#84. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

By dancingintheraine

February 12, 2013

Category: Uncategorized

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Lesser butlers will abandon their professional being for the private one at the least provocation.  For such persons, being a butler is like playing some pantomime role; a small push, a slight stumble, and the façade will drop to reveal the actor beneath.  The great butlers are great by virtue of their ability to inhabit their professional role and inhabit it to the utmost; they will not be shaken out by external events, however surprising, alarming or vexing.  They wear their professionalism as a decent gentleman will wear his suit.”

(The Remains of the Day, pages 42-43)

The Remains of the Day is a novel written by Kazuo Ishiguro and published by Faber & Faber Limited in 1989.  This English Aristocratic novel is considered a tragedy, and is told from a first person point of view, from that of Stevens, a butler who served Lord Darlington prior to and into WWII.  It is thought that Lord Darlington was most likely a composite of the various British appeasers of the upper class who were in Halifax’ and Chamberlain’s corner prior to the start of hostilities in WWII. These individuals maintained a pro-German stance and warm relations with Germany favored by quite a few British aristocrats in the early 1930’s, not very much unlike that of Lord Londonderry.  The novel spans from the early 1920’s through July of 1956, but spends most of the time reminiscing about the years leading up to WWII.  At which time, the American Mr. Farraday purchased the house and kept the main employees, including Mr. Stevens intact.

The Remains of the Day hangs upon the backbone of true historical events.  In the pages are mentioned the Treaty of Versailles, the rise of Nazism, and not only the cunning nature of the Nazi regime, but also the gullibility and amiability of influential people.  The Treaty of Versailles was just one of the peace treaties at the end of WWI, but the one that dealt specifically with Germany.  In this treaty, Germany had to accept responsibility for causing this war (along with Austria and Hungary).  They had to disarm, make substantial territorial concessions and pay heavy reparations to countries that formed the Entente Powers (France, Britain, Russia, Italy, Japan, Belgium, Serbia, Greece, Montenegro, Romania, and Czechoslovakia).  These war reparations totaled 132 billion Marks in 1921.  In today’s value, that equals (2013) roughly$442 billion / £284 billion.  Many economists, including John Maynard Keynes declared that the amount was excessive and counterproductive.  Minor restrictions included the occupation of the Rhineland (Part XIV), military restrictions, and territorial changes. The determination of the French was to have Germany as weak as possible.  When Germany failed to make a payment, France and Belgium led the Occupation of the Ruhr.  American and British aristocracies witnessed the suffering of the people and felt that the continued war reparations were inhumane.

Due to the professionalism of Mr. Steven, the tone is extremely proper and formal diction, with many English locutions laced with hints of nostalgia and regret.  As he makes his way through the West Country on a road trip to see Miss Kenton, minor events along the way lead him to reflect on seemingly minor events through his service at Darlington Hall.  He served Lord Darlington for thirty-five years fulfilling all the needs of the house loyally until the death of his employer.  The very real theme of the decline of the British aristocracy can be directly linked to the 1911 Parliament Act and the inheritance tax increases imposed after WWII.  The Parliament Act reduced much of the influential power that the gentility had utilized in the past, while the tax increases forced the break-up of many estates that had been passed down through the generations.

Loyalty is an important pillar for a butler, and for Mr. Stevens.  When questioned by the god son Mr. Cardinal regarding his employer’s relationship and activities with Sir Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts, and the secret meetings between England’s Prime Minister and German Ambassador Ribbentrop, Mr. Stevens maintains completely loyalty to Lord Darlington and dismisses any thoughts of wrongdoing, whether intentional or unintentional, on the part of his employer.

Mr. Stevens frequently calls on his vision of dignity to help him get through varying levels of situations, from the minor passing non-issue to the most challenging event.  He habitually mentions that dignity is not a metaphoric uniform one puts on every morning, but rather is what a person is inside and out.  This is the main reason that he does not want to show Miss Kenton the book he is reading when she disturbs his “personal” time (page 167), and the main spur to his reaction when she questions him about pretending to be this unemotional all-business character at all times (page 154).  It isn’t because he is ashamed of the book, itself, but rather he feels that a level of professionalism has been breached, and he views that the relationship has grown into something more personal and is unsure how to deal with such.  While the whole book deals with his professionalism and his personal relationship with Miss Kenton, he is the last to admit that there is anything of the sort beyond a great working relationship.  When he finally admits there is something there, he is unsure how to embrace it, as his whole life has been spent preserving dignity at the expense of such emotions, and this preservation, has indeed, preserved his own identity, to him.  He dons the mask of dignity and hides the true Mr. Stevens beneath layers of imperturbability and dignity, but along the way, he has lost both the connection and use of these emotions and his way along the path of life, forging intimate relationships, self-expression and his own beliefs outside of the realm of serving. But, one of the internal struggles within comes down to the relationship of dignity and greatness.  He must decide if his proclaimed belief that dignity is a component of greatness is indeed true. He learns that while dignity is an integral part of greatness, it is but a small part that must be balanced and work congruently with other elements.  Is it too late for him to exercise and develop these other elements?  As he lets Miss Kenton leave on the bus, he acknowledges and admits his heart breaking (page 239) when he begins to cry.  Afterwards, while sitting on the pier, he reasons out his own beliefs and justifications for Lord Darlington’s choices and actions during his service, and formulates his own beliefs without shame.

As he motors his way across the country, dignity riddles his memory as he recalls different incidents and events during his time at Darlington Hall.  Hindsight is 20/20 says the sayings, and while these events were taking place, he failed to see the bigger pictures.  It was not until years after the fact that he puts all those events together like a string of pearls to see the picture that he missed so long ago.  Social rules of the time silently stated that servants could not serve in complete devotion if they married, therefore forcing decisions between employment and marriage.  While Mr. Stevens is quite aware of Miss Kenton’s feelings for him, he intentionally avoids reciprocating out of devotion to his professionalism and dignity.  But it is not until reviewing these interactions during his travels does he grasp the full scope of his feelings and the loss of any chances to regain a possible relationship with Miss Kenton.  He realizes that he wrongly situated the blame for bottling and removal of his feelings completely on his definition of dignity and failed to acknowledge his emotional immaturity. The closer to the meeting with Miss Kenton gets, the stronger the tone of regret in his memories, as he realizes the mistaken decisions he made and understands the irreparable losses he has experienced.  At the end of their meeting, Miss Kenton also verbalizes her regret in the decisions she has made.

Throughout the novel, Mr. Stevens mentions and stresses over bantering and his inability to successfully deliver.  He notices that his new employer Mr. Farraday seems to enjoy friendly non-consequential bantering, something Mr. Stevens has not experienced with the English gentlemen he has served in the past.  He is unsure if it is an American “thing” or new tradition elemental in the new breed of gentlemen of the world.  As he sits on the pier, he gains advice from the retired butler and insight from the crowd around him.  Along his return trip to Darlington Hall, he contemplates the concept of bantering, a skill that requires free thinking and personality, and precision and relaxation in its delivery.  The retired butler tells him to quit looking back so much and to enjoy himself, especially the best part of the day, the evening.  After all the work is done, but your feet up and enjoy “the remains of the day” (page 244).  He comes to the conclusion that bantering is the key to human warmth.

The Remains of the Day made a noticeable mark when it hit the scene.

·         #84 on the BBC Top 100 Books List of 2012

·         501 Must Read Books List

·         The Guardian’s Definitive List Everyone Must Read 2009

·         The Guardian’s Books You Can’t Live Without List 2007

·         Man Booker Prize Winners, 1989

·         #19 on the NPR 100 Years in 100 Novels

·         World Book Day Poll Top 100 Books List.

·         Placed 8th on The Observer’s List 2006

The film adaption in 1993 starred Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson.  There were quite a few variances in the movie when compared with the book.  First, the Jewish girls in the novel have worked at Darlington Hall for years while the Jewish girls in the movie were refugees and were in danger of being sent back to Germany when Lord Darlington ordered to have them released.  After Lord Darlington’s death, the house is bought by Mr. Farraday in the novel, but is bought by Senator Lewis in the movie.  As Miss Kenton is in her parlor crying, instead of Mr. Stevens interrupting and discussing domestic issues, as he does in the movie, in the novel, he stands at the door for a moment but decides not to disturb her, showing how warm-hearted he really is towards her.  In the novel, character’s motives are better discussed, making them seem a bit more three dimensional, whereas in the movie, we are left to wonder or interpret decisions based on our own experiences and emotions.  When Miss Kenton and Mr. Stevens part for the last time, he is more obviously in distress in the novel than the movie gives him credit for.  In the novel, Mr. Stevens sits in on the pier listening to the conversations around him before the lights are turned on with the retired butler, airing his thoughts with the colleague in the novel, but the movie has Mr. Stevens enjoying the lights with Miss Kenton. Despite any differences with the novel, it was, justifiably, nominated for 8 Academy Awards in 1994.  In many categories it lost to Schindler’s List.  It received 6 Nominations in the 1994 BAFTA Film Awards, 2 nominations for the 1994 CFCA Awards, 1 nomination for the 1994 DGA Awards, 5 nominations for the 1994 Golden Globes, 1 Nomination for the 1995 Goya Awards, 1 Nomination for the 1994 USC Scripter Award, and 1 nomination for the 1994 WGA Award.  It won, however, in the following:

·         1994 SEFCA Best Actor (Anthony Hopkins) 3rd Place SEFCA Best Picture

·         1995 Robert Festival Best Foreign Film

·         2nd Place 1993 NYFCC Best Actor

·         1994 2nd Place NSFC Best Actor

·         1993 NBR Best Actor NBR Award Top Ten Films

·         1993 LAFCA Best Actor

·         1994 ALFS Actor of the Year ALFS British Film of the Year ALFS Director of the Year

·         1994 KCFCC Best Actor KCFCC Best Actress

·         1995 Silver Ribbon Best Foreign Director

·         1994 Evening Standard British Film Best Actress

·         1994 David di Donatello Awards Best Foreign Actor David di Donatello Awards Best Foreign Actress Nominated David di Donatello Best Foreign Film

·         1994 DFWFCA Award Best Actor

It also received favorable reviews from Rotten Tomatoes, Roger Ebert, Desson Howe (The Washington Post), and Vincent Canby (The New York Times).

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