Religion, Myth, and Magic in Robertson Davies’s Fifth Business

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Religion, Myth, and Magic in Robertson Davies’s Fifth Business

Interwoven with light and shadows, Robertson Davies’s Fifth Business is penetrated with fantastical elements that rub uneasily against feelings of guilt. A snowball thrown by young "Boy" Staunton misses Dunstan and hits Mary Dempster, causing the premature birth of Paul and the insanity of Mary. Guilt ensues and threatens to envelop Dunstable, Dunny, and Dunstan. One is his name by birth; the other a pet name; and the third, his true name upon being born again. With so many identities, Dunstan struggles to understand his role as fifth business and to learn to untie himself from his burden of guilt. Conventional religion may confine Dunstan Ramsay’s spiritual growth, but it lays a firm foundation for him to mature. Myth finds a place in the heart of Dunstan and teaches him to grow. Magic is the escape of yore that Dunstan seeks and successfully rediscovers. Religion, myth, and magic are intertwined in Dunstan Ramsay’s life, crucial for the completion of Ramsay as a person through the wonder they inspire.

Dunstan Ramsay’s family, especially Dunstan’s authoritative mother, is the epitome of Scottish Presbyterianism in Dunstan’s life. The Scots are the paragons of common sense and prudence – they are not allowed the "usual failings normally associated with the human condition,"1 and Dunstan is indeed acutely aware of any shortcomings he might have. Though Dunstan declares that "the Scottish practicality that [he has] imitated from [his] parents [is] not really in grain with [him]"2, the "chilly Presbyterian ethos"3 remain. When he dodges Percy Boyd Staunton’s snowball and it hits Mary Dempster – which causes the premature birth of Paul and the "madness" of Mary – ...

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...enreich, The Postwar Novel. p. 63.

Robertson Davies. Fifth Business. p. 262.

John Moss, Sex and Violence in the Canadian Novel. p. 103

Robertson Davies. Fifth Business. p. 217.

Ibid. p. 221.

Ibid. p. 226.

Ibid. p. 227.

Primary source:

Davies, Robertson. Fifth Business. Toronto: Penguin Group, 1970.

Secondary sources:

Heidenreich, Rosmarin. The Postwar Novel. Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1989.

Little, Dave. Catching the Wind in a Net: the Religious Vision of Roberston Davies. Toronto, Ontario: ECW Press, 2996.

Monk, Patricia. Mud and Magic: Robertson Davies’s Fifth Business. Don Mills, Ont.: ECW Press, 1992.

Moss, John. Sex and Violence in the Canadian Novel. Toronto, Ontario: McClelland and Stewart, 1977.

Quigley, Theresia, The Child Hero in the Canadian Novel. Toronto: NC Press Limited, 1991.

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