Fifth Business, which one critic said was “as masterfully executed as anything in the history of the novel,” might be described simply as the life of a schoolteacher named Dunstan Ramsay. But such description would not even suggest the dark currents of love, ambition, vengeance, and death that flow through this powerful work, cast in the form of Ramsay’s memoirs.
Fifth Business is the first novel in the celebrated Deptford Trilogy, which also includes The Manticore and World of Wonders—it also stands alone as the story of a rational man who discovers that the marvelous is only another aspect of the real.
Robertson Davies (1913–1995) was born and raised in Ontario, and was educated at a variety of schools, including Upper Canada College, Queen’s University, and Balliol College, Oxford. He had three successive careers: as an actor with the Old Vic Company in England; as publisher of the Peterborough Examiner; and as university professor and first Master of Massey College at the University of Toronto, from which he retired in 1981 with the title of Master Emeritus.
He was one of Canada’s most distinguished men of letters, with several volumes of plays and collections of essays, speeches, and belles lettres to his credit. As a novelist, he gained worldwide fame for his three trilogies: The Salterton Trilogy, The Deptford Trilogy, and The Cornish Trilogy, and for later novels Murther & Walking Spirits and The Cunning Man.
His career was marked by many honours: He was the first Canadian to be made an Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, he was a Companion of the Order of Canada, and he received honorary degrees from twenty-six American, Canadian, and British universities.