Set in 1956, The Remains of The Day follows Stevens, the butler as he travels to Cornwall to meet with a housekeeper who used to work with him – Miss Kenton. The old English house where he works – Darlington Hall – has recently been bought by an American man and while most of the staff have left, Stevens has stayed.
“There is no virtue at all in clinging as some do to tradition merely for its own sake. In this age of electricity and modern heating systems, there is no need at all to employ the sorts of numbers necessary even a generation ago.”
The book is narrated by Stevens, so the writing style of the book is very professional and precise as Stevens is. The American Mr Farraday, unlike his previous employer, banters with Stevens and talks to him as if they are friends. Stevens does not know what to do in these situations, whether he should joke back, this upsets him as he feels it is unprofessional if a butler cannot tailor his service to fit his employer. So he takes to teaching himself how to banter with Mr Farraday, he goes about this very precisely and you can tell from his efforts that it is not something in his nature.
“It may well be that in America, it is all part of what is considered good professional service that an employee provide entertaining banter…It is quite possible, then, that my employer fully expects me to respond to his bantering in a like manner, and considers my failure to do so a form of negligence.”
As Stevens travels, he spends much of his time thinking about the past and reminiscing, though many of his reminiscences are about other people rather than himself such as his old employer Mr Darlington, his own father etcetera. He is not as important as they are in his head.
“It was one of those events which at a crucial stage in one’s development arrive to challenge and stretch one to the limit of one’s ability and beyond, so that thereafter one has new standards by which to judge oneself.”
The writing style is very formal throughout the book, which while this can be a little annoying to read, it makes sense as Stevens is the sort of person who is never informal and does not really know how to be.
Nothing is overly dramatic in the book, or dramatic at all. Even the main plot of the book – why he is really visiting the housekeeper rather than writing to her – is dealt with in what turns out to be a very small amount of sentences. Again, this is because of Stevens’ character. The main part of the book is taken up with his reminiscences. Stevens’ hopes that in looking back he will find a way of fitting into the present world and the future.
The characterisation in the book is amazing, it is easy to believe this is a true memoir, and although the formal writing style can be annoying, the book and the character of Stevens would not work half as well without it.