At the beginning of the novel, Harriet and David purchase their dream home, an enormous house that they can’t afford, but which they see as a starting point for the large family they plan to have. The house, therefore, is a symbol of the mismatch between Harriet and David’s ideal life and the reality of their circumstances. The house is also tied to the dissolution of pragmatism, as Harriet and David plan initially to wait to have children until David can afford to carry the mortgage without Harriet’s income, but Harriet immediately becomes pregnant, and the couple quickly abandons their pragmatism to start their family. Over the course of the novel, they continue to overreach, having more and more children that they can only support and care for with the help of their extended families. As such, the irresponsible purchase of the house encapsulates David and Harriet’s tendency to pay lip service to acting pragmatically while allowing their whims and ideals to rule their actions. By the end of the novel, David and Harriet have decided to sell the house, as owning it has not, in fact, enabled their dream—though they had a large family, all of their children have moved away because Ben’s troubled presence has made the house so stressful to inhabit. Ultimately, then, it seems that overreaching in service of an ideal, rather than being prudent, has done Harriet and David in.
The Victorian House Quotes in The Fifth Child
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.
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.
“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.”
These days the local newspapers were full of news of muggings, hold-ups, break-ins. Sometimes his gang, Ben among them, did not come into the Lovatt’s house for a whole day, two days, three.