The Remains of the Day

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The Remains of the Day
KazuoIshiguro TheRemainsOfTheDay.jpg
First edition
AuthorKazuo Ishiguro
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenreHistorical novel
PublisherFaber and Faber
Publication date
May 1989
Media typePrint (hardback)
Preceded byAn Artist of the Floating World 
Followed byThe Unconsoled 

The Remains of the Day is a 1989 novel by the Nobel Prize-winning British author Kazuo Ishiguro. The story is told from a first-person point of view, as were Ishiguro's two previous novels. The narrator, Stevens, a butler, recalls his life in the form of a diary; the action progresses from the mid-1930s through to the present (~ 1970). Much of the novel is concerned with Stevens' professional and, above all, personal relationship with a former colleague, the housekeeper, Miss Kenton.[1]

The work received the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 1989. A film adaptation of the novel, made in 1993 and starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, was nominated for eight Academy Awards.

Plot summary[edit]

The novel tells, in first-person narration, the story of Stevens, an English butler who has dedicated his life to the loyal service of Lord Darlington (who is recently deceased, and whom Stevens describes in increasing detail in flashbacks). The novel begins in the late 1950s, with Stevens receiving a letter from a former colleague, the housekeeper Miss Kenton, describing her married life, which Stevens believes hints at an unhappy marriage.

Stevens' receipt of the letter coincides with his opportunity to revisit this once-cherished relationship, if only under the guise of investigating the possibility of her re-employment. Stevens' new employer, a wealthy American named Mr. Farraday, encourages Stevens to borrow his car to take a well-earned break—a "motoring trip". Stevens takes the opportunity to arrange to meet with Miss Kenton (now a Mrs. Benn) in Cornwall, where she had moved to live with her husband.

Upon setting out, Stevens reflects on his unshakable loyalty to Lord Darlington, who had hosted lavish meetings between German sympathizers and English aristocrats in an effort to influence international affairs in the years leading up to World War II; on the meaning of the term "dignity" and what constitutes a great butler; and also on his relationship with his late father, like him a "no-nonsense" man who dedicated his life to service. Ultimately, Stevens is forced to ponder Lord Darlington's character and reputation, as well as the true nature of his relationship with Miss Kenton. As the book progresses, evidence mounts of Miss Kenton's and Stevens' past mutual attraction and affection.

While they worked together during the years leading up to the Second World War, Stevens and Miss Kenton failed to admit their true feelings toward one other. Their conversations as recollected by Stevens show a professional friendship which at times came close to blossoming into romance, but this was evidently a line that neither dared cross. Stevens in particular never yielded, even when Miss Kenton tried to draw closer to him.

When they finally meet again, Mrs. Benn, having been married now for more than twenty years, admits to wondering if she made a mistake in marrying, but says she has come to love her husband and is looking forward to the birth of their first grandchild. Stevens later muses over lost opportunities, both with Miss Kenton and regarding his decades of selfless service to Lord Darlington, who may not have been worthy of his unquestioning fealty. At the end of the novel, Stevens instead focuses on the titular "remains of the day", referring to his future service with Mr. Farraday and what is left of his own life.


  • Mr. Stevens, the narrator, an English butler who serves at Darlington Hall; a devoted man with high standards who is particularly concerned with dignity (exemplified by the fact that the reader never learns his first name)
  • Miss Kenton, the housekeeper at Darlington Hall, later married as Mrs. Benn
  • Lord Darlington, the owner of Darlington Hall; a conference he holds between high-ranking diplomats is ultimately a failed effort toward appeasement talks between English and German powers; this causes his political and social decline
  • William Stevens (Mr. Stevens senior), the 75-year-old father of Mr. Stevens, serving as under-butler; Stevens senior suffers a severe stroke during the conference at Darlington Hall; his son was divided between serving and helping him
  • Senator Lewis, an American senator who criticises Lord Darlington as being an "amateur" in politics
  • Mr. Farraday, the new American employer of Stevens
  • Young Mr. Cardinal, the son of one of Lord Darlington's closest friends and a journalist, he is killed in Belgium during the Second World War
  • M. Dupont, a high-ranking French politician who attends Lord Darlington's conference

On his motoring trip, Stevens briefly comes into contact with several other characters. They are mirrors to Stevens and show the reader different facets of his character; they are also all kind and try to help him. Two in particular, Dr. Carlisle and Harry Smith, highlight themes in the book.



The most important aspect of Stevens' life is his dignity as an English butler. Such aspects of refined dignity, especially when applied under stressful situations, are, to Stevens, what define a "great butler". As such, Stevens constantly maintains an inward and outward sense of dignity to preserve his identity. He had dedicated himself wholly to Lord Darlington. These philosophies of dignity, however, greatly affect Stevens' life—largely with respect to social constraints, loyalty and politics, and love and relationships. In preserving his dignity at the expense of emotion, Stevens in a way loses his sense of humanity with respect to his personal self. Stevens' primary struggle within the novel is how his dignity relates to his own experiences, as well as the role his dignity plays in the past, present, and future.[2]


"Banter" is an underlying theme in the novel. Stevens introduces it in the prologue as a problem which he considers his duty to solve in order to please Mr. Farraday. Stevens takes this new duty very seriously. He ponders over it, practises in his room, and studies a radio programme called Twice a Week or More for its witticisms. He practises banter with those he meets, such as the locals in the Coach and Horses inn near Taunton, but is unsuccessful. He agonises over this, yet fails to realise that it is his delivery that is lacking. The true significance of banter becomes apparent at the end of the novel, when Stevens has met the retired butler who strikes up a conversation with him and tells him to enjoy his old age. Stevens then listens to the chatter of the people around him, in a positive frame of mind, and realises that banter is "the key to human warmth".

Social constraints[edit]

The novel does not present Stevens' situation as simply a personal one. It seems clear that Stevens' position as butler, and servant, has gradually made it impossible for him to live a fulfilling emotional life. His father dies, and Stevens is too occupied with worrying about whether his services are being carried out correctly to mourn (something that he later reflects on with great pride). Nor can Stevens bring himself to express feelings about personal matters, as to do so would compromise his dignity. Social rules at the time were a major constraint. As the book reveals, servants who wished to marry and have children would have immediately found themselves without a job, as married life is seen as incompatible with service, which requires total devotion. A truly "great butler" does not abandon his profession, and, as such, Stevens feels that such choices are foolish in regard to the life of a butler.

Loyalty and politics[edit]

Stevens is shown as totally loyal to Lord Darlington, whose friendly approach towards Germany, through his friendship to Mrs. Charles Barnet, also results in close contacts to right-wing extremist organisations, such as the Blackshirts of Sir Oswald Mosley. Due to this, Lord Darlington also discharges two Jewish staff members, a decision he comes to regret. Lord Darlington also had contact with British and German diplomats. In the chapter "day four – afternoon", a meeting is described between the Prime Minister and German Ambassador Ribbentrop in the rooms of Darlington's estate. Stevens is quite incapable of believing his master to be wrong in this, as Lord Darlington's upbringing and heritage carry a certain type of dignity that is above and beyond Stevens' own.

Love and relationships[edit]

Stevens is arguably aware on some level of Miss Kenton's feelings for him, but he is unable to reciprocate. Miss Kenton's actions often leave Stevens bemused and puzzled, but his recollections of past interactions between the two reveal to the reader certain lost possibilities of their relationship. However, Stevens is never able to acknowledge the complex feelings he possesses for Miss Kenton, insisting only that they shared an "excellent professional relationship". It is not only the constraints of his social situation, but also his own stunted emotional life that hold him back. During their time at Darlington Hall, Stevens chose to maintain a sense of distance born from his personal understanding of dignity, as opposed to searching and discovering the feelings that existed between himself and Miss Kenton. It is only within their final encounter that Stevens tragically becomes aware of his life's lost potential when thinking about Miss Kenton in a romantic light.

Memory and perspective[edit]

As with his other works, Ishiguro uses the structural devices of memory and perspective within this novel. Past events are presented from the viewpoint of the main protagonist, the ageing Stevens; elements of the past are presented as fragments, apparently subconsciously censored by Stevens to present (explicitly) a description of past occurrences as he would have the reader understand them and (implicitly) to relay the fact that the information supplied is subjective. On occasion the narrator acknowledges the potential inaccuracy of his recollections and this serves the reader by inviting him to question the pedigree of the information relayed by Stevens; the more the reader learns about Stevens's character, the more we are able to interpret the sub-textual intention of the fragments of memory presented by him. This device serves to engage the reader, who is invited to look beneath the facts of the incidents in question and provides a clever literary device for looking beyond the public face presented by a character whose very essence is characterised by the presentation of a dignified façade.

Allusions to real events[edit]

The theme of the decline of the British aristocracy can be linked to the 1911 Parliament Act, which reduced their power, and to inheritance tax increases imposed after World War I, which forced the break-up of many estates that had been passed down for generations. The pro-German stance of Lord Darlington has parallels in the warm relations with Germany favoured by some British aristocrats in the early 1930s, such as Lord Londonderry and Oswald Mosley.


The Remains of the Day is one of the most highly regarded post-war British novels. In 1989, the novel won the Man Booker Prize, one of the most prestigious literary prizes in the English-speaking world.[3] It ranks 146th in a composite list, compiled by Brian Kunde of Stanford University, of the best twentieth-century English-language fiction.[4]

In 2006, The Observer asked 150 literary writers and critics to vote for the best British, Irish or Commonwealth novel from 1980 to 2005; The Remains of the Day placed joint-eighth.[5] In 2007, The Remains of the Day was included in a Guardian list of "Books you can't live without"[6] and also in a 2009 "1000 novels everyone must read" list.[7] The Economist has described the novel as Ishiguro's "most famous book".[8]



  1. ^ "NYTimes". Retrieved 2018-04-12.
  2. ^ "Analysis of The Remains of the Day", Spark notes.
  3. ^ "The Remains of the Day". Man Booker Prize. Retrieved 15 June 2016.
  4. ^ Brian Kunde (24 June 2005). "The Best English-Language Fiction of the Twentieth Century: A Composite List and Ranking". Stanford University. Retrieved 29 June 2010.
  5. ^ Robert McCrum (8 October 2006). "What's the best novel in the past 25 years?". London: The Observer. Retrieved 29 June 2010.
  6. ^ "Books you can't live without: the top 100". London: The Guardian. 1 March 2007. Retrieved 29 June 2010.
  7. ^ "1000 Novels Everyone Must Read: The Definitive List". The Guardian. London. 23 January 2009.
  8. ^ "Kazuo Ishiguro, a Nobel laureate for these muddled times". The Economist. 5 October 2017.
  9. ^ Jim Friel (19 May 2008). "Programme Leader of the MA in Writing". Liverpool John Moores University. Retrieved 29 June 2010.
  10. ^ "Biography for Ian McDiarmid". Internet Movie Database. Archived from the original on 10 January 2008. Retrieved 29 June 2010.
  11. ^ AFP, Remains of the Day musical opens in London (news article), Google
  12. ^ "Musical of The Remains of the Day to première", The Stage (news story), UK.
  13. ^ Walker, Tim (28 May 2009), "It's Remains of the Day the musical for Kazuo Ishiguro", The Telegraph (news), The Daily Telegraph, London
  14. ^ "The Remains of the Day", The Stage (review), UK.
  15. ^ "Songs for English reserve in The Remains of the Day", This is London (review), UK, archived from the original on 9 September 2010, retrieved 3 September 2010.
  16. ^ The Financial Times, UK.

Further reading[edit]

Literary analysis[edit]

Preceded by
Oscar and Lucinda
Booker Prize recipient
Succeeded by
Possession: A Romance