In what year does Fifth Business begin?
Fifth Business opens near the end of the year 1908. Robertson Davies places the beginning of this book (and the trilogy of novels) significantly during the time before the First World War. Not only is this part of the author's own history, but it also begins in a time when the old, Victorian/Edwardian world was falling away rapidly, and twentieth-century culture was just taking hold. Deptford, being small and rural and particularly Calvinist in its views, was perhaps a bit behind the rest of the country, but things were still on the cusp of change. The changes in the microcosm of Deptford are mirrored in the great changes taking place around the world.
But in 1908, things still seemed very much as they had been for a long period of time. Dunny's world is circumscribed by religion, school, and duty, and people still did, largely, what was expected of them. But the incident of Mary Dempster's accident that night will change everything, but, like the Canada of 1908, no one would know of the changes for some time yet. In this, the timing of the novel is significant. Both Dunny and Percy-Boyd Staunton essentially grow up with the twentieth century, having been born near its opening.