The Remains of the Day

The Remains of the Day Summary and Analysis of Day One (Evening) - Salisbury


Stevens sits in a guesthouse in Salisbury and looks back over the first day of his trip. All in all, he says he is quite satisfied. He left Darlington Hall with an odd feeling, since without him and Mr. Farraday there, it would stand empty for the first time since perhaps the estate was built. He checks the house again and again to make sure things are in order before he goes. Once he leaves, he finds himself overtaken with excitement - and alarm - for having journeyed far beyond where he ever had before.

He steps out to stretch his legs and meets a stranger who urges him to walk all the way to the top of the hill, where Stevens will find a beautiful vista - "You won't get a better view anywhere in the whole of England," says the stranger. Stevens takes up the man on his challenge and walks to the top of the hill where he finds a magnificent view of the countryside. He is buoyed by the sight and proceeds with firm resolve to find Miss Kenton and bring her back to solve his current staffing problems.

That afternoon, Stevens arrives at a Salisbury guest house, where he makes up his room, and then ventures out into the streets. He marvels at the wide, airy nature of the city, at the looming cathedral, but says everything he's seen pales in comparison to the remarkable view of the countryside he had in the morning. The view reminds him of why the country is called "Great" Britain, and Stevens begins to consider what it is about a country or a person that makes them great. In particular, he thinks, what is it that makes a "great butler"?

In the 1920s and 30s, there existed an organization known as the Hayes Society, which held considerable influence over London and other Counties. The Hayes Society only admitted butlers 'of the very first rank,' and had several criteria for membership. These included that an applicant be attached to a distinguished household, and that the applicant be possessed of a dignity in keeping with his position. This word 'dignity' preoccupies Stevens - and he realizes that it is in fact true that all the butlers he considers great did, in fact, possess true 'dignity.'

Stevens points to his father as one of the 'great' butlers precisely because he maintained such a remarkable sense of dignity. He recalls one story his father told over the years about a butler he had heard of in India. One afternoon, the butler entered the dining room and noticed a tiger under the dining table. He then proceeded to the drawing room, where his employer was having tea with a number of visitors. He calmly attracted his master's attention, whispered to him of the tiger's presence, asked for permission to shoot it, which he duly received. He then shot the tiger, calmly disposed of the carcass, and when he returned, informed the men that dinner would be served at the usual time with no discernible traces of the recent occurrence.

Stevens recounts another story that Mr. Charles, an industrialist, tells him about his father's service at Darlington Hall. One evening, two drunk guests of his Lord asked Stevens to take them on a drive around the local villages. They persuaded Mr. Charles to accompany them as well. The men were so unruly and loud and vulgar, but still Stevens' father said nothing. Then the men began to insult Stevens' employer - Mr. John Silver. Stevens' father stopped the car, got out, opened their car door and looked at them with such authority that the two drunken men 'seemed to cower back like small boys caught by the farmer in the act of stealing apples.' Under his glare, finally the men apologized, and Stevens' father resumed the journey.

Another story involved Stevens' father and a General who he deeply loathed. Specifically, Stevens' father hated the general because the General's policies in the Southern African War had led to the death of his second son - Stevens' older brother. The General came to Stevens' fathers employer's house, and Mr. Silver offered Stevens' father the option of not working those days. But Stevens' father refused and waited on the General for several days, despite his terrible manners - and did so well, in fact, that the General left him a substantial tip that Stevens' father donated to charity in disgust.

'Dignity,' then, says Stevens has to do crucially with a butler's ability not to abandon the professional being he inhabits. In other words, a butler must be a tremendous actor - never to react to provocation and drop their facade. They can inhabit their role, maintain it, and not be shaken out, no matter what the circumstances.


If the first chapter of Remains of the Day set up the narrative frame for the novel - namely Stevens' trip to West England, then this second chapter sets up the figurative and thematic frames. Here, Stevens ruminates on what it is that makes a great butler - what separates one from the masses that populate the history of the profession. He settles upon the word 'dignity' as that which distinguishes the cream of the crop and even comes to establish a definition. Stevens is extremely ordered in his thinking. For even though Remains of the Day is a stream-of-consciousness character study - a peek inside Stevens' head - he thinks in paragraphs that often begin with a hypothetical question, and end with a conclusion. The paradox of Stevens is that no matter how terse or concise he is with his actual speaking, he is a loquacious thinker - prone to diversion, exposition, and long stretches of contemplation.

The definition of 'dignity' that Stevens establishes seems at once honorable and disturbing. Dignity, in his eyes, is the ability to inhabit the professionalism of the butler and never drop the facade. In other words, to lose ones natural instincts and become unflappable in the name of service is the highest aim of one who undertakes the profession. It is no wonder, then, that Stevens is so uncomfortable in moments of silence, solitude, purposelessness. He has, quite simply, abdicated his own soul in order to be a better butler.

Most defining characters of classic literature have a crucial 'want' that defines their life. Some, for instance, want to find their identiy, others to prove their manhood, others to find love. But for Stevens, here we see that his defining quest is to prove his worth as his father's son - to become a great butler in order to honor his father. But Stevens doesn't seem to consider himself a great butler. There is a sense of melancholy in his inability to completely relinquish feelings in the same way that his father did - able to even stomach his son's de facto killer in the name of serving his employer.

What Stevens, of course, wants deep down is love. It is perhaps obvious that he didn't receive it from his father, has yet to receive it from a woman, and he has now began to face that chasm of unfulfillment that comes once one reaches the twilight of life. He had never left Darlington Hall before, and now sets out with the purpose of bringing a woman back - for staffing needs, perhaps, but more to find a way to have his professional and personal desires coalesce. For bringing back Miss Kenton will not only enable Stevens to improve the household - and thus his chances of greatness as a butler - but to also fulfill a profound emptiness that has begun to impede his professional work. The irony of Stevens is that without Miss Kenton at the house, he should be able to focus even more clearly on his work. But without her there, he's become increasingly distracted and careless.

Mr. Farraday is a bit of a nebulous character, but we should not necessarily attribute this to Mr. Farraday himself. It is Stevens, after all, who defines him - and Stevens seems only to remark about the instances where he's frustrated by his employer's sense of ease and banter. Because what Farraday has that makes Stevens respect him so much is that delicious sense of ease within himself that Stevens envies, perhaps fears. Where some masters are intimidating, Farraday is quite the opposite - casual, loose - and this terrifies Stevens. So much so that he resolves to practice being casual in order to be more at ease in front of his employer - one of the remarkable ironies of Stevens' characters that will develop even more as we proceed.