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The Remains of the Day

The Remains of the Day
First edition
Author Kazuo Ishiguro
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Historical novel
Publisher Faber and Faber
Publication date
May 1989
Media type Print (hardback)
Pages 245 pp
OCLC 59165609
Preceded by An Artist of the Floating World
Followed by The Unconsoled

The Remains of the Day (1989) is Kazuo Ishiguro's third published novel. The work was awarded 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.

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 a diary while the action progresses through the present. Much of the novel is concerned with Stevens' professional and, above all, personal relationship with a former colleague, the housekeeper Miss Kenton.


  • Plot summary 1
  • Characters in The Remains of the Day 2
  • Themes 3
    • Dignity 3.1
    • Banter 3.2
    • Social constraints 3.3
    • Loyalty and politics 3.4
    • Love and relationships 3.5
    • Memory and perspective 3.6
  • Allusions to real life events 4
  • Reception 5
  • Adaptations 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8
    • Literary Analysis 8.1

Plot summary

The Remains of the Day tells, in first person, the story of Stevens, an English butler who has dedicated his life to the loyal service of Lord Darlington (mentioned in increasing detail in flashbacks). The novel begins with Stevens receiving a letter from a former colleague, Miss Kenton, describing her married life, which he believes hints at an unhappy marriage. The letter's receipt coincides with Stevens' having the opportunity to revisit this once-cherished relationship, if only under the guise of investigating the possibility of 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". As he sets out, Stevens has the opportunity to reflect on his immutable loyalty to Lord Darlington, on the meaning of the term "dignity", and even on his relationship with his late father. Ultimately, Stevens is forced to ponder the true nature of his relationship with Miss Kenton. As the book progresses, increasing evidence of Miss Kenton's one-time love for Stevens, and of his for her, is revealed.

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.

Miss Kenton, it later emerges, has been married for over 20 years and therefore is no longer Miss Kenton but has become Mrs Benn. She admits to wondering occasionally what a life with Stevens might have been like, but she has come to love her husband and is looking forward to the birth of their first grandchild. 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

  • James Stevens (Mr Stevens) – the narrator, an English butler who serves at Darlington Hall. He is a devoted butler with high standards and particularly concerned with dignity. This is exemplified by the fact that the reader never learns his first name.
  • 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.
  • 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 – a journalist; he is the son of one of Lord Darlington's closest friends and is killed in Belgium during the Second World War
  • Dupont – a high-ranking French politician who attends 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 own identity. He dedicated his whole life to Lord Darlington.

These philosophies of dignity, however, greatly affect his life—largely with respect to social constraints, loyalty and politics, and love and relationships. By preserving dignity at the expense of such emotions, 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.[1]


Banter is a central and underlying theme in the novel. Stevens introduces it in the prologue as a problem which he considers his duty to solve 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 on the people he meets, such as the locals in the Coach and Horses inn near Taunton, but is unsuccessful. He agonises 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. 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

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 butlering is 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 expressing such emotions would compromise his dignity.

The social rules at the time were a major constraint. As the book reveals, servants who wish to marry 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

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, he also discharges the two Jewish staff members (which he regrets later as a mistake). He also had contact with British and German diplomats. In "day four – afternoon", a meeting is described between the Prime Minister and German Ambassador Ribbentrop in the rooms of the prime minister'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

Stevens is arguably aware on some level of Miss Kenton's feelings, but he fails to reciprocate. Miss Kenton's actions often leave Stevens bemused and puzzled, but his recollections reveal to the reader the lost possibilities of their relationship, as past interactions are recreated. However, Stevens is never able to acknowledge the complexity of 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 (or immaturity) that holds him back. During their time spent 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 the lost potential of his life with Miss Kenton.

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 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 life events

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.[2]

It ranks 146th in a composite list, compiled by Brian Kunde of Stanford University, of greatest twentieth-century English-language novels.[3]

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.[4]

In 2007, The Remains of the Day was included in a Guardian list of "Books you can't live without"[5] and also in a 2009 "1000 novels everyone must read".[6]


  • A BBC Radio 4 adaptation in two-hour-long episodes starring Ian McDiarmid was broadcast on 8 and 15 August 2003.[7][8]
  • The musical adaptation,[9] shown from 1 September 2010 in London's Union Theatre,[10][11] has received positive reviews from fans and critics alike.[12][13][14]


  1. ^ "Analysis of The Remains of the Day", Spark notes .
  2. ^ "The Remains of the Day".  
  3. ^ Brian Kunde (24 June 2005). "The Best English-Language Fiction of the Twentieth Century: A Composite List and Ranking".  
  4. ^  
  5. ^ "Books you can't live without: the top 100". London: The Guardian. 1 March 2007. Retrieved 29 June 2010. 
  6. ^ "1000 Novels Everyone Must Read: The Definitive List". The Guardian (London). 23 January 2009. 
  7. ^ Jim Friel (19 May 2008). "Programme Leader of the MA in Writing".  
  8. ^ "Biography for Ian McDiarmid".  
  9. ^ AFP, Remains of the Day musical opens in London (news article), Google 
  10. ^ "Musical of The Remains of the Day to première", The Stage (news story), UK .
  11. ^ Walker, Tim (28 May 2009), "It's Remains of the Day the musical for Kazuo Ishiguro", The Telegraph (news), The Daily Telegraph, London 
  12. ^ "The Remains of the Day", The Stage (review), UK .
  13. ^ "Songs for English reserve in The Remains of the Day", This is London (review), UK .
  14. ^ The Financial Times, UK .

External links

  • Kakutani, Michiko (22 September 1989), "An era revealed in a perfect butler's imperfections", Books of The Times (review), The New York Times .
  • "The Remains of the Day"Kazuo Ishiguro discusses , .  
  • Book guide ( .
  • Comparison with Milton's Sonnet XIX, ES: Universidad de Rioja .
  • The Remains of the Day – The Musical (official website) .

Literary Analysis

By professional academics.

  • Tamaya, Meera, Ishiguro's Remains of the Day: The Empire Strikes Back (presentation slides), ScribD .
Preceded by
Oscar and Lucinda
Booker Prize recipient
Succeeded by
Possession: A Romance
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