My wife has been reading Robertson Davies’s Deptford Trilogy, and the things she’s muttered or asked about as she’s read have been so intriguing that I’ve started the first novel in the series, Fifth Business. I’ve known about the book most of my life — seen it in bookstores, heard it mentioned, and so on — and always wondered about the odd title; on opening the book I found it immediately explained in a Definition (on a page by itself, where the Dedication would normally go):
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 referred to as Fifth Business.
–Tho. Overskou, Den Danske Skueplads
But was that a real thing, or invented by Davies? There actually is a book Den danske skueplads [The Danish stage] by Thomas Overskou, but there appear to be quite a few volumes (here‘s Volume 6) and I don’t read Danish (nor, presumably, do most of Davies’s intended readers), so he could perfectly well have invented the quote and foisted it on the safely dead Overskou. On the other hand, sometimes the most improbable such epigraphs turn out to be perfectly accurate. And I’m afraid to do too much googling because I don’t want to learn anything about the plot, which my wife says is cleverly constructed. So: does anybody happen to know if it’s a real thing or an invention?
Also, if anyone’s curious about our nighttime reading, we’ve finished Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time and begun Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End tetralogy, which also deals with the WWI period in England but is otherwise utterly different (and sentence by sentence, better written); we’re enjoying it greatly.