The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

remains-of-the-day

Summary

  1. A beautifully written novel which seems to be able to bring you back in time to experience the final years of “proper” butlers and lordships. Stevens, the narrator and butler, reminisces about his life serving Lord Darlington while he is out traveling the countryside in his new, American masters’ Ford. 
 
Key Takeaways
  1. Intriguing how different people see the world and their roles in it. Stevens was not curious in the least about the important affairs taking place at Darlington Hall. His only focus was providing great service and being a butler with dignity. He sometimes acted like a machine, not being with his father during his dying moments or congratulating Miss Kenton when she got married after working together for many years. 
  2. Does performing one’s job to one’s highest level outweigh the importance of forming tight relationships and making oneself vulnerable to them?
 
What I got out of it
  1. An engaging novel which transports you back in time into the mind of a butler at a Lord’s home who takes his job extremely seriously. Interesting read in order to be able to understand the point of view of someone in this position at this tumultuous time.

Read The Remains of the Day

  • Stevens, the butler, discusses how he’s confused if he should banter with the new American man who bought Darlington Hall 
  • The American man, Mr. Farraday, says the butler should take a trip to the country and he decides to take him up on it to see the country and visit Miss Kenton who used to work at the house
  • And yet what precisely is this ‘greatness’? Just where, or in what, does it lie? I am quite aware it would take a far wiser head than mine to answer such a question, but if I were forced to hazard a guess, I would say that it· is the very lack of obvious drama or spectacle that sets the beauty of our land apart. What is pertinent is the calmness of that beauty, its sense of restraint. It is as though the land knows of its own beauty, of its own greatness, and feels no need to shout it
  • What truly sets the great butlers apart from the good is dignity
  • After one has been in the profession as long as one has, one is able to judge intuitively the depth of a man’s professionalism without having to see it under pressure.
  • While the butler is driving he reminisces a bit about how life in Darlington Hall was before Lord Darlington left – much bigger staff and big parties but the war had its toll and Darlington Hall was sold to Farraday
  • Speaks about when Darlington hosted a conference in order to discuss making the Versailles treaty less severe on the Germans
  • Such a dedicated butler than when his dad died, who was himself an under-butler in the home, he carried on working because that is what his dad would’ve wanted
  • Is disappointed in his lack of skill in bantering
  • Reflects on the fact that Lord Darlington had some Nazi Generals over to his place and there were rumors he was anti-semitic. Stevens denies this at first but there might be some foreshadowing here. He keeps saying Darlington would never do such things but then recalls 1 or 2 times where he can contradict himself
  • Reminisces a lot about the interactions he had with Miss Kenton, who he is going to see out in the country to see if she wants to return to Darlington Hall. They seem to have a somewhat strained, if not purely professional relationship
  • Stevens speaking with some people when his car breaks down – “Excuse me, sir,” said Mr Harry Smith, “but my point was a slightly different one. For the likes of yourself, it’s always been easy to exert your influence. You can count the most powerful in the land as your friends. But the likes of us here, sir, we can go year in year out and never even lay eyes on a real gentleman – other than maybe Dr Carlisle. He’s a first-class doctor, but with all respect, he doesn’t have connections as such. It gets easy for us here to forget our responsibility as  citizens. That’s why I work so hard at the campaigning. Whether people agree or disagree – and I know there’s not one soul in this room now who’d agree with everything I say – at least I’ll get them thinking. At least I’ll remind them of their duty. This is a democratic country we’re living in. We fought for it. We’ve all got to play our part.”
  • Keeps reminiscing and finally puts it together that “It occurs to me in recalling these words that, of course, many of Lord Darlington’s ideas will seem today rather odd – even, at times, unattractive.”
  • Darlington’s godson, Cardinal, confesses to Stevens that Darlington is being maneuvered by the Nazis and is in big trouble as he was trying to get the PM and King to visit Hitler in Germany. Darlington’s reputation was ruined and 
  • Stevens meets with Miss Kenton out in the countryside and they reminisce and he asks her if she loves her husband 
  • Stevens – ““Lord Darlington wasn’t a bad man. He wasn’t a bad man at all. And at least he had the privilege of being able to say at the end of his life that he made his own mistakes. His lordship was a courageous man. He chose a certain path in life,  it proved to be a misguided one, but there, he chose it, he can say that at least. As for myself, I cannot even claim that. You see, I trusted. I trusted in his lordship’s wisdom. All those years I served him, I trusted I was doing something worthwhile. I can’t even say I made my own mistakes. Really – one has to ask oneself – what dignity is there in that?”
  • Ends by thinking about how he still needs to improve in bantering and providing the type of service that Mr. Farraday wants

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