The Fifth Child

by

Doris Lessing

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The Victorian House Symbol Analysis

The Victorian House Symbol Icon

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

The The Fifth Child quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Victorian House. 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

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:
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:
Pages 96 – 133 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Ben Lovatt
Related Symbols: The Victorian House
Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Victorian House Symbol Timeline in The Fifth Child

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Victorian House appears in The Fifth Child. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Pages 3 – 33
Nature vs. Nurture Theme Icon
Biological Families vs. Nontraditional Families Theme Icon
...Oxford. David spent most of his childhood with his mother, calling his room in her house his truest home. His wealthy father, James, had remarried wealthy Jessica and he lives the... (full context)
Idealism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
Conformity and Otherness Theme Icon
Biological Families vs. Nontraditional Families Theme Icon
Happiness vs. Contentment Theme Icon
The house they find outside of London is enormous, three stories, and perfect for a very large... (full context)
Nature vs. Nurture Theme Icon
Idealism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
Conformity and Otherness Theme Icon
Biological Families vs. Nontraditional Families Theme Icon
On the day the sale closes, Harriet and David wander the house, admiring every small detail and planning their life. They spend the day making love in... (full context)
Idealism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
Conformity and Otherness Theme Icon
Biological Families vs. Nontraditional Families Theme Icon
...his father’s lifestyle. One afternoon, Molly and Frederick visit, surprised at the size of the house and at the large family that David and Harriet have planned. At dinner, Molly notes... (full context)
Nature vs. Nurture Theme Icon
Idealism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
Conformity and Otherness Theme Icon
Biological Families vs. Nontraditional Families Theme Icon
Happiness vs. Contentment Theme Icon
...should visit, 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... (full context)
Nature vs. Nurture Theme Icon
Idealism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
Biological Families vs. Nontraditional Families Theme Icon
Happiness vs. Contentment Theme Icon
...them and help Harriet with childcare. Dorothy appears immediately judgmental of the size of the house, though she keeps her opinion to herself for several days. She had a hard time... (full context)
Nature vs. Nurture Theme Icon
Idealism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
Conformity and Otherness Theme Icon
Biological Families vs. Nontraditional Families Theme Icon
Happiness vs. Contentment Theme Icon
...David and Harriet grasp this new version of their happy family possessively. Right away, the house becomes a hub of family life, drawing family for a long visit around Easter including... (full context)
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Idealism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
Conformity and Otherness Theme Icon
...Easter—Dorothy and Harriet’s sisters must do the work of hosting. That summer of 1968, the house is full of visiting family and friends. Guests offer to contribute to the costs, but... (full context)
Nature vs. Nurture Theme Icon
Conformity and Otherness Theme Icon
Biological Families vs. Nontraditional Families Theme Icon
Happiness vs. Contentment Theme Icon
...her so she might help both Sarah 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... (full context)
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Conformity and Otherness Theme Icon
Biological Families vs. Nontraditional Families Theme Icon
In early 1973, the fourth child, Paul, is born in the house after another uncomfortable pregnancy. The family visits for Easter and stays for three weeks, and... (full context)
Pages 33 – 74
Nature vs. Nurture Theme Icon
Conformity and Otherness Theme Icon
Biological Families vs. Nontraditional Families Theme Icon
The extended family descends on the Lovatt house for the summer holidays. Harriet notes the cheery way Paul behaves when held and entertained... (full context)
Nature vs. Nurture Theme Icon
Idealism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
Conformity and Otherness Theme Icon
Biological Families vs. Nontraditional Families Theme Icon
Happiness vs. Contentment Theme Icon
...in bed one night, Harriet says to David that she believes people come to their house for a good time and nothing more. David, surprised, asks what else it would be... (full context)
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Biological Families vs. Nontraditional Families Theme Icon
Happiness vs. Contentment Theme Icon
The day after, Alice excuses herself from the house, saying she’s no longer needed because Jane is being sent to school (a full year... (full context)
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Biological Families vs. Nontraditional Families Theme Icon
Happiness vs. Contentment Theme Icon
...others’ suit, says nothing is wrong with him. Bridget leaves and never returns to the house. At the 1975 summer holidays, fewer guests visit, saying they haven’t the funds to make... (full context)
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Idealism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
Conformity and Otherness Theme Icon
At Christmas, the house is half empty. Harriet reflects on the worst year of her life. Ben has taken... (full context)
Nature vs. Nurture Theme Icon
Idealism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
Conformity and Otherness Theme Icon
Biological Families vs. Nontraditional Families Theme Icon
...determined to have a regular Christmas. Sarah asks if Amy will be safe in the house, and Harriet says yes, as long as they never leave her alone with Ben. Sarah... (full context)
Nature vs. Nurture Theme Icon
Idealism vs. Pragmatism Theme Icon
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Biological Families vs. Nontraditional Families Theme Icon
...all her attention on Ben, and that it’s not right. After Ben turns three, the house is only partly filled for Christmas. Amy brings along a large companion dog that all... (full context)
Pages 74 – 96
Nature vs. Nurture Theme Icon
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Biological Families vs. Nontraditional Families Theme Icon
Happiness vs. Contentment Theme Icon
...injects him with the sedative and arrives home at night. She carries Ben into the house and faces her family, explaining that the institution was killing Ben, which frightens the children.... (full context)
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...off the strait-jacket. He struggles 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,... (full context)
Pages 96 – 133
Nature vs. Nurture Theme Icon
Conformity and Otherness Theme Icon
Biological Families vs. Nontraditional Families Theme Icon
Happiness vs. Contentment Theme Icon
At Christmas, Luke stays with James and Helen goes to Molly’s house. Dorothy stays for three days, but takes Jane back to her house with her at... (full context)
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Biological Families vs. Nontraditional Families Theme Icon
...infrequently. Jane remains living with Dorothy and Sarah’s family, and when she visits the Lovatt house it’s clear she’s careful not to criticize them. Again David suggests that Paul needs a... (full context)
Conformity and Otherness Theme Icon
Biological Families vs. Nontraditional Families Theme Icon
...one afternoon, as if waiting for them to arrive. One afternoon, Ben races into the house and a policewoman shows up to make sure he wasn’t lost. The policewoman recommends Harriet... (full context)
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Biological Families vs. Nontraditional Families Theme Icon
Happiness vs. Contentment Theme Icon
...Harriet warns him not to do that. One afternoon, Harriet looks for Ben in the house and finds him staring out the skylight in the attic. He hears her and leaps... (full context)
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Happiness vs. Contentment Theme Icon
Molly tells David and Harriet they must sell the house. David publicly agrees with Harriet that it’s not time yet, but privately he says something... (full context)
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Biological Families vs. Nontraditional Families Theme Icon
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Harriet realizes that the gang is sleeping in the house, too, and she tells them that’s not allowed. The boys don’t seem to take her... (full context)
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...ring the bell if he wants to come in. Harriet suggests buying a more sensible house elsewhere, but David has already drifted off. Ben and the others disappear for a few... (full context)
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...doesn’t try to tell him again. In spring and summer, the gang passes through the house infrequently. Harriet automatically assumes any crimes can be attributed to this group of boys, but... (full context)
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Biological Families vs. Nontraditional Families Theme Icon
...final time and 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... (full context)