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The Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies

The Deptford Trilogy (1970)

by Robertson Davies

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Deptford Trilogy (Omnibus 1-3)

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Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
The Deptford Trilogy is comprised of three books. (Go figure!) They are Fifth Business, The Manticore, and World of Wonders. This is my first outing with the author, Robertson Davies, but apparently he was big on trilogies. He wrote all of his novels as part of a cycle comprised of three books. The Deptford Trilogy, finished in 1975, was his second.

Generally, I do not read multi-volume works (I want the credit for having read each book after all), but in the case of Davies, it seemed appropriate. From the moment I first heard of this book, I thought of The Deptford Trilogy as one complete novel. And maybe that's a mistake, because while the three novels that make up this trilogy tell one complete story, each is done in such a differing manner that thoughts and opinions on each novel vary widely. So let's briefly take a look at each novel...

Fifth Business is superb. Davies created some wonderful characters and placed them in a story that is always moving. This first one is narrated by Dunstan Ramsay, a character who is close to the story and grows with it. Overall, the pace is great, though it drags a little in the second half. So much happens in this first novel. Other than the lack of a fully satisfying conclusion, Fifth Business easily stands on its own as a novel.

The second novel, The Manticore, slows everything down. The narrative switches to a character on the fringe of the story, the son of Boy Staunton. David Staunton, a tiresome attorney, relays the details of his life to his therapist. Doesn't sound that exciting, does it? It's not. Largely, this second book is not needed for the larger story. Sure, it adds some questions about the subjectivity of Ramsay's story, and gives the reader a different perspective. As David is just a priggish bore, however, The Manticore lacks the drive of the first novel.

World of Wonders returns the narrative to Ramsay, but as a channel through which Paul Dempster tells his story. This trilogy is all about the relationship between Dunstan, Boy, and Dempster, so it's nice that it returns to focus on these three in the third book. This final volume is not as riveting as the first, but it adds some dimension to it in providing a perspective previously unseen. World of Wonders is a satisfying conclusion to a story that has its high points and low points.

Looking at The Deptford Trilogy as a whole, what's startling to me looking back is the simplicity of the story. After over 800 pages, I realize this story is really all about the snowball that is thrown on page 2. Sure, it's also a story about myth, madness, and magic, but it's all wrapped up in that snow-covered stone. That single toss of a snowball has a dramatic effect on these characters, and Davies does a fabulous job of allowing that one act to haunt the rest of the story. This is an excellent display of storytelling. I will assuredly have a go at another of Davies’ trilogies, though whether I read it as one volume or as three has yet to be decided. ( )
1 vote chrisblocker | Oct 22, 2018 |
Wow! I'm not sure if I'd say this was a good book, but it is one that will stick with me for a long time. I learned a lot about mythology, and fantasy. I learned more about human dynamics. I had to put the book down after I read Fifth Business, as I was so angry. Jungian psychology makes me angry, it's so sterotypical. It's like you can't escape how you are, it's your type. But after a year, I picked up the book and finished it. ( )
1 vote KarlaC | Mar 26, 2018 |
I read the omnibus edition of the trilogy.

The Deptford Trilogy is an excellent 500-page book imbedded in a more-than-800-page mediocrity.

Ostensibly, the trilogy is a history about however many people from the same small Canadian town (Deptford), which ultimately revolves around uncovering the truth about the murder (or suicide) of (Percy Boyd) Boy Staunton, wealthy sugar entrepreneur, political aspirant and indefatigable womanizer. The three parts of the trilogy are told from the perspectives of Staunton's childhood frienemy Dunstable (later, "Dunstan") Ramsay, David Staunton - Boy's son, and Magnus Eisengrim (nee Paul Dempster).

I do not think much of the work. The first part (Fifth Business) starts with great promise: Ramsay narrates, and draws the reader into the book effectively, reminiscing about a fight between him and Boy as 10-year-olds. The fight ends with Boy throwing a snowball (in which Boy had imbedded a large rock) at Ramsay, which Ramsay ducks, whereupon the snowball catches pregnant Mrs. Dempster in the back of the head. This causes Mrs. Dempster to go into labor; it also somewhat damages her mind.

A son is born to the Dempsters, and is named Paul. Ramsay takes it upon himself to attend to the needs of Paul and his mother, and does so actively until Paul's father (a fire-and-brimstone minister) catches Ramsay teaching Paul card tricks. For his part, Boy does not accept responsibility for his act; Ramsay lives with the guilt for the remainder of his life.

In The Manticore, narration is by Boy's son David. Boy was found in his car after having driven at high speed off a pier and into a lake. In his mouth was found the same rock he had put in the snowball he threw at Mrs. Dempster. David believes his father was murdered, but the official finding is suicide.

The third part of the trilogy (Worlds of Wonder) is told (for the most part) from the perspective of Magnus Eisengrim, a name assumed by Paul Dempster after he runs away from home. It does give an account of Paul's life, although - to be honest - by the time the reader gets to the third part, there's really little that needs to be added.

On the whole, the trilogy is full of promise, and the first book almost delivers on its promises ... but not quite. By the end of the second book a very good story has been told, although there are a few missing pieces. Any hopes that the third book would resolve everything, however, are ill-founded. Book three is almost a perfect waste of space.

To my mind, the third book simply underlines and writes in boldface problems that plague the entire trilogy: the work is at root pompous, pretentious, prolixity. This is especially true of book three. From start to finish, Worlds of Wonder is a contrivance. It serves no function that couldn't have been served by a 100-page synopsis. Take that, and remove the excess verbiage from the first two books, and you would have a 500-page incredibly entertaining book. As it is, I felt that I had been thoroughly abused by the time I finished the third book.

If you really want to enjoy the Deptford series, read the first two books and leave it at that. ( )
  jpporter | Jul 16, 2016 |
Fifth Business:
Dunstan Ramsay writes a letter to the headmaster on his retirement, outlining the highlights of his life and friendships and how they affected him and the world around him. This is such an involved tale with twists that, albeit sometimes improbable, work because the narrative is so imaginative and have a near-mythological quality. It reminds me a little of John Irving's writing - it too has a lore-like tone to it. Although I struggled a little with the language in the beginning (plus I read a translation), I soon understood the impact the voice makes on the story and our view of Dunstan. I am very excited to continue reading the trilogy as I have been promised further insight and different views of these characters.

The Manticore:
After Boy Staunton's mysterious death, his son has a psychotic episode and decides to retire to Zurich to seek out the services of Johanna Von Haller, a prominent Jungian psychoanalyst. What an unexpectedly engaging story; if you had tried to sell me a story of one year of Jungian analysis via the patient's journal, I would have turned you down, but this is surprisingly readable. So, the format is a little bit heavy-handed and I would have preferred that the theories were presented in a more subtle way, but it's not too bad. Although David Staunton isn't as intriguing a character as Dunstan Ramsay, he presents a new angle to Ramsay's story in the Fifth Business, which adds a lot to the trilogy's overall arc. I am very excited to continue on with World of Wonders to get (from what I understand) yet another angle on this peculiar story.

World of Wonders
Magnus Eisengrim (Paul Dempster), together with Dunstan Ramsay and Liesl, tells the story of his life to a group of filmmakers. This is quite a compelling story, partly because Eisengrim's history is interesting in itself, but mainly because so many of the incidents described immediately get another spin from another narrator; it's fascinating to see how an issue can look one way from one character's viewpoint and completely different from another character's viewpoint and both angles are true. The ending is very interesting as well, as it reveals what actually happened with Boy Staunton in Fifth Business. This trilogy was my first attempt at reading Davies, and I will continue reading him for sure. ( )
1 vote -Eva- | Apr 23, 2016 |
This book ranks as one of my all-time favorite novels. I have now read it twice and found more to admire in the second reading. ( )
  M_Clark | Mar 13, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Davies, Robertsonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
BascoveCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Suart, PeterIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Fifth Business
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 dénouement, were called the Fifth Business in drama and opera companies organized according to the old style; the player who acted these parts was often referrred to as Fifth Business.
--Tho. Overskou, Den Danske Skueplads
First words
Fifth Business
My lifelong involvement with Mrs Dempster began at 5.58 o'clock p.m. on 27 December 1908, at which time I was ten years and seven months old.
The Manticore
When did you decide you should come to Zürich, Mr. Staunton?
World of Wonders
"Of course he was a charming man."
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English


Book description
Robertson Davies is one of the foremost Canadian writers of the twentieth century. His fiction embodies a nation, garnering accolades and admirers amongst readers of all types and ages . Deptford is a fictional, small town in rural Canada, based on Davies's own childhood home of Thamesville, Ontario. Narrow-minded attitudes and religious hypocrisy mingle with a kindness which never lets a neighbour go hungry or suffer illness alone. At the centre of this tight-knit community are three boys: Dunstan Ramsay, his 'lifelong friend and enemy' Boy Staunton and Paul Dempster....
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0140147551, Paperback)

"Who killed Boy Staunton?"

This is the question that lies at the heart of Robertson Davies's elegant trilogy comprising Fifth Business, The Manticore, and World of Wonders. Indeed, Staunton's death is the central event of each of the three novels, and Rashomon-style, each circles round to view it from a different perspective. In the first book, Fifth Business, Davies introduces us to Dunstan Ramsey and his "lifelong friend and enemy, Percy Boyd Staunton," both aged 10. It is a winter evening in the small Canadian village of Deptford, and Ramsey and Boy have quarreled. In a rage, Boy throws a snowball with a stone in it, misses his friend and hits the Baptist minister's pregnant wife by mistake. She becomes hysterical and later that night delivers her child prematurely, a baby with birth defects. Even worse, she loses her mind. The snowball, the stone, the deformed baby christened Paul Dempster--this is the secret guilt that will bind Ramsey and Staunton together through their long lives:

I was perfectly sure, you see, that the birth of Paul Dempster, so small, so feeble, and troublesome, was my fault. If I had not been so clever, so sly, so spiteful in hopping in front of the Dempsters just as Percy Boyd Staunton threw that snowball at me from behind, Mrs. Dempster would not have been struck. Did I never think that Percy was guilty? Indeed I did.
Boy, however, "would fight, lie, do anything rather than admit" he feels guilty, too, and so the subject remains unresolved between them right up until the night Boy's body is found in his car, in a lake, with a stone in his mouth. The second novel, The Manticore, follows Staunton's son, David, through a course of Jungian therapy in Switzerland, while World of Wonders concentrates on Magnus Eisengrim, a renowned magician and hypnotist with ties to both Ramsey and Boy Staunton.

When it came to writing, three was Davies's favorite number. Before the Deptford books, he wrote The Salterton Trilogy (Tempest-Tost, Leaven of Malice, A Mixture of Frailties), and after it came The Cornish Trilogy (The Rebel Angels, What's Bred in the Bone, The Lyre of Orpheus). Excellent as these and Davies's other novels are, The Deptford Trilogy is arguably the masterpiece for which he'll best be remembered, as the combination of magic, archetype, and good, old-fashioned human frailty at work in these novels is a world of wonders unto itself, and guarantees these three books a permanent place among the great books of our time. --Alix Wilber

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:06 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

First pub. 1985. Rich in character and plot. Includes Fifth business, The manticore, and World of wonders. Presents a Jungian view of history.

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