The Remains of the Day is written by Sir Kazuo Ishiguro who is a novelist, short-story writer and a screen writer. He was born in Japan but moved to the UK when he was five years old. He took his bachelors in English and Philosophy and masters in Creative Writing. Ishiguro is regarded as one of the best contemporary writers of English fiction. In 2017 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature by the Swedish Academy. Many of his books were nominated for the Man Booker Prize. He has won the Man Booker Prize for his novel The Remains of the Day in 1989. He was knighted in 2018.
The Remains of the Day is the third novel written by Kazuo Ishiguro and it was published in 1989. It is the story of an English butler Stevens who put his work above everything else. Mr Stevens was working as a Butler in Darlington Hall. His present owner is MrFarraday, an American gentleman who was a very friendly employer. MrFarraday felt that Stevens needed a break and asked him to take a vacation and gave him a car as well. The story unfolds as Steven drives to West England where Miss Kenton lived. It is like a mental diary unfolding during the journey. Miss Kenton also used to work in Darlington Hall before twenty years. Miss Kenton now Mrs Benn had separated from her husband and Stevens plans to bring her back to Darlington Hall as she was an efficient staff in the Hall. Steven’s father had joined this place and the job of a butler was given to Stevens once his father fell ill. Miss Kenton come into the household as young girl and proved her worth. Stevens was a pure bred butler who believed that a butler was a man of dignity who held on to professionalism irrespective of the circumstances.
The best instance of his professionalism was in 1923 when he continued managing the guest of a convention when his father was taking his last breath. Even after knowing it he considered his job more important and maybe his father also would have liked it that way for he too was a good butler. It was Miss Kenton who was by the side of his father. In spite of her pleas he did not come to attend his father. In the same way he liked Miss Kenton and when a marriage proposal came she waited for Stevens to stop it but it did not happen. Stevens believed that he could not marry a person who was working under him; it was against work ethics. Once again by sticking on to his professionalism he let go of his personal life. Stevens fires two Jewish maids at the request of his master even though he did not agree with the politics of his master; one more instance of complete loyalty to master.
Now he was travelling to meet his love hoping to bring her back. Meanwhile his master Lord Darlington dies and his new employer is Mr Farraday. While Lord Darlington was a typical employer with a good heart Farraday was a friendly master who sent him off on a vacation. Stevens finally reaches his destination and is full of plans to bring Ms Benn back to Darlington Hall but when he meets her he realises that she has lost her old spirit. She also reveals that she wanted to go back to her husband and wanted to spend time with her grandchildren. She did not love her husband but since he was always there for her she did not want to leave him. Stevens wishes her well and goes back to Darlington Hall to spend the ‘remains of his day’ rather life.
Characters in the novel
The main characters are Stevens and Miss Kenton. All the others have their roles but the main story is about these two.
Stevens is a man dedicated to his profession. At the beginning of the story he is hopeful of bringing his lost love back to his life but his hopes are squashed and he is back to live out the remaining life. He is completely aware of himself, knows his short-comings. As the story progresses he becomes bound by his own fear and destroys his chance of getting his love back. Eventually he resigns and accepts his weakness.
Miss Kenton is introduced in the recollections of Stevens. She used to work alongside Stevens. She was very fond of Stevens and would have married him had he asked. Stevens never asked and she got married to a person she did not love. Her marriage goes through tough times but she is committed to this loveless marriage.
Lord Darlington is the master of Stevens who is a gentle man who seems to be a German sympathiser, in fact Hitler sympathizer. He is considered to be an honourable man. Mr Farraday who takes over Darlington Hall is very different from Lord Darlington. He is informal and is friendly with Stevens, even teases him. The others are his Stevens father, William Stevens and friends of Lord Darlington.
The main theme is Duty versus Desire and duty always wins in the life of Stevens. He wants to be with his father during the last moments but ends up managing the guests of the convention. He is deeply in love with Miss Kenton but thinks it’s improper to love someone who was below him in work hierarchy and also thinks it’s a distraction. Another theme is the formal and informal relationship. With Lord Darlington Stevens had a formal relationship and he found it difficult to accept the informal ways of Mr Farraday. Another theme is aspiration versus fate. Miss Kenton aspires to marry Stevens but her fate takes her to Mr Benn and she accepts it. Stevens aspires to get back Mss Kenton but fate does not let it happen and he accepts it.
The plot unfolds as Stevens travels and in the first person narrative he tells the story and that mostly happens in Darlington Hall. In this journey his car is grounded in Moscombe and that night he stats with Taylors. This is the other setting in the story.
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro is a sad, bleak book about a man who finds near the end of his life that he has wasted it. But I see him as a sad man living a bleak life through his own fault. Because of his fears to show himself naked to the world.
Patrick T. Reardon – Analyst of books and essays and a writer.
Over the years since I read it, I’ve turned into a Remains of the Day evangelist. It’s not my fault. Kazuo Ishiguro’s subtle masterpiece about the private agonies of an ageing butler is hardly unknown ……. but sometimes you find a piece of writing so well executed, so moving and so perceptive about the lives many of us lead that you can’t help praising it to anyone not quick-witted enough to look busy.
Peter Beech is a freelance journalist, production editor and fiction writer.