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
ISBN 978-0-571-15310-7
OCLC 59165609
Preceded by An Artist of the Floating World
Followed by The Unconsoled

The Remains of the Day is a 1989 novel by Japanese-born British writer Kazuo Ishiguro. 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

The Remains of the Day tells, in the first person, the story of Stevens, an English butler who has dedicated his life to the loyal service of Lord Darlington (described in increasing detail in flashbacks). The novel begins with Stevens receiving a letter from a former colleague, the housekeeper Miss Kenton, describing her married life, which he believes hints at an unhappy marriage.

His receipt of the letter coincides with Stevens' having the 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," and Stevens takes the opportunity to arrange to meet with Miss Kenton, now Mrs Benn, in Devon, where she now lives.

As he sets out, Stevens has the opportunity to reflect on his unshakable loyalty to Lord Darlington, who 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 even 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, increasing evidence of Miss Kenton's and Stevens' past mutual attraction and affection 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. Stevens in particular never yielded, even when Miss Kenton tried to draw closer to him.

When they finally meet again, Mrs Benn, now married for over 20 years, admits to wondering occasionally what a life with Stevens might have been like, 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 loyalty. At the end of the novel, Stevens instead focuses on the "remains of [his] day", referring to his future service with Mr Farraday and what is left of his own life.


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 an 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 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

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 stunted emotional life that holds 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 the lost potential of his life with Miss Kenton.

Memory and perspective

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

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]



  1. "Analysis of The Remains of the Day", Spark notes.
  2. "The Remains of the Day". Man Booker Prize. Retrieved 15 June 2016.
  3. 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.
  4. Robert McCrum (8 October 2006). "What's the best novel in the past 25 years?". London: The Observer. Retrieved 29 June 2010.
  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". Liverpool John Moores University. Retrieved 29 June 2010.
  8. "Biography for Ian McDiarmid". Internet Movie Database. Archived from the original on 10 January 2008. Retrieved 29 June 2010.
  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

Literary analysis

By professional academics.

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