Fifth Business

Principal characters

  • Dunstan (Dunstable) Ramsay — The main focus and narrator of the novel. Ramsay has been deeply offended by his retirement notice in the College Chronicle and sets out to prove that, despite his reticence over the years, he has in fact led an interesting life. Born at the turn of the twentieth century, he is maimed in World War I, is awarded a Victoria Cross, and devotes his life to the study of saints and myths, spending time with Bollandist scholars.
  • 'Boy' (Percy Boyd) Staunton — Ramsay's "lifelong friend and enemy" who threw a snowball (containing a rock) at him which instead hit Mary Dempster, thereby precipitating the premature birth of Paul Dempster and her subsequent slide into madness. Staunton changes his name from Percy to Boy. Through his immense business skills he becomes a billionaire in the sugar-processing business in Canada. He has almost no insight into himself but is a charming man with an immense need for sexual gratification.
  • Mary Dempster — Ten years older than Ramsay, she plays a pivotal role in his life where she assumes saint-like qualities despite being held in an insane asylum.
  • Paul Dempster — Son of Mary Dempster. Ten years younger than Dunstan Ramsay, he outshines Ramsay at hand magic and later disappears with a travelling circus. He transforms himself into the magician Magnus Eisengrim and is the subject of World of Wonders.
  • Diana Marfleet - The nurse who takes care of Dunstan (Dunstable) after he is injured and put in a coma during WWI. She nurses him back to health and is his first sexual partner. Diana introduces him to musicals in England. He rejects her proposal of marriage on the grounds that he doesn't want another matriarch in his life (he views her taking care of him as a nurse to be a motherly role).
  • Leola Staunton (née Cruikshank) — Ravishing wife of Boy Staunton and first love of Dunstan Ramsay. A sometimes weak, sometimes strong woman who cannot live up to her ambitious husband's expectations.
  • Liselotte (Liesl) Vitzlipützli — Daughter of a millionaire Swiss watchmaker who assists Magnus Eisengrim in his travelling magic show. She is bisexual, and the victim of an early adolescent affliction (never specified but possibly acromegaly) which leaves her unusually tall and with large features. She is Ramsay's confessor, lover and critic and completes him as a man.

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