Fifth Business

Fifth Business Summary and Analysis of Part 3: "My Fool-Saint"


Chapter 1

Dunstan enters University College in Toronto in the fall of 1919. He quickly distinguishes himself as an Honors history student well on his way to a life as an academic. Thanks to both the modest price he received for his parents' home and a small annual sum from his V.C. award, he is financially secure. He also sold his father's printing press, but has yet to see much of that money.

Percy also enters university in Toronto. He has grown into a handsome, dashing, and rich fellow, and like Dunstan, has renamed himself: he now goes by the name Boy Staunton. Boy sees himself as being on the precipice of greatness. He fashions himself after playboy royalty like the Prince of Wales or Edward Albert Christian George. Leola had remained in Deptford during his studies, but they marry once he is done.

Though he studies law, Boy soon develops a greater, almost uncanny gift for making money. Within a few years, he transforms Mr. Staunton's respectable wealth into millions, by diverting the family's sugar beet business into refined sugars. He makes even more fortune through stock market speculation. All the while, he also displays a facility for attracting women.

Boy Staunton takes a brotherly liking to Dunstan. Aside from his parents, who seldom visit, Boy has no other connection to his past except Dunstan and Leola. In Dunstan, Boy has a valued confidant, whom he knows will keep his secrets - something that Dunstan does for everyone. Further, Dunstan has no connection to the rich elite, so Boy can be honest with him. Dunstan obliges Boy, but still harbors many of his old resentments.

One benefit of the relationship is that Boy rewards Dunstan with lucrative stock tips, which help the latter maintain a modest fortune that finances his Masters Degree studies and lets him focus on his passions and research throughout life.

However, Dunstan is turned off by Boy's affinity for woman. Living a life of a playboy, Boy regularly cheats on Leola, claiming his infidelity means nothing if he is not in love with his flings. Though Leola works hard to be a playboy's wife, taking classes on upper-class etiquette and activities, she is not fit for such a life. Eventually, she sinks into depression.

Chapter 2

After completing his Masters, Dunstan accepts a teaching position at Colborne College for Boys. He settles nicely into his profession, and is seldom seen doing anything else but teaching and studying. Consequently, many of his students and colleagues suspect him of being homosexual, though he explains that he did occasionally date women.

Chapter 3

By the time he turns twenty-six years old, Dunstan has accumulated a nice income both from work and Boy's stock tips. Meanwhile, Leola continues to flounder as a wife, unable to meet Boy's expectations for an upper-class spouse. Over time, Boy becomes more openly critical about Leola’s limitations, which makes dinners at the Staunton house quite uncomfortable for Dunstan.

When summer comes, Dunstan returns to Europe, in search of the Virgin Mary statue with the face of Mary Dempster. Coincidentally, he is on the same ship that Leola and Boy take to Europe, though he has to remain in second class while they are on the upper deck, being charmed by a charismatic priest who validates Percy's belief in the superiority of wealth.

Chapter 4

Though he does not find that particular statue on this first return to Europe, Dunstan does cultivate through his research and travel a near obsessive interest in Roman Catholic saints, and particularly in the mythic element of sainthood. He understands this fascination as a logical extension of his experience with his own saint: Mary Dempster. He soon decides that Mrs. Dempster deserves official recognition as a saint by the church.

Chapter 5

Back in Canada, Boy continues to school Leola in the finer points of gentry life. Although much in love with Boy, Leola continues to disappoint him. When the Prince of Wales tours Canada, he meets Boy, whom he hires as an aide-de-camp for the tour. Boy has finally achieved a level of royal, government recognition, something he has long wanted to compliment his financial fortune.

Chapter 6

One day, a man named Joel Surgeoner visits Colborne College to lecture. The head of the Lifeline Mission in Toronto, Joel believes God will always deliver sustenance to the poor and destitute in their times of need, and begs for supplies from local organizations. Dunstan, an atheist, does not accept this optimism. Somehow, Joel senses Dunstan's skepticism while he is lecturing, and he confronts the teacher publicly about his doubts. In that moment, Dunstan realizes that Joel is the vagrant whom he discovered with Mary Dempster in the Deptford gravel pit so many years before.

Surgeoner invites Dunstan to his mission. Dunstan accepts, and there learns how Joel was changed by his encounter with Mrs. Dempster. Moved by the woman's unconditional love - he had planned to rape her, but did not have to because she wanted to alleviate his suffering - he changed his life and now dedicates it to the homeless. Dunstan recognizes this event as Mary Dempster’s third miracle, which is the final one required for official recognition as a saint.

Chapter 7

Deciding he should visit Mrs. Dempster, Dunstan returns to Deptford and asks for the aunt's address from the local magistrate Mr. Mahaffey, who insinuates that Dunstan was responsible for the snowball so many years before.

While there, he also visits the Catholic priest Father Regan, and asks how he might secure Mrs. Dempster recognition as a saint. The priest merely laughs at his suggestion, insisting that only the Roman Catholic Church can investigate potential saints. Further, he writes off Dunstan's claims - according to him, Willie had never actually died, and Dunstan's battlefield vision must have been an injury induced delusion. At best, he allows that Mrs. Dempster is a “fool-saint”, merely a perceived saint that really amounts to nothing (139).

Chapter 8

Unfazed by the priest’s comments, Dunstan visits Mary Dempster at her aunt’s home in Weston. The woman is now forty years old, but looks healthy and relatively happy. She has blocked out much of her past life and does not remember Dunstan. The aunt, Bertha Shanklin, is very protective of Mary. Wary of Dunstan’s intentions, she tries to send him away, but he endears himself to her. She eventually allows him to visit regularly, but insists he never mention Paul, since his name would undoubtedly cause Mrs. Dempster great pain.

Chapter 9

Dunstan returns to Colborne College, and settles back into his routine. 1929 comes, bringing the famous stock market crash. Fortunately, Boy tells Dunstan to sell all his stocks before the crash, so he and Dunstan survive Black Friday with much of their wealth intact.

Each summer, Dunstan resumes his saint hunting in Europe. In the tiny village of Tyrol, Dunstan stumbles upon the traveling circus Le grand Cirque forain de St Vite. The circus is a rag tag affair, but Dunstan beholds a startling sight there: a magician whom he recognizes as none other than Paul Dempster. Paul is reticent to admit his identity, but eventually gives in. However, he wants nothing to do with his past, and tries to send Dunstan away.

Instead of complying, and thrilled by his discovery, Dunstan buys a round of drinks for everybody in the company. The bearded lady confides to Dunstan that Paul only works in the struggling circus out of loyalty to its owner, Le Solitaire, who had rescued Paul so many years before from the cruelty of Deptford.

Later than night, Paul asks Dunstan to keep his existence a secret from Mrs. Dempster, whom Paul still blames for having brought such shame down onto his head. Dunk and still mystified, Dunstan leaves the circus that night to find his wallet stolen. He suspects the culprit was Paul.


If Dunstan comes of age in Part 2, he moves into an adult life in Part 3. The narrative here reflects a more mature protagonist than we have seen thus far. Dunstan lets life unfold before him, willing to let circumstances guide him rather than trying futilely to control them. There is a certain maturity in this philosophy - he has learned that the mystical undercurrents of life are greater than our own willpower, and thus can experience many fantastical things. For instance, he accepts a job that is mildly fulfilling but hardly a great repository for his passions, all because it lets him wander Europe on breaks. Had he not lived this life, he would not have encountered Paul, and set in motion events that will change his future.

His philosophy on life stands in stark contrast to Boy's. Boy works mercilessly to control his own fate. It is as if Boy Staunton wills things to happen and succeeds by sheer intensity of spirit. Boy believes that his destiny lies directly in his control. He invests in the right stocks, he makes connections with the right people, and he creates the 'perfect' family.

Of course, this 'perfection' has a dark side. Because Boy is so fixated on manifesting his fate, he is entirely blind to what is happening around him. He cannot sense Dunstan's resentments, has little self-awareness about his phoniness, and worst of all drives his wife into a depression. Whereas Dunstan continues to recognize his connection to Deptford, Boy refuses to admit it exists. Leola is clearly a small-town girl, and yet Boy assumes he can beat that out of her. He will not accept that those roots are impossible to sever. As a result, his entire life with her becomes only a commodity he can use to further his financial and social career, as his wife falls into a deep depression that will eventually lead to her death.

Another character who set out to create his own path is Paul. Like the other two men from Deptford, Paul has created his own, separate identity from the one he was born with. And yet like Dunstan, this identity has its roots in what he learned in Deptford: magic. The Deptford that he loathed and ran away from still flows through his art and profession. In many ways, Paul remains the same scared child he was, now trying to reinvent himself through magic. His conjuring tricks seem to provide a buffer between his traumatized childhood, locked in a Protestant Hell, and his adult dream of freedom. Ironically, like Percy and Boy, Paul has merely evolved rather than changed. Although Boy, Paul and Dunstan seek to grow away from their childhood in Deptford, their essential roots remain the same.

The most significant aspect of Dunstan's past remains Mrs. Dempster. In her lies the synthesis of the old - his guilt - and the new - his desire to be an expert on saints. Convinced that her simplicity denotes saintliness, he transfers his childhood feelings of guilt and longing into a career as academic and author. There is a part of Mrs. Dempster in the very mythology of saints that motivates him to make hagiography (study of saints) his lifelong passion.

Thus, it is extremely clear by this point that Dunstan has always had an inclination towards the metaphysical world. Dunstan sees a metaphysical pattern in everything that happens in his life: the snowball hitting Mrs. Dempster was not merely a random act of cruelty; Mrs. Dempster was much more than a simple minded preacher’s wife; Dunstan’s boyhood magic tricks opened a window into hidden worlds that beckoned to be explored. Dunstan even becomes fascinated in his own belief in saints and the mythic beyond. He consciously debates his own obsessive search for meaning. The primary question the novel poses, then, is what Dunstan is hoping to find through his studies. While no explicit answer is given, the suggestion is that he is attempting to understand himself, the feelings that defined him as a child, and hopefully through that to better understand the world. This is in itself a religious desire, even if he does not associate it with a particular church.

In fact, Dunstan's attitude on religion is quite ambivalent. In some cases, he finds it downright silly; consider his response to Father Regan's dismissals. His decision to pose the question to the priest was itself a hope that the Catholic church might provide some help, but he is disappointed. Further, his skepticism makes him initially hesitant about Joel. This skepticism almost costs him knowledge of his fool-saint's third miracle. He has to get over his initial doubts before he can truly accept that Joel has been inexorably moved by Mrs. Dempster much like Dunstan himself has. They are tied together by the same metaphysical pattern, even if Joel subscribes to a religion that Dunstan has little use for.

But as mentioned above, Dunstan can only be affected by these metaphysical patterns if he accepts his place subservient to them. He must allow circumstances to overtake him, rather than attempting to force them into his own pattern, as Percy does. In this way, the older Dunstan is merely a reflection of the younger Dunstan, the perceptive boy who functioned better by watching from the background than in directly joining the action.

Because of his attitude, Dunstan does indeed discover marvelous twists of fate. His discovery of Paul Dempster seems serendipitous if not preordained. The chance encounter provides yet another part of the mythic thread that runs through Dunstan’s life. He is there to receive such miracles, even if he is not directly responsible for causing them to happen.