The atmosphere was dominated by a feeling of mutual respect […]. There existed in those days a true camaraderie in our profession, whatever the small differences in our approach. (1.38)
Stevens waxes nostalgic here for the good old days when butlers were just butlers, when everyone respected one another and everyone was equally committed to their work.
"If it is necessary to convey a message, I would ask you to do so through a messenger. Or else you may like to write a note and have it sent to me. Our working relationship, I am sure, would be made a great deal easier." (3.20)
Uh oh. Stevens and Miss Kenton's friendship runs into a snag when Stevens criticizes her one too many times. Note to self: if you want to get along with your coworkers or your underlings, do not micromanage.
[…] a rather tense atmosphere, characterized largely by distrust, seemed to prevail at this stage. And reflecting this unease, the visiting valets and footmen appeared to regard one another with marked coldness. (3.278)
The kind of friendship idealized in Quote #1 is conspicuously absent during the international conference. The spirit of workmanlike camaraderie is just as important between diplomats as it is between butlers.
By the very nature of witticism, one is given very little time to assess its various possible repercussions before one is called to give voice to it, and one gravely risks uttering all manner of unsuitable things if one has not first acquired the necessary skill and experience. There is no reason to suppose that this is not an area in which I will become proficient given time and practice. (5.12)
Wow, does this sound a bit like Mr. Spock to you? Stevens really has no social skills whatsoever. For him, a joke ("banter") is a potential minefield of awkwardness. Unlike his other butler duties, bantering cannot be mastered through "time and practice."
These were, let me say, overwhelmingly professional in tone—though naturally we might discuss some informal topics from time to time. (6.14)
Stevens really misses talking shop with his butler buddies, who may—along with possibly Miss Kenton and Lord Darlington—be the closest thing he has to friends.
"Do you realize, Mr. Stevens, how much it would have meant to me if you had thought to share your feelings last year? […] I suffered all the more because I believed I was all alone." (6.50)
Like bantering, expressing feelings is definitely out of Stevens's comfort zone. Interestingly, Miss Kenton seems to suggest here that expressing feelings is not irrelevant to establishing a strong professional relationship.
[…] there must surely come a time when [a butler] ceases his searching; a time when he must say to himself: "This employer embodies all that I find noble and admirable. I will hereafter devote myself to serving him." This is loyalty intelligently bestowed. (6.346)
For Stevens, loyalty ranks right up there with professionalism as the quality of a good butler—and a good friend.
"[…] He's a gentleman, and he fought a war with the Germans, and it's his instinct to offer generosity and friendship to a defeated foe. It's his instinct. Because he's a gentleman, a true old English gentleman. […] they've used it, manipulated it, turned something fine and noble into something else—something they can use for their own foul ends? […]" (7.174)
Friendship isn't just a personal issue but a political one as well. Mr. Cardinal's comments here suggest that Lord Darlington's notion of friendship has no place in contemporary international affairs. This contrasts with Lord Darlington's firm belief that friendship is the basis for peace.
"Indeed, as you say, we are old friends […]. I simply wondered if you were being ill-treated in some way. Forgive me, but as I say, it is something that has worried me for some time." (8.41)
Aw, Stevens … finally gotten around to expressing feelings, have you? There is certainly some sexual tension between Stevens and Miss Kenton, but as old friends, he can sincerely care for her well-being, even if she is married to someone else.
It is curious how people can build such warmth among themselves so swiftly. […] But, then, I rather fancy it has more to do with this skill of bantering. (8.85)
By the end of the novel, Stevens begins to appreciate bantering as a form of social intercourse, as a way to make friends more easily. He still sounds like a robot, though.
[…] my pondering over the implications of Miss Kenton's letter finally opened my eyes to the simple truth: that these small errors of recent months have derived from nothing more sinister than a faulty staff plan. (1.9)
We readers can probably see through Stevens's remarks here as easily as Mr. Farraday, his new American employer. The "simple truth" of Stevens's feelings for Miss Kenton eludes him; he thinks it's just a question of a "faulty staff plan." Yeah, right.
[…] what I find a major irritation are those persons—and housekeepers are particularly guilty here—who have no genuine commitment to their profession and who are essentially going from post to post looking for romance. (3.14)
These comments seem a bit sexist: women don't make good employees because they are susceptible to "romance." Ironically Stevens seems to entertain some romantic tendencies of his own.
"Sir David wishes you to know, sir, that ladies and gentlemen differ in several key respects." (3.247)
This is Stevens's very circuitous attempt to initiate the birds-and-the-bees talk with Mr. Cardinal. As a young man engaged to be married, Cardinal probably knows way more about the topic than Stevens does.
"Miss Kenton, please don't think me unduly improper in not ascending to see my father in his deceased condition just at this moment. You see, I know my father would have wished me to carry on just now." (3.395)
Stevens represses not only his attraction to Miss Kenton but also his emotions at the loss of his father. Not surprisingly, he also lists emotional restraint as another quality of a great butler. We have to say, though, we're going to use "that deceased condition" in more sentences. "Whoa, check out that poor deer by the side of the road. It's in a deceased condition."
"[…] Why, Mr. Stevens, why, why, why do you always have to pretend?" (6.50)
Miss Kenton calls out Stevens on his emotional restraint, which, as she points out, is actually a kind of lying or pretense: he is unable to be honest and sincere about his feelings.
"[…] You do not like pretty girls to be on the staff. Might it be that our Mr. Stevens fears distraction? Can it be that our Mr. Stevens is flesh and blood after all and cannot fully trust himself?" (6.67)
Miss Kenton has a little fun here with Stevens, who is flustered by her teasing. Stevens might not be able to fully trust himself, but he can definitely fully restrain himself.
Then she was standing before me, and suddenly the atmosphere underwent a peculiar change—almost as though the two of us had been suddenly thrust on to some other plane of being altogether. (6.120)
"Some other plane of being" has to be one of the most euphemistic ways of suggesting sexual tension of all time. Stevens can't bring himself to say words like "sex," "love," or "attraction," no matter how many romance novels he reads (see Quote #8 below). He does say, "thrust," though. Heh, heh. "Thrust."
The book was, true enough, what might be described as a "sentimental romance" […]. There was a simple reason for my having taken to perusing such works; it was an extremely efficient way to maintain and develop one's command of the English language. (6.125)
One could think of a thousand other ways of mastering the English language, right? Perhaps Stevens reads sentimental romances because he likes them, pure and simple. But he would never be able to admit this to himself.
It is a recollection of standing alone in the back corridor before the closed door of Miss Kenton's parlour; I was not actually facing the door, but standing with my person half turned towards it, transfixed by indecision as to whether or not I should knock; for at that moment, as I recall, I had been struck by the conviction that behind that very door, just a few yards from me, Miss Kenton was in fact crying. (7.33)
Why doesn't Stevens open the door? Why is he unable to overcome his emotional restraint in order to comfort Miss Kenton, even in a purely friendly way?
Moreover, as you might appreciate, their implications were such as to provoke a certain degree of sorrow within me. Indeed—why should I not admit it?—at that moment, my heart was breaking. (8.52)
Only in the last chapter of the novel can Stevens bring himself to admit his feelings for Miss Kenton.
And when today one hears talk about his lordship, when one hears the sort of foolish speculations concerning his motives […] I for one will never doubt that a desire to see "justice in this world" lay at the heart of all his actions. (3.180)
Stevens takes on the question of Lord Darlington's guilt here. Was he in fact a Nazi, or were his intentions good? Was he simply misguided, tricked into supporting the German cause?
[…] it may be that you are under the impression I am somehow embarrassed or ashamed of my association with his lordship […] I have chosen to tell white lies in both instances as the simplest means of avoiding unpleasantness. (4.66)
Despite his protests that he is proud of his service to Lord Darlington, Stevens pretends that he never worked for him. Somehow, his excuses ring a little false.
In looking back over my career thus far, my chief satisfaction derives from what I achieved during those years, and I am today nothing but proud and grateful to have been given such a privilege. (4.66)
Stevens rejects the possibility that he may be guilty by association with Darlington. As an employee, Stevens does not feel responsible for his employer's actions.
It is, however, rather irksome to have to hear people talking today as though they were never for a moment taken in by Herr Ribbentrop—as though Lord Darlington was alone in believing Herr Ribbentrop an honourable gentleman and developing a working relationship with him. (5.20)
Stevens remarks here on how many others have conveniently forgotten their own support for the German cause before World War II.
"I am telling you, Mr. Stevens, if you dismiss my girls tomorrow, it will be wrong, a sin as any sin ever was one, and I will not continue to work in such a house." (6.26)
Miss Kenton denounces Lord Darlington's decision to fire the Jewish maids. However, see Quote #6.
"It was cowardice, Mr. Stevens […]. Whenever I thought of leaving, I just saw myself going out there and finding nobody who knew or cared about me." (6.43)
Although she threatened to leave over the Jewish maids' dismissal, Miss Kenton recognizes that, out of cowardice, she was unable to. Also, she might have stayed because she had the hots for Mr. Stevens.
It is hardly my fault if his lordship's life and work have turned out today to look, at best, a sad waste—and it is quite illogical that I should feel any regret or shame on my own account. (6.346)
Again, Stevens rejects the possibility that he is guilty for his employer's faults. But is he really so blameless? And does he believe his own excuses? (See Quote #9 below.)
"But I suppose you wouldn't, Stevens, because you're not curious. You just let all this go on before you and you never think to look at it for what it is." (7.172)
Mr. Cardinal challenges Stevens here: just because Stevens turned a blind eye on Lord Darlington's activities does not mean he is innocent. Stevens, according to Mr. Cardinal, is guilty of another failing: of refusing to do anything about an injustice.
"[…] You see, I trusted. I trusted in his lordship's wisdom. All those years I served him, I trusted I was doing something worthwhile. I can't even say I made my own mistakes. Really—one has to ask oneself—what dignity is there in that?"
At this point, Stevens reevaluates his position and seems to have taken Mr. Cardinal's words to heart (see Quote #8).
After all, what can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished? (8.84)
By this point, toward the end of the novel, Stevens feels pretty awful about his past with Lord Darlington and his behavior toward Miss Kenton. The question now seems to be whether it is possible to move on and, if so, how.
Miss Kenton's letter set off a certain chain of ideas to do with professional matters here at Darlington Hall. (1.9)
Stevens's memories are often set off by random occurrences, but perhaps the most important inspiration is Miss Kenton's letter.
[…] the letter from Miss Kenton, containing as it did, along with its long, rather unrevealing passages, an unmistakable nostalgia for Darlington Hall. (1.15)
"Nostalgia" is a tricky word. People who are nostalgic think of the past as somehow ideal and long to return to it. As the novel proceeds, nostalgia becomes increasingly problematic… because the past begins to seem extra ideal and rose-tinted.
However, let me return to my original thread. (1.40)
Stevens is often distracted by his memories, and even by memories within his memories. He has a hard time appreciating the scenery, which is what this trip was supposed to be about.
If this is a painful memory, forgive me. But I will never forget that time we both watched your father walking back and forth in front of the summerhouse, looking down at the ground as though he hoped to find some precious jewel he had dropped there. (3.11)
Sometimes an image will send Stevens down memory lane; this one is from Miss Kenton.
In fact, now that I come to think of it, I have a feeling it may have been Lord Darlington himself who made that particular remark to me that time he called me into his study some two months after that exchange with Miss Kenton outside the billiard room. (3.103)
In the process of remembering, Stevens finds that he is sometimes mistaken about the actual date or circumstances in which a particular event has occurred, or who said what when.
[…] a broad alliance of figures who shared the conviction that the situation in Germany should not be allowed to persist. These were not only Britons and Germans, but also Belgians, French, Italians, Swiss; they were diplomats and political persons of high rank; distinguished clergymen; retired military gentlemen; writers and thinkers. (3.184)
Stevens spends some time considering the time period, particularly the general mood of the years leading up to World War II. Here he remembers that it was possible to be critical of the Versailles treaty without being branded a Nazi.
Anyone who implies that Lord Darlington was liaising covertly with a known enemy is just conveniently forgetting the true climate of those times. (5.21)
Stevens bemoans the fact that so many people could collectively forget the real "climate" of public opinion in the years leading up to World War II.
There was surely nothing to indicate at the time that such evidently small incidents would render whole dreams forever irredeemable. (6.200)
Stevens also remembers in order to try to understand how things came to be. It seems that events that seemed minor at the time—like Miss Kenton crying behind her door—become significant in hindsight.
But now, having thought further, I believe I may have been a little confused about this matter, that in fact this fragment of memory derives from events that took place on an evening at least a few months after the death of Miss Kenton's aunt. (7.33)
Like Quote #6, this quote provides an instance of Stevens correcting himself. Remembering the right context for an event is critical to understanding its true significance.
"[…] After all, there's no turning back the clock now. One can't be forever dwelling on what might have been. One should realize one has as good as most, perhaps better, and be grateful." (8.51)
Miss Kenton suggests to Stevens that it's no use living in the past. But given how weary she seems, this chipper quote seems kind of forced.
It is all very well, in these changing times, to adapt one's work to take in duties not traditionally within one's realm […]. One need hardly dwell on the catastrophic possibility of uttering a bantering remark only to discover it wholly inappropriate. (1.30)
Stevens struggles with the relative informality that his new American employer demands of him.
And let me now posit that "dignity" has to do crucially with a butler's ability not to abandon the professional being he inhabits. (2.55)
Many of Stevens's musings on what makes for a "great" butler center on this term: "dignity." Whatever dignity is, a great butler always has it; he is as dignified in his personal life as he is in his professional one.
I set about preparing for the days ahead as, I imagine, a general might prepare for a battle. I devised with utmost care a special staff plan anticipating all sorts of eventualities […]. I even gave the staff a military-style "pep-talk." (3.192)
Stevens takes great pleasure in his professionalism, going so far as to compare it to going into battle. The battle metaphor also suggests a parallel between Stevens's professionalism as a butler and the question of professionalism in Lord Darlington's diplomacy.
"[…] You here in Europe need professionals to run your affairs. If you don't realize that soon you're headed for disaster. A toast, gentlemen. Let me make a toast. To professionalism." (3.348)
The American senator Mr. Lewis scoffs at his European counterparts, who are still working from an older, more traditional model where gentlemen made treaties based on gentlemanly understandings. The modern world, he argues, requires "professional" diplomats, not gentleman amateurs.
"[…] What you describe as "amateurism," sir, is what I think most of us here still prefer to call "honour" […]. I believe I have a good idea of what you mean by "professionalism." It appears to mean getting one's way by cheating and manipulating. It appears to mean serving the dictates of greed and advantage rather than those of goodness and the desire to see justice prevail in the world." (3.352)
Lord Darlington defends his so-called amateurism against the American senator's criticism by insisting on the moral superiority of values such as honor, goodness, and justice.
It would seem there is a whole dimension to the question "what is a "great" butler?" I have not hitherto not properly considered […]. It may well be true to say it is a prerequisite of greatness that one "be attached to a distinguished household"—so long as one takes "distinguished" here to have a meaning deeper than that understood by the Hayes Society. (4.1)
The Hayes Society was an exclusive club of self-described "great butlers." Their definition of "great" or "distinguished" was based on class: being born noble or aristocratic, or working for someone who was. Stevens proposes a different definition: being morally superior.
The question was not simply one of how well one practiced one's skills, but to what end one did so […]. As professionals, the surest means of doing so would be to serve the great gentlemen of our times in whose hands civilization had been entrusted. (4.5)
Stevens here suggests that great butlers serve "great gentlemen"—specifically, gentlemen who seek to better civilization.
A butler of any quality must be seen to inhabit his role, utterly and fully; he cannot be seen casting it aside one moment simply to don it again the next as though it were nothing more than a pantomime costume. (6.127)
Stevens takes his job so seriously that even in his "off" time, hanging out alone in his butler's pantry, he still maintains his butler-ness.
"First came here in 'forty-nine. Socialism would allow people to live with dignity." (7.24)
Just in case you didn't get the fact that "dignity" in the novel is not just about greatness in butlers but also in human beings in general, Dr. Carlisle's offhand comment here makes the link clear. Ordinary people, not just gentlemen, deserve dignity, although Dr. Carlisle is skeptical about whether socialism is the way to do it.
"But I suspect it comes down to not removing one's clothing in public." (7.27)
After spending over six chapters (three-quarters of the novel) reflecting on the concept of dignity, Stevens can only manage this definition of dignity… which seems pretty easy to fulfill unless you're a chronic exhibitionist. But what Stevens means here is that the persona you put on in public should correspond to who you really are when you're alone.
Membership […] remained closer to nine or ten. This, and the fact that the Hayes Society tended to be a rather secretive body, lent it much mystique for a time. (2.30)
The butler profession is a microcosm of society. Just as in the larger society, the butlers also have their elite, the members of the Hayes Society.
[…] I can declare that he was a truly good man at heart, a gentleman through and through, and one I am today proud to have given my best years of service to. (3.105)
Stevens suggests that Lord Darlington is not only a gentleman by birth, but also by virtue of his character. He's a good dude, in other words.
I must say, something about this small encounter put me in very good spirits; the simple kindness I had been thanked for, and the simple kindness I had been offered in return. (3.171)
Stevens's random encounter with a villager on the road impresses him with the kindness of ordinary people. But can this "simple kindness" carry over into politics as well?
[…] we were ambitious, in a way that would have been unusual a generation before, to serve gentlemen who were, so to speak, furthering the progress of humanity. (4.2)
Stevens distinguishes his generation from his father's by stressing how important a gentleman's moral character is.
Butlers of my father's generation, I would say, tended to see the world in terms of a ladder […]. Our generation, I believe it is accurate to say, viewed the world not as a ladder, but more as a wheel. (4.4)
Stevens's father's generation saw the world as having a clear hierarchy, with the gentlemen at the top and the ordinary people toward the bottom. Stevens believes his generation views the world as a wheel, where one's value is determined by how close one is to the hub of influence, not by one's social standing. Ooh, Stevens just reinvented the wheel.
"[…] There are many thing you and I are simply not in a position to understand concerning, say, the nature of Jewry. Whereas his lordship, I might venture, is somewhat better placed to judge what is for the best." (6.27)
Cringe—this is not one of Stevens's finer moments. It's an instance when Stevens's trust in Lord Darlington's judgment is seriously misplaced.
"That's what we fought Hitler for, after all. If Hitler had things his way, we'd just be slaves now. The whole world would be a few masters and millions upon millions of slaves. And I don't need to remind anyone here, there's no dignity to be had in being a slave." (6.238)
Mr. Smith, a villager Stevens encounters on his journey, draws a clear line between democratic English society and Hitler's Nazi state. We see here an ordinary man who seems to have a better understanding of politics than Lord Darlington. The word "dignity" ties this quote right back to Stevens's reflections on professionalism. For more, see our discussion of the theme "Principles (Duty, Dignity, Professionalism)."
[…] the likes of you and I will never be in a position to comprehend the great affairs of today's world, and our best course will always be to put our trust in an employer we judge to be wise and honorable. (6.346)
This statement is ironic in a way that Stevens doesn't seem at all conscious of, given everything he has told us about Lord Darlington's flirtation with anti-Semitism. Contrast this attitude with Mr. Smith's in Quote #7.
"[…] Well, I have to say, Stevens, that American chap was quite right. It's a fact of life. Today's world is too foul a place for fine and noble instincts. […]" (7.176)
The American senator was portrayed as an unsympathetic, shifty character earlier in the novel. But here Mr. Cardinal seems to find some truth in his words, as he worries about Lord Darlington's dealings with Herr Ribbentrop, the German ambassador.
The hard reality is, surely, that for the likes of you and I, there is little choice other than to leave our fate, ultimately, in the hands of those great gentlemen at the hub of this world who employ our services. (8.84)
Oof. Stevens continues to believe that it's better to respect your employers at all costs, even when your employers are hanging out with Nazis.
It is, I believe, a quality that will mark out the English landscape to any objective observer as the most deeply satisfying in the world, and this quality is probably best summed up by the term "greatness." (2.29)
For Stevens, Englishness is synonymous with greatness. This greatness is self-evident, he believes, to anyone, "any objective observer," even those who are not English.
Continentals are unable to be butlers because they are as a breed incapable of the emotional restraint which only the English race are capable of […]. In a word, "dignity" is beyond such persons. (2.56)
This is cringe-worthy, given all the associations of racism with Nazism in the novel, as well as the association of the word "dignity" with general human worth. C'mon, Stevens—you're better than this.
It was completely contrary to Lord Darlington's natural tendencies to take such public stances as he came to do and I can say with conviction that his lordship was persuaded to overcome his most retiring side only through a deep sense of moral duty. (3.105)
According to Stevens, Lord Darlington is a typical Englishman: someone who is typically restrained ("retiring"), but might be reluctantly drawn into public life not by passion or emotion, but by a sense of "duty."
" […] It does us great discredit to treat a defeated foe like this. A complete break with the traditions of this country." (3.175)
These words indicate that Lord Darlington was initially motivated to become involved in politics not by any sympathy with Nazism, but by his very English sense of fairness toward the Germans following their defeat in World War I.
He opened by expressing his gratitude to all present that the discussions during the previous two days, "though at times exhilaratingly frank," had been conducted in a spirit of friendship and the desire to see good prevail. (3.342)
This toast expresses Lord Darlington's fondest hopes, but as the events of World War II will bear out, his dream of "friendship" is a hopeless delusion.
Rather, debates are conducted, and crucial decisions arrived at, in the privacy and calm of the great houses of this country. (4.5)
Should politics be conducted simply by the powerful, the "great" men who live in "great" houses? The novel certainly seems to take a critical attitude toward this form of governing.
"[…] And it's one of the privileges of being born English that no matter who you are, no matter if you're rich or poor, you're born free and you're born so that you can express your opinion freely." (6.238)
Mr. Smith, the villager, has a very different notion of Englishness from Stevens—his is emphatically democratic. He thinks that Stevens should have spoken out against working for a kinda sorta maybe Nazi sympathizer.
"[…] For the likes of yourself, it's always been easy to exert your influence. You can count the most powerful in the land as your friends […]. It gets easy for us here to forget our responsibility as citizens […]. This is a democratic country we're living in." (6.263)
Here Mr. Smith criticizes the kind of political elitism we get in Quote #6.
But life being what it is, how can ordinary people truly be expected to have "strong opinions" on all manner of things—as Mr. Harry Smith rather fancifully claims the villagers here do? (6.310)
Stevens's comment is hilarious, given that Lord Darlington is demonstrated to have strong but utterly misguided opinions. He is no better than the ordinary man in this respect.
"I'm very sorry, sir," I said, "but I am unable to be of assistance in this matter." (6.317)
This is Stevens's refrain when one of Lord Darlington's guests asks him for his opinion on economic and political questions. It's taken by the guests as evidence that the ordinary man doesn't have the intelligence to deal with important political issues. Those jerks.
[…] a reply to the effect that those of our profession, although we did not see a great deal of country in the sense of touring the countryside and visiting picturesque sites, did actually "see" more of England than most, placed as we were in houses where the greatest ladies and gentlemen of the land gathered. (1.5)
Stevens contests the view that you have to travel England to really know it. He himself has special access to some of the most significant personages in English history just by virtue of butlering at a "great house."
[…] you will agree that such is often the way with matters one has given abiding thought to over a period of time; one is not struck by the truth until prompted quite accidentally by some external event. (1.15)
Stevens seems to come upon important insights about his life by accident on his trip: he loses his way, his radiator overheats, he runs out of gas… and each of these minor diversions results in some new epiphany.
If you are not familiar with Mrs. Symons's books—a series running to seven volumes, each one concentrating on one region of the British Isles—I heartily recommend them. (1.18)
Stevens's experience of the English countryside proves very different from Mrs. Symons's portrayal. Instead of picturesque countryside and touristy landmarks, Stevens often gets lost in and surprised by out-of-the-way views.
The feeling swept over me that I had truly left Darlington Hall behind, and I must confess I did feel a slight sense of alarm—a sense aggravated by the feeling that I was perhaps not on the correct road at all, but speeding off in totally the wrong direction into a wilderness. (2.4)
The West Country is hardly wilderness, but Stevens may as well be exploring Antarctica given how little exposure he's had to the world outside Darlington Hall and its immediate vicinity. This is exactly the kind of discomfiting experience he needs to get a new perspective on his own life.
And I believe it was then, looking at that view, that I began for the first time to adopt a frame of mind appropriate for the journey before me. (2.16)
Often in the novel, stopping to enjoy the "view" is an opportunity for Stevens to get a new "view" on his own life.
But I see I am becoming preoccupied with these memories […] I know I shall greatly regret it later if I allow myself to become unduly diverted. (3.155)
Early in the novel, Stevens tries hard to be a good tourist and appreciate the countryside, but he keeps getting distracted by his memories.
"I wonder if it wouldn't have been better if the Almighty had created us all as—well—as sort of plants. You know, firmly embedded in the soil. Then none of this rot about wars and boundaries would have come up in the first place." (3.421)
Mr. Cardinal's comment seems appropriate for Stevens's adventure. When Stevens is in nature, enjoying a view, he often questions his behavior during his years of service to Lord Darlington in a way he would never do while working at Darlington Hall.
[…] perhaps in the nature of coming away on a trip such as this is that one is prompted towards such surprising new perspectives on topics one imagined one had long ago thought through thoroughly. I have also, no doubt, been prompted to think along such lines by the small event that occurred an hour or so ago. (4.8)
Not only the landscape but also the people he meets spur Stevens to reevaluate his life.
I allowed the Ford to run out of petrol. What with this and the trouble yesterday concerning the lack of water in the radiator, it would not be unreasonable for an observer to believe such general disorganization endemic to my nature. (6.90)
Not surprisingly, Stevens isn't a good driver. Despite his protests, disorganization does seem to be a characteristic of Stevens later in life, as he admits to committing a number of minor errors as Mr. Farraday's butler in the Prologue.
The skyline was broken here and there by the shapes of barns and farmhouses some way away over the fields, but otherwise, I appeared to have left behind all signs of community. (6.92)
Again the English countryside is depicted as a decidedly unfamiliar wilderness.
The pier lights have been switched on and behind me a crowd of people have just given a loud cheer to greet this event. (8.60)
Stevens's last view at the end of the novel is of the English Channel from the Weymouth pier. The general vacation mood of the area suggests that Stevens has somehow come to terms with his troubled memories… or at least stuffed them into the recesses of his mind.