James Stevens is an aging butler at Darlington Hall. In the 1950s, at the suggestions of his new American employer, he takes a drive into the West Country, both as a holiday but also to negotiate the return of Miss Kenton, a former employee. But what preoccupies Stevens along his trip are the highlights of his career which are intertwined with historical events and personal losses. As he gets closer to reuniting with Miss Kenton the motives of the trip become clearer, and Stevens’ consummate professionalism softens to personal longing.
Stevens’ preoccupations with professional standards and social strictures of England, hyperbolised within the manner house, provide the bulk of his narration. But the undercurrents of these thoughts, his emotional stagnation, obsession with dignity, and ineptitude in personal exchanges, create a rich narrative. The true poignancy of the novel comes with Stevens’ unawareness of his own losses, the certainty of his views unsettled throughout the text as these very expressions flow from his mind.
Affecting without becoming sentimental, The Remains of the Day is beautifully written, achingly compassionate, and completely stirring.