Harriet Lovatt, David Lovatt
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

But they meant to have a lot of children. Both, somewhat defiantly, because of the enormity of their demands on the future, announced they “would not mind” a lot of children. “Even four, or five…” “Or six,” said David. “Or six!” said Harriet, laughing to the point of tears from relief.

Related Characters: Harriet Lovatt, David Lovatt
Related Symbols: The Victorian House
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

She did not realize, as David did, how annoyed these two parents were. Aiming, like all their kind, at an appearance of unconformity, they were in fact the essence of convention, and disliked any manifestation of the spirit of exaggeration, of excess. This house was that.

Related Symbols: The Victorian House
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:

“You want things both ways. The aristocracy—yes, they can have children like rabbits, and expect to, but they have the money for it. And poor people can have children, and half of them die, and expect to. But people like us, in the middle, we have to be careful about the children we have so we can look after them.”

Related Characters: Dorothy (speaker), Harriet Lovatt, David Lovatt
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

Happiness. A happy family. The Lovatts were a happy family. It was what they had chosen and what they deserved.

Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

Harriet said to David, privately, that she did not believe was bad luck: Sarah and William’s unhappiness, their quarrelling, had probably attracted the mongol child—yes, yes, of course she knew one shouldn’t call them mongol[…]David disliked this trait of Harriet’s, a fatalism that seemed so at odds with the rest of her. He said he thought this was silly hysterical thinking: Harriet sulked and they had to make up.

Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:
Pages 33 – 74 Quotes

“Suddenly the little girl found she was alone. She and her brother had lost each other. She wanted to go home. She did not know which way to walk […] She wandered about for a long time, and then she was thirsty again. She bent over a pool wondering if it would be orange juice, but it was water, clear pure forest water […] She bent over the pool […] but she saw something she didn’t expect. It was a girl’s face, and she was looking straight up at her. It was a face she had never seen in her whole life. This strange girl was smiling, but it was a nasty smile, not friendly, and the little girl thought this other girl was going to reach up out of the water and pull her down into it.”

Page Number: 44-45
Explanation and Analysis:

“A real little wrestler,” said Dr. Brett. “He came out fighting the whole world.”

Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

“All right, all right—the genes have come up with something special this time.”

“But what, that’s the point,” said Harriet. “What is he?”

The other three said nothing—or, rather, said by their silence that they would rather not face the implications of it.

Related Characters: Harriet Lovatt, David Lovatt, Dorothy
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

“The trouble is, you get used to hell,” said Harriet. “After a day with Ben I feel as if nothing exists but him. As if nothing has ever existed. I suddenly realize I haven’t remembered the others for hours. I forgot their supper yesterday. Dorothy went to the pictures, and I came down and found Helen cooking their supper.”

Related Symbols: The Institution
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:
Pages 74 – 96 Quotes

“It’s either him or us,” said David to Harriet. He added, his voice full of cold dislike for Ben, “He’s probably just dropped in from Mars. He’s going back to report on what he’s found down here.” He laughed—cruelly, it seemed to Harriet, who was silently taking in the fact—which of course she had half known already—that Ben was not expected to live long in this institution, whatever it was.

“He’s a little child,” she said. “He’s our child.”

“No he’s not,” said David, finally. “Well, he certainly isn’t mine.”

Related Characters: Harriet Lovatt, David Lovatt, Ben Lovatt
Related Symbols: The Victorian House
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:

She cried out, “Yes, but you didn’t see it, you didn’t see—!”

“I was careful not to see,” he said. “What did you suppose was going to happen? That they were going to turn him into some well-adjusted member of society and then everything would be lovely?” He was jeering at her, but it was because his throat was stiff with tears.

Now they looked at each other, long, hard, seeing everything about each other. She thought, All right, he was right, and I was wrong. But it’s done.

She said aloud, “All right, but it’s done.”

“That’s the mot juste, I think.”

Related Characters: Harriet Lovatt, David Lovatt, Ben Lovatt
Related Symbols: The Institution
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

David came back to sleep in the connubial room. There was a distance between them. David had made and now kept this distance because Harriet had hurt him so badly: she understood this. Harriet informed him that she was now on the Pill: for both it was a bleak moment, because of everything they had been, had stood for, in the past, which had made it impossible for her to be on the Pill. They had felt it deeply wrong so to tamper with the processes of Nature! Nature—they now reminded themselves they once felt—was at some level or other to be relied upon.

Related Characters: Harriet Lovatt, David Lovatt
Page Number: 92
Explanation and Analysis:
Pages 96 – 133 Quotes

“We are being punished, that’s all.”

“What for?” he demanded, already on guard because there was a tone in her voice he hated.

“For presuming. For thinking we could be happy. Happy because we decided we would be.”

“Rubbish,” he said. Angry: this Harriet made him angry. “It was chance. Anyone could have got Ben. It was a chance gene, that’s all.”

“I don’t think so,” she stubbornly held on. “We were going to be happy! No one else is, or I never seem to meet them, but we were going to be. And so down came the thunderbolt.”

Related Characters: Harriet Lovatt, David Lovatt, Ben Lovatt
Page Number: 117-118
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Fifth Child LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Fifth Child PDF

David Lovatt Character Timeline in The Fifth Child

The timeline below shows where the character David Lovatt appears in The Fifth Child. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Pages 3 – 33
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In the mid-1960s, David and Harriet spot each other across the room at their office Christmas party and know... (full context)
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Harriet and David are well-matched because of their antiquated ideas of sex in the 1960s: David has had... (full context)
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Harriet and David spot each other and begin their approach at precisely the same moment, moving to another... (full context)
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Harriet moves into David’s flat right away and they decide to marry in the spring, believing they’re meant to... (full context)
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...have to wait a couple years to begin having children, ensuring their double income until David moves up the payscale enough in his architecture firm to pay their mortgage alone. (full context)
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On the day the sale closes, Harriet and David wander the house, admiring every small detail and planning their life. They spend the day... (full context)
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It is confirmed that Harriet is pregnant and Harriet and David worry about how they’ll pay their bills, and also how they’ll be judged for having... (full context)
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...and soon afterwards he arrives with his wife, Jessica. They stand outside the house with David and Harriet evaluating it. James confirms the house is a good price probably because it’s... (full context)
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Harriet and David assume that Harriet’s mother, Dorothy, a widow, will agree to live with them and help... (full context)
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Harriet argues that in some countries, large families are not nearly so rare and David agrees. Dorothy counters this by saying that people in poorer countries expect half their children... (full context)
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...Luke in the family bed. He’s a good-natured baby who is easy to care for. David and Harriet grasp this new version of their happy family possessively. Right away, the house... (full context)
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When Harriet and David tell Dorothy shortly after, she takes the news quietly, acknowledging that they’ll continue to need... (full context)
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...family bed, too, in 1968. Helen moves into the baby room attached to Harriet and David’s bedroom, and Luke is moved to the next room over. Despite Harriet’s fatigue, she insists... (full context)
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...and Harriet, and occasionally she leaves the Lovatt house to help Sarah instead.  Harriet and David’s third child, Jane, is born in the family bed in 1970. Dorothy scolds Harriet and... (full context)
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David fails to receive the promotion he expected he’d get. William also loses his job. Sarah... (full context)
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...to make space for guests, and Dorothy wonders why the children couldn’t always stay together. David refuses this idea, insisting, “everyone should have a room,” and the family bristles at this... (full context)
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William speaks up, saying what the rest of the family is thinking: that Harriet and David should stop having children. Harriet says they plan to wait three years to continue growing... (full context)
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...for summer. Bridget is present again, soaking in the idyllic atmosphere of the family, and David and Harriet recognize, almost uneasily, their excessive happiness. They justify this feeling by believing that... (full context)
Pages 33 – 74
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...selfish and think of her as a servant. Harriet rushes from the room, upset, and David tells Dorothy that he doesn’t believe Harriet has been herself lately. Dorothy says she’ll provide... (full context)
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...it easy. The family arrives to celebrate Christmas and wait on Harriet, but each time David or Harriet enters a room, it’s clear people have been talking about them. Paul, the... (full context)
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David and Harriet look for a trained nanny in London, but their search is unsuccessful. Instead,... (full context)
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Luke begs David for a story one night during dinner. David tells the story of two children, a... (full context)
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The children beg to learn what happened. Harriet wants to tell David to stop because she believes the story is actually about her. Dorothy cuts David off... (full context)
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...up to bed, Luke asks if everyone is coming for the summer holidays. Dorothy and David look to Harriet for the answer because she’ll have given birth just before, but Harriet... (full context)
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...in her arms and immediately it seems as though he is trying to stand up. David looks on with some alarm, calling the baby a “funny little chap.” The child is... (full context)
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...he was born. The other children are brought in to meet their brother. Harriet notes David holding Paul and mourns the way she hasn’t spent enough time with her last baby,... (full context)
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...who empties the first breast in under a minute, biting down hard near the end. David watches, astonished, and Harriet bitterly quotes the hospital, calling ben a “normal healthy, fine baby.”... (full context)
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Dorothy buys the bottles and David agrees it’s a good idea. Ben empties a bottle almost instantaneously and roars for another.... (full context)
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Lying in bed one night, Harriet says to David that she believes people come to their house for a good time and nothing more.... (full context)
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...admit it). Privately Alice has told Dorothy that she believes Ben might be a changeling. David and Harriet wonder, to each other, if this six-month-old child might destroy their family life.... (full context)
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...her as if she is a criminal for having given birth to such a “freak.” David insists that Harriet exaggerates everything and hopes that they might align themselves again. Cousin Bridget... (full context)
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...vacation together. None of the regular extended family has asked to visit this summer. Harriet, David, and the four oldest children go to France and marvel at their happiness sans-Ben. When... (full context)
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Harriet and David resume making love, but it’s not the same because of the apprehension they bring to... (full context)
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...and Harriet says they’ll have to find a doctor willing to diagnose Ben as abnormal. David asks who will pay for such a thing, and Frederick answers that James will have... (full context)
Pages 74 – 96
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...been found and a car will come for Ben the next morning. Harriet realizes that David has been working to arrange this privately, David says that Ben “has probably just dropped... (full context)
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In the morning, a black van shows up. David loads the bags he’s packed for Ben into the car and then deposits Ben in... (full context)
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...guilt and horror. One morning she wakes up and says that she must visit Ben. David tells her not to, but Harriet phones Molly and convinces her to share the address.... (full context)
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Harriet defends herself against David’s anger saying that if he would have seen what they were doing to Ben, David... (full context)
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...and Harriet sees that the police have come to the house because of the disturbance. David sends them away. When the children are due home, Harriet, again, asks Ben to quiet... (full context)
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The first time Ben sees David, he hisses, remembering it was David who put him in the van. David doesn’t apologize,... (full context)
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...each morning to pick up Ben on his motorbike. Family life is improved if distant. David returns to sleep with Harriet and Harriet begins taking the Pill, indicating a growing lack... (full context)
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...treating Ben roughly, ordering him about, calling him “Dopey, Dwarfey, Alien Two, Hobbit, and Gremlin.” David picks up extra work, and much of this money goes toward paying for outings for... (full context)
Pages 96 – 133
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...with her at the end of the visit. Ben spends all his time with John. David works longer hours. Paul remains home, but is even more difficult than Ben, though he... (full context)
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...stays mostly with James, though occasionally James brings Luke to visit, sensing that Harriet and David miss him. Helen stays with Molly, visiting very infrequently. Jane remains living with Dorothy and... (full context)
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Harriet recognizes that David has become what he vowed he would never be, focusing mostly on work and paying... (full context)
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Sensing that David deserves their charity, the family returns for a week in the summer holiday. Harriet resents... (full context)
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Molly tells David and Harriet they must sell the house. David publicly agrees with Harriet that it’s not... (full context)
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...house over themselves. Harriet notes this as one of their “revolutionary” remarks. The boys take David more seriously when he commands them to clean up their messes and go home, but... (full context)
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That night, David and Harriet lock the door, so Ben will have to ring the bell if he... (full context)
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...waiting for them to return. She sees herself living in a new house “(alone) with David,” watching TV and seeing Ben standing apart from the crowd, with “goblin eyes,” “searching the... (full context)