Kazuo Ishiguro

The Remains of the Day

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The Remains of the Day Summary

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The Remains of the Day is a literary historical novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. First published in 1989, it follows a long-serving butler who takes a road trip through England, where he revisits his past and an old love affair. The book won the 1989 Man Booker Prize, and critics are very complimentary about its characterization, its narrative style, and its use of emotional force. Ishiguro is a bestselling novelist who often explores emotive themes in his writing. He is the winner of multiple awards including the 1982 Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize, the 1986 Whitbread Prize, and the 2017 Nobel Prize for Literature.

The Remains of the Day takes place in England during the summer of 1956. The protagonist is a man called Stevens. Stevens is a butler at the prestigious Darlington Hall, where he’s worked for nearly 40 years. He is a serious but gentle man with impeccable manners. He doesn’t socialize often, and he doesn’t have any romantic interests.

Before the novel begins, Lord Darlington, the estate’s owner, passes away. An American millionaire called Mr. Farraday takes over. Before he arrives, Stevens must tidy up his old employer’s affairs. He’s worried about meeting Mr. Farraday because he only knows what it’s like to work for Lord Darlington.

When Mr. Farraday arrives, it’s clear that he’s nothing like Lord Darlington. He’s jovial and very relaxed, and he doesn’t want Stevens acting so stern all the time. Stevens wants to impress Mr. Farraday, and so he promises to change himself to best suit his new employer’s tastes. Most importantly, Stevens needs to keep his job because he doesn’t have anywhere else to go.

Stevens receives a letter from a woman he once called Miss Kenton. Miss Kenton worked at Darlington Hall before she married a wealthy gentleman. Stevens must now call her Mrs. Benn. In the letter, she talks about how much she misses her old job, and it sounds like she isn’t happy with her marriage. Stevens wonders if Mr. Farraday might reemploy Mrs. Benn.

Mr. Farraday wants a housekeeper. He says Stevens should drive out to Cornwall and ask Mrs. Benn to resume her employment. Stevens doesn’t want to leave Mr. Farraday without a butler, but his new employer insists. Mr. Farraday hopes that Stevens might lighten up during the trip. He gives Stevens a very generous vacation.

Stevens sets off in Mr. Farraday’s sports car. He journeys around the English countryside. On the first day, he talks about the English countryside and how marvelous it is. He loves its subtle beauty and the rolling hillside. He can’t imagine living anywhere else, and he worries about his future at Darlington Hall. Stevens’s worst nightmare is that he’s no longer necessary. By securing Mrs. Benn’s reemployment, he might prove himself indispensable.

Stevens often wonders what makes a good butler. His father, Mr. Stevens Senior, taught him everything he knew. They once worked together at Darlington Hall before a stroke incapacitated Mr. Stevens Senior. Stevens remembers that it happened during a meal service, and he felt torn between helping his father and running the service. Stevens wonders what this dilemma says about him as a person.

As Stevens draws closer to Mrs. Benn, his anxiety increases. He doesn’t know what to do if she rejects the job offer. He’s relying on Mrs. Benn for his own happiness. He remembers that they started working in Darlington Hall at the same time. Mrs. Benn taught Stevens everything she knew about attention to detail, punctuality, and stoicism. He loved her dearly.

Stevens remembers asking Mrs. Benn about his father. He worried because his father dropped things and forgot his responsibilities. Mrs. Benn explained that Mr. Stevens Senior had a medical condition, and it wasn’t improving. One day, he suffered a stroke during a politically significant dinner, and Lord Darlington removed him from the staff rota the following day. Stevens remembers how diligently Mrs. Benn cared for his father, and how they both sheltered him from the truth.

Now, Stevens reflects on life as Lord Darlington’s butler. He once thought that Lord Darlington was the best employer in the world. However, he now sees that Lord Darlington wasn’t a popular man. He was anti-Semitic and obnoxious, and no one wanted to socialize with him. He sacked any Jewish staff members and he refused to let any Jews in his home. It’s only now that Stevens sees how wrong this all is.

Stevens then remembers what happened between him and Mrs. Benn. He did love her, but she didn’t seem interested in him. When she found him reading a romance novel, she laughed at him, and he hated her for it. They stopped talking for a long time. Now, he suspects that he took the whole thing too seriously. He had no right to hate her for a casual joke.

Stevens finally meets Mrs. Benn again. She explains that, although she enjoyed working at Darlington Hall, she’s a happily married woman. She can’t work as a housekeeper again. She tells him that Lord Darlington didn’t deserve Stevens’s unwavering loyalty. Now, Stevens agrees with her. He decides to focus on Mr. Farraday and enjoying the rest of his life.