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The Remains of the Day is an acclaimed 1989 novel by Japanese-born English author Kazuo Ishiguro, adapted into a film starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson in 1993. The novel is set in 1956 and narrated by a butler, Stevens, who recalls his career and considers the nature of his profession as he drives through the English countryside to visit his old colleague, Miss Kenton (now Mrs. Benn) for the first time in twenty years to ask her to return to her old job. Darlington Hall, where they worked together, is now owned by a rich American; through Stevens's memories of working there over the decades, and through his way of telling them, we learn not only about the Lord Darlington who used to live there and how his downfall came about, but also about Stevens's character, his relationships with Lord Darlington, Miss Kenton, and his father, and what's left for him after a life of completely devoting himself to the service of another person.
This work includes examples of:
- Arc Words: "dignity"
- Belligerent Sexual Tension: Stevens and Miss Kenton
- Big Fancy House
- British Stuffiness
- Cannot Spit It Out: Stevens wouldn't spit it out if you paid him.
- Head-in-The-Sand Management: Lord Darlington is actively involved in appeasing the Nazis. He has Chamberlain himself at the house at one point, with Ribbentrop and Halifax, to persuade him to meet with Hitler (and to have the king meet with him too).
- The Comically Serious: Stevens is only just coming to realize that in certain situations he's expected to come out with "witticisms," and is studying a radio program called Twice a Week or More ("which is in fact broadcast three times each week") for ideas. Every time he has to make a joke, he dissects the subject before and afterward in a typical Wall of Text.
- Did Not Get the Girl
- Downer Ending
- For Want of a Nail: One of the ways in which Stevens argues that the role of a butler to a man like Lord Darlington is a noble contribution to the world is by explaining how the performance of household staff can affect the meetings that take place in houses like his. At one point he claims with pride that Lord Halifax once called the silver at Darlington Hall "a delight," and that Darlington later told him it had "put him into quite a different frame of mind altogether."
These were -- I recollect it clearly -- his lordship's actual words and so it is not simply my fantasy that the state of the silver had made a small, but significant contribution towards the easing of relations between Lord Halifax and Herr Ribbentrop that evening.
- Happily Married: Mrs. Benn turns out to be this... most of the time.
- Historical Domain Character: Joachim von Ribbentrop, Lord Halifax, Oswald Mosley. H. G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw are mentioned by way of proving that not everyone Lord Darlington had at his house was a shady political figure.
- The Jeeves: What Stevens aspires to be. Lengthy passages are spent on the subject of what does and what doesn't make a butler "great." Stevens believes that the crucial quality is dignity.
- Last-Name Basis
- Married to the Job: Stevens is, to the point where he believes he shouldn't be seen off-duty by anyone, at any time.
- My Master, Right or Wrong: Various characters espouse the belief that the ruling class are the only people equipped to handle political problems. Stevens tells himself and others that his only responsibility is to Lord Darlington, and that he has no business having opinions on Darlington's political activities. At the end, after realizing he's spent his life effacing himself for the sake of being as perfect a butler as possible, he understands that in doing so he's robbed himself of dignity, the very thing he thought he was pursuing. However, the man he's talking to tells him to think of his future instead of his past, and he concludes that such demoralization is Inherent in the System, and that the best thing he can do now is work on improving his "bantering skills" before Mr. Farraday comes home.
- Nazi Nobleman: Stevens claims that Lord Darlington disliked the British fascist movement and was not an anti-Semite. He did, however, like a certain member of the British Union of Fascists quite a bit, enough to start talking about "Jewish propaganda," stop giving money to a Jewish-run charity and tell Stevens to fire two Jewish housemaids.
- No Hero to His Valet: Stevens insists all along that the criticism that has been heaped on Lord Darlington for his connections to the Nazis is overdone and unfair, and that Darlington was motivated by honor and generosity. As more and more details of those events come through, it becomes clear, and Stevens is eventually forced to acknowledge, that Darlington was at best extremely naive and misguided, and that he himself was worse in a way for relinquishing his responsibility to make his own moral judgements on his employer's actions.
- Nouveau Riche: Mr. Farraday
- Old Retainer: Stevens
- The Reason We Suck Speech: At the end of the book, Stevens at last can articulate the truth about Lord Darlington and himself. Lord Darlington played Head-in-The-Sand Management for the nazis, and at the end of the day, he could admit he was wrong and take the responsibility like a man. Stevens never did anything for himself, and he cannot say even that.
- Serious Business: Everything. Everything is serious business. Including "banter," frothy romance novels and giving The Talk to the boss's best friend's twenty-three-year-old son.
- Spock Speak: Stevens's characteristic style. This is funny at some times; at others, not.
I do not think I responded immediately, for it took me a moment or two to fully digest these words of Miss Kenton. Moreover, as you might appreciate, their implications were such as to provoke a certain degree of sorrow in me. Indeed -- why should I not admit it? -- at that moment, my heart was breaking.
- The Stoic: Stevens
- Title Drop: Not quite, but in the last scene Stevens resolves to forget the past and "try to make the best of what remains of my day."
- Twice Shy: A truly painful example.
- Unreliable Narrator: A repeated device has Stevens placing a detail or a bit of dialogue in one scene, then wondering if he's not misremembering that, and offering a different scene in which the same detail fits similarly, creating a Meaningful Echo. More generally, Stevens's repression of his emotions in all situations results in many moments where even as it's incredibly obvious what he must be feeling, he refuses to acknowledge having any feelings at all -- his father's death, for instance.
- World War II