The Fifth Child

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The Fifth Child
First edition
Author Doris Lessing
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Publisher Jonathan Cape
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 159
ISBN 0-224-02553-8
OCLC 21411827

The Fifth Child is a short novel by the British writer Doris Lessing, first published in the United Kingdom in 1988, and since translated into a number of languages. The book describes the changes in the happy life of a married couple, Harriet and David Lovatt, which occur as a consequence of the birth of Ben, their fifth child. A sequel, Ben, in the World (2000) further develops Ben's life after he has left his family.[1][2]


When David Lovatt meets Harriet at an office party, they both immediately fall in love. They both share the same conservative outlooks, which they perceive to be a rarity in the London of the 1960s.

The two marry and purchase a large house in a small town within commuting distance of London. The couple both intend to have several children, a wish frowned upon by the rest of the family. By the time they have four children, two boys and two girls, their house becomes a centre of joy not only for them but for all their relatives and friends who come and visit. This continues until Harriet has a fifth, wildly dysfunctional child, Ben. Her painful pregnancy with him marks the beginning of the misery and suffering that this child brings to the whole family.[3]


  • Harriet Lovatt. Main female character. Married to David Lovatt.
  • David Lovatt. Main male character. Married to Harriet Lovatt.
    • Luke. Harriet's and David's first child.
    • Helen. Harriet's and David's second child.
    • Jane. Harriet's and David's third child.
    • Paul. Harriet's and David's fourth child.
    • Ben. Harriet's and David's fifth child and the focus of the story.
  • James Lovatt. David's and Deborah's father. Has divorced Molly and married Jessica instead.
  • Molly. David's and Deborah's mother. Has divorced James and married Frederick instead.
    • Deborah Lovatt. David's sister.
  • Dorothy. Harriet's mother.
  • Sarah. Harriet's sister. Is married to William and has children with him. One of the children is Amy, who has Down syndrome.
  • Angela. Harriet's sister.
  • John. A young man who takes care of Ben. He goes away to Manchester for a job-training offer.
  • Mary Jones. A girl Ben injures.
  • Dr. Gilly. A specialist that Harriet and Ben see in London.
  • Billy, Derek, Vic, and Elvis. Several boys whose gang Ben joins when he's older.


  1. ^ Helen T. Verongos (2013-11-17). "Doris Lessing, Author Who Swept Aside Convention, Is Dead at 94". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-11-02. 
  2. ^ Alex Clark (2000-06-17). "Ben, In the World". The Guardian. Retrieved 2015-11-02. 
  3. ^ The information has been checked against the UK 2007 Harper Perennial Modern Classics edition. ISBN 978-0-586-08903-3