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The Remains of the Day

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The Remains of the Day
First edition
AuthorKazuo Ishiguro
GenreHistorical novel
PublisherFaber and Faber
Publication date
May 1989
Publication placeUnited Kingdom
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 protagonist, Stevens, is a butler with a long record of service at Darlington Hall, a fictitious stately home near Oxford, England. In 1956, he takes a road trip to visit a former colleague, and reminisces about events at Darlington Hall in the 1920s and 1930s.[1]

The work received the 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. In 2022, it was included on the "Big Jubilee Read" list of 70 books by Commonwealth authors, selected to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee of Elizabeth II.[2]

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). As the work progresses, two central themes are revealed: Lord Darlington was a Nazi sympathizer; and Stevens is in love with Miss Kenton, the housekeeper at Darlington Hall, Lord Darlington's estate.[3]

The novel begins in 1956, 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. Furthermore, Darlington Hall is short-staffed and could greatly use a skilled housekeeper like Miss Kenton. Stevens starts to consider paying Miss Kenton a visit. His new employer, a wealthy American named Mr. Farraday, encourages Stevens to borrow his car to take a well-earned vacation—a "motoring trip". Stevens accepts, and sets out for Little Compton, Cornwall, where Miss Kenton (now Mrs. Benn) lives.

During his journey, 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 the Second World War; on the meaning of the term "dignity" and what constitutes a great butler; and on his relationship with his late father, another "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 1930s, Stevens and Miss Kenton failed to admit their true feelings toward each 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. Stevens even expresses some of these sentiments in casual conversation with a friendly stranger of a similar age and background whom he happens upon near the end of his travels.

This man suggests that it is better to enjoy the present time in one's life than to dwell on the past, as "the evening" is, after all, the best part of the day. At the end of the novel, Stevens appears to have taken this to heart as he 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 man devoted to performing his job to the highest standards, and 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. A capable and opinionated woman who works closely with Mr Stevens as the two most senior serving staff. Her relationship with Mr Stevens is unstable; they frequently argue, yet it is evident to the reader (but not to Stevens) that she is in love with him.
  • Lord Darlington, the owner of Darlington Hall, characterised as well-meaning but naïve. His support for appeasement with Nazi Germany results in public disgrace after WWII.
  • 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 relationship with his son is portrayed as strained.
  • Senator Lewis, an American senator who criticises Lord Darlington as being an "amateur" in politics. He symbolises the declining power and relevance of the European aristocracy in the face of America's ascendance as a global superpower, and the increasing role of non-aristocratic "experts" in politics.
  • 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, most of them working class. They serve to challenge Stevens' ideals and values, particularly in the changing post-war social context, and contribute towards his epiphany at the end of the novel. For example, Harry Smith, an outspoken left-wing man he meets in a pub, argues that dignity is actually about democracy and standing up for one's beliefs, in contrast to Stevens' conception of it as being about suppressing one's own feelings in pursuit of professionalism.

Release and publication history[edit]

Remains was first published in the United Kingdom by Faber and Faber in May 1989,[4] and in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf on 4 October 1989.[5]


The Remains of the Day is one of the most highly regarded post-war British novels. In 1989, the novel won the Booker Prize.[6] It ranks 146th in a composite list, compiled by Brian Kunde of Stanford University, of the best 20th-century English-language fiction.[7]

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.[8] In 2007, The Remains of the Day was included in a Guardian list of "Books you can't live without"[9] and also in a 2009 "1000 novels everyone must read" list.[10] The Economist has described the novel as Ishiguro's "most famous book".[11] On 5 November 2019, the BBC News listed The Remains of the Day on its list of the 100 most influential novels.[12]

In a retrospective review published in The Guardian in 2012, Salman Rushdie argues that "the real story … is that of a man destroyed by the ideas upon which he has built his life".[13] In Rushdie's view, Stevens's obsession with dignified restraint has cost him loving relationships with his father and with Miss Kenton.[13]

Kathleen Wall argues that The Remains of the Day "may be seen to be about Stevens's attempts to grapple with his unreliable memories and interpretations and the havoc that his dishonesty has played on his life" (emphasis in original).[14] In particular, she suggests that The Remains of the Day challenges scholarly accounts of the unreliable narrator. Wall notes that the ironic effect of Mr Stevens's narration depends on the reader's assuming that he describes events reliably, while interpreting those events in self-serving or peculiar ways.[15]

According to Steven Connor, The Remains of the Day thematises the idea of English national identity. In Mr Stevens's view, the qualities of the best butlers, which involve restraining personal emotions in favour of keeping up appearances, are "identified as essentially English".[16] Connor argues that early critics of The Remains of the Day, who saw it as a novel about Japanese national identity, were mistaken: "there seems to be no doubt that it is Englishness that is at stake or under analysis in this novel".[17]



  1. ^ Graver, Lawrence (8 October 1989). "What the Butler Saw". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 25 September 2021.
  2. ^ "The Big Jubilee Read: A literary celebration of Queen Elizabeth II's record-breaking reign". BBC. 17 April 2022. Retrieved 18 June 2022.
  3. ^ Connor 1996, p. 104.
  4. ^ "Forthcoming Books May 1989". British Book News. British Council: 300. April 1989. ISSN 0007-0343.
  5. ^ "The Remains of the Day". Kirkus Reviews. 15 September 1989. Retrieved 26 September 2021.
  6. ^ "The Booker Prize 1989". Booker Prizes. 2021. Retrieved 26 September 2021.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Robert McCrum (8 October 2006). "What's the best novel in the past 25 years?". The Observer. London. Retrieved 29 June 2010.
  9. ^ "Books you can't live without: the top 100". The Guardian. London. 1 March 2007. Retrieved 29 June 2010.
  10. ^ "1000 Novels Everyone Must Read: The Definitive List". The Guardian. London. 23 January 2009.
  11. ^ "Kazuo Ishiguro, a Nobel laureate for these muddled times". The Economist. 5 October 2017.
  12. ^ "100 'most inspiring' novels revealed by BBC Arts". BBC News. 5 November 2019. The reveal kickstarts the BBC's year-long celebration of literature.
  13. ^ a b Rushdie, Salman (17 August 2012). "Salman Rushdie: rereading The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 September 2021.
  14. ^ Wall 1994, p. 23.
  15. ^ Wall 1994, p. 25.
  16. ^ Connor 1996, pp. 104–105.
  17. ^ Connor 1996, p. 107.
  18. ^ Jim Friel (19 May 2008). "Programme Leader of the MA in Writing". Liverpool John Moores University. Retrieved 29 June 2010.
  19. ^ AFP, Remains of the Day musical opens in London (news article), archived from the original on 8 September 2010
  20. ^ "Musical of The Remains of the Day to première", The Stage (news story), UK.
  21. ^ Walker, Tim (28 May 2009), "It's Remains of the Day the musical for Kazuo Ishiguro", The Telegraph (news), The Daily Telegraph, London{{citation}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  22. ^ "The Remains of the Day", The Stage (review), UK.
  23. ^ "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.
  24. ^ The Financial Times, UK, 2 September 2010{{citation}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link).


Further reading[edit]