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Fifth Business (The Deptford Trilogy #1)

4.05 of 5 stars 4.05  ·  rating details  ·  11,176 ratings  ·  639 reviews
Ramsay is a man twice born, a man who has returned from the hell of the battle-grave at Passchendaele in World War I decorated with the Victoria Cross and destined to be caught in a no man's land where memory, history, and myth collide. As Ramsay tells his story, it begins to seem that from boyhood, he has exerted a perhaps mystical, perhaps pernicious, influence on those ...more
Paperback, 252 pages
Published 2002 by Penguin (first published 1970)
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Community Reviews

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4.5 stars

Robertson Davies is one of my literary heroes. At a time in my youth when I had been engulfed with ‘Canadian Literature’ that was, in my humble opinion at the time at least, depressing, uninteresting, and decidedly parochial, here was a man who wrote stories with verve, humour, erudition and a view to the wider world. _Fifth Business_ is the first book of Davies’ Deptford trilogy, a series of books that centre around people from the fictional small town of Deptford, Ontario. Sounds paro
Tyler Jones
The first (and best) novel in the famed Deptford Trilogy is as rare and wonderful as anything in literature. There are very few novels that manage to be so erudite (the number of classical and mythological references is mind boggling) and tightly-plotted. In fact the story unfolds at such a break-neck pace that Tom Clancy ought to read it to get some pointers on building suspense. And John Irving ought to give one dollar for every book he's ever sold to the estate of Robertson Davies...but that' ...more
Because I loved, loved this book, I feel I must steal some precious seconds to write about it, before my memory of fades too much. Not that it could ever escape completely, because (as I said) I loved this book. I didn't know much about Davies, only that he was a famous Canadian author, and I bought this book used thinking that I should be exploring my Canadian heritage.* And I was totally wowed by the book. It is the story of Dunston Ramsey, or rather, a story told by Dunston Ramsey. Dunston co ...more
Fifth Business has steadily moved up the ranks of my quaint list of favourite books. It teeters towards the top as an overwhelming reflection of Canada, the Scotch immigrants who settled here, and perhaps even me. I learned a lot about my mother, my grandfather, and myself in reading this book. Is that the epitome of the Fifth Business, or the antithesis? To assume I can see my own lineage woven through the fabric of a tale published a decade before my conception?

There is something so hauntingl
I love this book--it is one of my comfort reads. I took it to Ecuador with me for pleasant airport/airplane reading and now remember why I love it so much. It was the first Canadian literature that I was introduced to in undergraduate university days and it got me excited about Can Lit.

Perhaps this novel speaks to me because I used to feel a bit like Fifth Business in my own life--a supporting cast member to those around me. But I think since those undergraduate days, I have learned to be the th
Agne Jakubauskaite
Aug 27, 2015 Agne Jakubauskaite rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Classics fans
Recommended to Agne by: Main Brookline Public Library Book Group

"Fifth Business,” the first book in The Deptford Trilogy by Canadian writer Robertson Davies, is Dunstan Ramsay’s memoir written as a letter to a Headmaster of Colborne College, where Dunstan was teaching for 45 years. This letter-memoir was provoked by a farewell article which offended Dunstan deeply as it downplayed his accomplishments and presented him as "a typical old schoolmaster doddering into retirement with tears in his eyes and a drop hanging from his nose." The story
Ben Babcock
I do not like the cover on this edition of Fifth Business. I don't remember when I first read this book—definitely in high school, but I hate to say that it's now long enough ago I can't remember the exact grade. I didn't like the cover then, and I don't like it now. There is just something unsettling about the composite of faces. I interpret it as a representation of the various people we are, at different stages of our life and even simultaneously, an allusion to the Jungian archetypes that be ...more
Ali Green
I can not stand this book and don't understand why people seem to rave about it.
I like the concept- that a character's life is not special, in itself, but how that character influences other character's lives gives the first character meaning, a bit like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Hamlet- but the book itself is just... Words on paper. I did not care at all about any of the characters. I found the main character to be boring, flat, uninteresting, and whinny. As the book is told in first pers
I honestly didn't understand this book.....and neither did my classmates. Although this book may have many archatypes....I think a different bookight have been better as this book didn't seem to grasp anyone's attention in our class. I feel this book can be better understood by people who are more mature and should be read when you are older....not grade 11....because you cannot relate to the characters or anything the book is talking about at that age.......!!!
Terri Jacobson
This is the first book of Robertson Davies' The Deptford Trilogy, and it's a challenge and a joy to read. The writing is luscious and deep with many touches of humor. Davies introduces all the themes of this trilogy in this first volume. We are introduced to Dunstable (Dunstan) Ramsey as a young boy, and the characters of his childhood have a great impact on his growth and development as a person. Davies explains the concept of "Fifth Business", someone or something that has great influence on t ...more
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
This story is somewhat bizarre, and yet somehow oddly compelling. I kept telling myself I'd read just a little more, little more.......

The surface story is the autobiography of the narrator, "Dunny" Ramsay. He gets offended by a retirement piece written about him that makes him appear as a dim and dull old boarding school teacher who never had anything interesting happen to him. He writes his own story to set the record straight and tells about his upbringing, service in World War I, world trave
Alan Chen
This is the first time I came across Davies and this introduction to his work is impressive. His prose, while beautiful, is quite simple. He doesn't attempt to jar the reader with unusual metaphors or unusually long sentences, or strange punctuation. Instead the sentences are well drawn and they inform the plot and that of the characters.
The story is told through Dunstan Ramsay's perspective from that of an old man and relates his life in a letter to the headmaster of the school he taught for ov
"You are still young enough to think that torment of the spirit is a splendid thing, a sign of a superior nature. But you are no longer a young man; you are a youngish middle-aged man, and it is time you found out that these spiritual athletics do not lead to wisdom."

I think the reason this book struck me is because it fleshes out something I've been pondering. Which is the small and mean ways in which we sometimes act; that we can't really excuse or explain. And the mental and spiritual contort
Diane Barnes
Robertson Davies is one of my favorite writers, because I feel so intellectual and learned when I read him. Fifth Business is the first novel in the Deptford trilogy. The plot is complicated and intricate, but you only realize that when you've finished because the prose is so effortless. Fifth business is a dramatic term denoting a character who is neither the hero nor the villain in the play, but the person who precipitates the events taking place by his relationship to the main characters. Thi ...more
Elizabeth (Alaska)
This, where would normally be the dedication:
Fifth Business...Definition

Those roles which, being neither those of Hero nor Heroine, Confidante nor Villain, but which were nonetheless essential to bring about the Recognition or the denouement, were called the Fifth Business in drama and opera companies organized according to the old style; the player who acted these parts was often referred to as Fifth Business.

- Tho. Overskou, Den Danske Skueplads
Told in the first person in the name of Dunstab
João Carlos

Robertson Davies (1913 - 1995)

“O Quinto da Discórdia” é o primeiro livro da Trilogia de Deptford, do escritor canadiano Robertson Davies (1913 - 1995), editado originalmente em 1970.
A narrativa tem início na forma de uma carta escrita por Dunstable Ramsay ou Dunstan Ramsay, professor universitário reformado, ao reitor da Universidade numa tentativa de explicação sobre a morte trágica e misteriosa do político e amigo Percy Boyd Staunton.
Ramsay regressa ao “seu” passado para nos contar como o arre
Mar 10, 2010 Jerry added it
My lifelong involvement with the Fifth Business began at 5:58 o’clock pm on 1 March 2010. I still remember the strong feelings and expressions on my face as I eagerly scanned your letter, and I must say Mr Dunstan, your letter was beyond crafty and colourful – it was ingenious. It revealed the truths, the lies, and those burning thoughts you held within your mind for all these years. You took me through a truly marvellous journey.
You had me confused at first when you talked about the Mrs Dempst
The book is exquisitely written in some of the best prose I have ever read. The book came together in part II and became much more compelling. The book starts in a small town in Canada, where several lives intersect and the book follows them over their lives until they all meet again in some form. The protagonist at about age 10 is having a disagreement with his disagreeable, spoiled rich playmate, and the latter throws a snowball with a stone inside at the protagonist. The protagonist ducks, an ...more
Jul 03, 2007 Eleanor rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those who want an arts education without the expense
Shelves: canadiana
Robertson Davies is one of the most well-read writers I've ever read. His knowledge of the classic canon of English lit is unreal. (Having spent a stint at the Old Vic Theatre in London and a while as a journalist, editor of Saturday Night magazine, Master of Massey College at U of T, etc. I'm sure didn't hurt.) So, part of the thrill of reading his books is picking up little tidbits of knowledge that he absorbed along the way. For example, in the Psalms somewhere there is a line about how "I am ...more
Fifth Business is the first installment of the Deptford Trilogy by Davies and it is the story of the life of the narrator, Dunstan Ramsay. The entire story is told in the form of a letter written by Ramsay on his retirement from teaching at Colborne College, addressed to the school Headmaster. The book's title was explained by the author as a theatrical term, a character essential to the action but not a principal actor. This is made explicit in the focus of much the action on others, including ...more
From Dunstan Ramsay's point of view, all his life he has exerted an influence on those around him. A kind of "fifth business actor" - not in the limelight, but still causing things to happen. But perhaps all of us are fifth business actors in the lives of others?

This novel is about the consequences from our actions. The action can be good, bad, or seemingly innocent; and the consequence can be something totally unforseen.
Michelle Huot
This book was so bad, not even the craftily planned out murder near the end could redeem it. Dunstan Ramsay is by far the worst narrator, I'd rather re-read Twilight. I get that this is a Canadian classic, but there are countless other books that better portray the themes in Fith Business. English teachers should stop complaining about students not reading the material when they choose to assign them such dull and irritating books.
Victor Сонькин)
This is a wonderful book (thanks @Nanou) by an author I had never heard about. It's a first-person memoir of sorts (written as a letter to the Headmaster of the school where the narrator had worked all his life, but that is rather irrelevant) of a man born in a large Canadian village at the very end of the 19th century about his outwardly uneventful life (apart from a tour of duty during World War I). Religious and irreverent, deeply psychological and subversive toward any psychologizing, a book ...more
One of the better books of Davies that I read sometime ago. I had just written a book myself about two alter-ago male characters seeking redemption and an early reader told me that it smacked of The Fifth Business - so I read the Davies version. I am gald that there were only faint parallels but the Davies version made me question some of the shallower parts of my book ( which is still to seek publication).
Chance Lee
While I didn't quite "like" the book, I do respect it and its author. Robertson Davies writes well. Personally, I didn't find the book compelling. Although I have enjoyed many books with unlikeable characters, my enjoyment and appreciation comes from the fact that I find them compelling. I found very characters in Fifth Business compelling, least being the narrator.

My book club discussion illuminated many aspects of the book, increasing my appreciation for it to three stars. It is very well craf
Shirley Schwartz
A Canadian Classic! For some reason this is the first book I've ever read by the great Robertson Davies. This is a travesty since I love Canadian literature, and Mr. Davies is an icon in that select group. This book is the first in the Deptford Trilogy and it was given to me as a gift. I am sure that the giver knew that it would start me on a totally different reading tack with an author that I should have been familiar with by now. My thanks go to the gift giver for finally bringing this extrem ...more
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
Meet Dunny, the "Fifth Business" in his own life story. Because of an accident (during the war) his left leg was damaged and now he limps.

A short definition of "Fifth Business" is given just before the table of contents of the book, but I like the one given by one character on page 227 thereof--

"'You do not know what that (Fifth Business) is? Well, in opera in a permanent company of the kind we keep up in Europe you must have a prima donna--always a soprano, always the heroine, often a fool; and
In opera, the Soprano is the diva, the Tenor the hero, the Bass is the villain, and the Alto support, but the Baritone is the "fifth business," the one who has no counterpart but is still necessary to move the story along. Supposedly the narrator of our book, Dunstable Ramsay, is the fifth business, and it makes for a curious tale, when the hero of the story does not see himself as a hero. Ramsay carries around a lot of guilt and responsibility, but always because he sees himself as the supporti ...more
This is a coming of age story that is a classic Canadian novel that I read for a course in College English. After all these years I had forgotten how astonishing, amazing and full of soul searching it was. I love this story and plan to read the rest of the trilogy when I get a hold of it. There is an extraordinary ease that Robertson Davies had with his writing that just flows along. Readers are swept into Dunstan Ramsay's world, the consequences of choices and actions along with our system of ...more
I'm thrilled to find out there are two more books! This was a wonderful book about character. And about how we shape the people around us and how they shape us.
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William Robertson Davies, CC, FRSC, FRSL (born August 28, 1913, at Thamesville, Ontario, and died December 2, 1995 at Orangeville, Ontario) was a Canadian novelist, playwright, critic, journalist, and professor. He was one of Canada's best-known and most popular authors, and one of its most distinguished "men of letters", a term Davies is sometimes said to have detested. Davies was the founding Ma ...more
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Other Books in the Series

The Deptford Trilogy (4 books)
  • The Manticore
  • World of Wonders
  • The Deptford Trilogy: Fifth Business/The Manticore/World of Wonders
The Deptford Trilogy: Fifth Business/The Manticore/World of Wonders What's Bred in the Bone (Cornish Trilogy, #2) The Rebel Angels (Cornish Trilogy, #1) The Manticore World of Wonders

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