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THE REMAINS OF THE DAY. The Remains of the Day (1989) is the Japanese-English author Kazuo Ishiguro's third published novel. One of the most highly-regarded post-war British novels.

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The Remains of the Day (1989) is the Japanese-English author Kazuo Ishiguro's third published novel. One of the most highly-regarded post-war British novels.

  • As in Ishiguro's two previous novels, the story is told from a first person point of view. The narrator Stevens, a butler, recalls his life in the form of what appears to be a long letter to an unknown person – possibly another butler – while the action progresses through the present
  • The Remains of the Day is neither based in Japan nor told from the point of view of a Japanese person
  • Author Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Country United Kingdom
  • Language English
  • Genre(s) Historical novel
  • Publisher Faber and Faber
  • Publication date May 1989
  • Media type Print (Hardback)
  • Pages 245 pp (hardback edition)
  • ISBN ISBN 0-571-15310-0 (hardback edition)
  • OCLC Number 59165609
  • Preceded by An Artist of the Floating World
  • Followed by The Unconsoled

"Remains of the day" may be interpretated as the German "Rückstände des Tages," a Freudian term generally translated as "day's residues." These are experiences of the day before the night of a dream. Freud discovered these are always present in dream formation. They are used as symbolic representations and disguises for forbidden wishes.

plot summary

The Remains of the Day tells the story of Stevens, an English butler who has dedicated his life to the loyal service of one Lord Darlington

Working together during the years leading up to the Second World War, Stevens and Miss Kenton fail to admit their true feelings towards each other. All of their recollected conversations show a professional friendship which at times came close to crossing the line into romance, but never dared to do so.

Stevens muses over lost opportunities, both with Miss Kenton and with his long-time employer, Lord Darlington. At the end of the novel, Stevens instead focuses on the "remains of [his] day", referring to his future service with Mr Farraday.

characters in the remains of the day
Characters in The Remains of the Day
  • James Stevens (Mr Stevens) – the narrator, an English butler who serves at Darlington Hall
  • Miss Kenton – housekeeper at Darlington Hall, afterwards married as Mrs Benn
  • Lord Darlington – the owner of Darlington Hall, whose failed efforts toward talks between English and German diplomats caused his political and social decline
  • William Stevens (Mr Stevens senior) – the 72-year-old father of butler Stevens (the narrator), serving as under-butler; Stevens senior suffers a severe stroke during a conference at Darlington Hall. His son was divided between serving and helping.
  • Mr Farraday – the new American employer of Stevens
  • Young Mr Cardinal – a journalist; he is the son of one of Lord Darlington's closest friends, who was killed in Belgium during the Second World War
  • Dupont – a high-ranking French politician who attends Darlington's conference

The most important aspect of Stevens's 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 in order to preserve his own identity.

  • Banter is a central and underlying theme in the novel… Stevens agonizes over it 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.
social constraints
Social constraints
  • The social rules at the time were certainly a major constraint. As we see in the book, servants who wish to get married and have children immediately find themselves without a job, since married life is seen as incompatible with total devotion to one's master. 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
Loyalty and politics
  • . Due to his loyality to Lord Darlington, Stevens also discharges the two Jewish staff members.
  • In "day four - afternoon" a meeting is described between the Prime Minister and German Ambassador Ribbentrop. 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 ascended above and beyond the butler himself.
love and relationships
Love and relationships
  • Stevens is arguably aware on some level of Miss Kenton's feelings, but he fails to reciprocate. He is never able to acknowledge the complexity of the feeling 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 emotional maturity that holds him back.
  • It is only within their final encounter Stevens tragically becomes aware of the lost potential of his life with Miss Kenton.`
memory and perspective
Memory and Perspective
  • In common with his other novels, Ishiguro uses the structural devices of memory and perspective within this novel. Past events are presented from the view point of the main protagonist, the aging Stevens;
  • Elements of the past are presented as fragments, apparently subconsciously censored by Stevens in order to present a description of past occurrences as he would have the reader understand them and in order to relay the fact that the information supplied is subjective;
allusions to real life events
Allusions to real life events
  • The theme of the decline of the British aristocracy can be linked to the 1911 Parliament Act, which reduced the powers of the inheritance tax increases imposed after World War I forced the break-up of many estates that had been passed down for generations.
  • 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
  • The Remains appeared in a 2007 Guardian list of "Books you can't live without“and also in a 2009 "1000 novels everyone must read“. In 2006, The Observer asked 150 literary critics to vote for the best British, Irish or Commonwealth novel from 1980 to 2005; The Remains of the Day placed joint-eighth.
  • The novel was adapted into a 1993 film by Merchant Ivory Productions starring Anthony Hopkins as Stevens and Emma Thompson as Miss Kenton. The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards.