Liesl - Fifth Business by Robertson Davies

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Robertson Davies’ colourful novel “Fifth Business” outlines and describes the development of a lost and emotionally void man, Dunstan Ramsay. This is a man who carries the weight of Paul Dempsters premature birth on his shoulders his entire life. It portrays his quest for self knowledge, happiness, and ultimately fulfilling his role as ‘Fifth Business.’ This would not have accomplished without Liesl, an extremely graceful and intelligent woman imprisoned inside a deformed and gargantuan body. Liesl plays a vital role in Dunstan’s development and psychological rebirth, as she helps him rediscover his body, his emotions, and himself.

Dunstan first literally loses a part of himself in the war, when he wakes up six months after falling into a coma to the realization that he has lost his leg. This event played a gigantic role in Dunstan’s loss of self, as it would anybody who loses a limb. He first experiences uneasiness about his injury when he and Diana become lovers, the woman who nursed him back to life after the war, as he compares his “scarred and maimed body with her unblemished beauty” (82). Dunstan has a few sexual encounters after Diana, but they all end with the women leaving quite frustrated and annoyed, as he uses his sense of humour in the bedroom to cover up his feelings of physical inadequacy. “I could not forget my brownish-red nubbin where one leg should have been, and a left side that looked like the crackling of a roast” (117). This feeling of shortcoming is possibly the reason why Dunstan does not give himself completely over to a woman to be loved, or maybe because he does not take women very seriously; not until he meets Liesl, that is. Dunstan initially falls in love with the beautiful Faustina, and is overcome with this boyish and unexplainable obsession for her, until he unexpectedly finds Faustina and Liesl entangled in a passionate and shocking embrace. It was this that began Dunstan’s character development, as he first begins to feel for what he has seen. Liesl confronts him that night, trying to seduce him, and after they fight, and then talk, they make love, as equals. This act reconnects Dunstan with his body, and Liesl becomes the first woman that he ever really experiences intimacy with, as a great cloud lifts from his spirit. “With such a gargoyle! And yet never have I known such deep delight or such an aftermath of healing tenderness!” (231).

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