The Fifth Business – Robertson Davies The author Robertson Davies weaves a fascinating story that paints a picture of how one’s character is defined by their life experiences. The Fifth Business chronicles Dunstable Ramsay’s interactions with women during his life. The relationship with his mother, his neighbour, his first crush and his first lover had tremendous impact on the man that became Dunny. The results of Dunstable’s experiences with women determined the life path and character development of Dunstable Ramsay.
Each of Dunny’s defining personality traits can be traced back to an influential woman during his journey. Leola Cruickshank was influential in Dunny’s development as a man. She was his first crush and resulted in lifelong conflict between him and Percy Boy Staunton. Leola initially taught Dunny jealousy, for she belonged to Percy; she was untouchable. Eventually, over the years, as Dunstan and Boy became friendly he began to see her as a trapped, unhappy woman. It was at this time that she became an object of pity.
Leola Cruickshank in her lifelong relationship with Dunny defined the core personality traits of jealousy and pity. Mrs. Fiona Ramsay, Dunny’s mother, was a strict and unforgiving woman. She ruled her family with fear, in the Baptist “Fire and Brimstone” ways. Her constant criticism and judgemental actions were the catalyst to Dunny’s unexpected departure from the home. To Dunny fighting in the trenches was preferable to staying under his mother’s rule and submitting to her will being her “own dear laddie”. Davies, 30) “It must have been a strange scene, for she pursued me around the kitchen, slashing me with the whip until she broke me down and I cried. She cried to, hysterically, and beat me harder, storming about my impudence…” (Davies, 29) It was his mother’s influence that kept him reserved, distant and isolated from woman who tried to influence him and be a true part of his life. Dunny’s mother is responsible for his self-critical behavior and his efforts to remain emotionally distant and isolated from women. Diana Marfleet thought she was meant to be Dunstable’s wife.
She was, after all, the woman who nursed him back to health from his coma, taught him to walk, to eat, acceptable social etiquette, and was his first lover. This was uncomfortably reminiscent of his own controlling and manipulative mother. Dunny expressed this clearly just prior to his break up with Diana “but even as I write it down I know how clear it is that what was wrong between Diana and me was that she was too much a mother to me, and as I had had one mother, and lost her, I was not in a hurry to acquire another – not even a young and beautiful one with whom I could play Oedipus to both our hearts’ content.
If I could manage it, I had no intention of being anybody’s own dear laddie, ever again. ” (Davies, 81) Diana Marfleet was directly responsible for his determination that marriage is a relationship based on control and manipulation and his resulting unshakeable bachelorhood. Liselotte Vitzliputzli is the exact opposite of Dunstan’s mother. She not only sees his valiant efforts to be a good man, but forced Dunstan to face the realization that he had emotionally isolated himself for his entire life in his efforts to be so good.
In Lisel’s words “Listen, Ramsay, for the past three weeks you have been telling me the story of your life, with great emotional detail, and certainly ir sounds as if you did not think you were human. You make yourself responsible for other people’s troubles. It is your hobby. You take on the care of a poor madwoman you knew as a boy. You put up with subtle insult and being taken for granted by a boyhood friend – this big sugar-man who is such a power in your part of the world. You are a friend to this woman – Leola, what a name! who gave you your conge when she wanted to marry Mr. Sugar. And you are secret and stiff-rumped about it all, and never admit it is damned good of you. That is not very human. You are a decent chap to everybody, except one special somebody and that is Dunstan Ramsay. ” (Davies, 216) Lisel is responsible for Dunstan’s realization that he is responsible for his own happiness. Mary Dempster was a pivotal woman in the development of Dunny’s personality. The fateful snowball incident involving Mrs.
Mary Dempster when Dunny was only ten years old virtually robbed Dunny of his childhood. He felt responsibility for his involvement and carried that guilt as a burden throughout the rest of his life. “I was contrite and guilty, for I knew that the snowball had been meant for me, but the Dempsters did not seem to think of that. ” (Davies, 5) The fateful accident , resulting in her mental frailty and the premature birth of Paul Dempster also taught Dunny to stand strong in his beliefs of right and wrong and in fact steeled him against being ostracized by others for his beliefs.
He cared for Mrs. Dempster and chose to interact with her and Paul even at the cost of his own popularity. “Being unofficial watchdog to the Dempster family was often a nuisance to me and did nothing for my popularity” (Davies, 23) This sense of loyalty to Mrs. Dempster was the beginning of his belief of her as a miraculous individual. “For me, Willie’s recall from death is, and always will be, Mrs Dempster’s second miracle. (Davies, 56) He saw her gentle, caring, self-less nature and superimposed those qualities on some of the incidents she was involved in. For example, she gave of herself to the tramp in the gravel pit, she brought Willie back to life, she protected him in battle and through his coma. This was the beginning of his interest in saints which eventually secured his financial future and his notoriety as a celebrated author. Mary Dempster was responsible for all those traits that propelled Dunny to adult success; loyalty, inquisitiveness, ethics and ambition.