The Remains of the Day Summary
It's the summer of 1956, and butler James Stevens is in the middle of preparing Darlington Hall for its new American owner, Mr. Farraday. Chill Mr. Farraday proposes that Stevens take a road trip through England's West Country while he is in America—he needs a vacation.
Stevens has recently received a letter from Miss Kenton, a former co-worker. It sounds like she would like to return to Darlington Hall, which Stevens is psyched about. Stevens decides to accept Mr. Farraday's offer and uses the road trip as a chance to visit Miss Kenton and ask her to return as housekeeper.
While road-tripping out to Miss Kenton's home in Cornwall, Stevens mulls over the events at Darlington Hall in the period between the two world wars, a time when both he and Miss Kenton worked together. These events are significant both to Stevens and to his employer, Mr. Darlington.
In 1923, when Lord Darlington hosts an international conference at Darlington Hall, Stevens's father dies. In the early 1930s, as Lord Darlington becomes more and more involved with the English fascists and the German cause—mostly out of ignorance rather than because he's a jerk. Well, he's kind of a jerk anyway: Stevens and Miss Kenton have to deal with his anti-Semitic policies.
On the evening of an important meeting Lord Darlington has organized between the German ambassador and English diplomats, Miss Kenton announces to Stevens that she's leaving Darlington Hall and getting hitched. While he's thinking back over these events, Stevens struggles to understand a) how Lord Darlington, who was a pretty nice dude (and a gentleman), ended up working with the Nazis and b) why Miss Kenton left and what part he may have played in her leaving.
On the road trip itself, Stevens takes the scenic route and thinks about how pretty England is. After spending the first night in Salisbury, he runs out of gas in Moscombe, near Tavistock, Devon. He spends the night with some kind villagers but is kind of weirded out at being mistaken for a gentleman—he has an upper-crust accent but is definitely not upper-class.
When he arrives in Cornwall the next day, he finally meets up with Miss Kenton for tea in the afternoon, only to learn that he was mistaken: she isn't coming back to work. Miss Kenton tells him that she loves her husband and is staying put with him. She suggests to Stevens that he should stop worrying so much about the past.
The novel ends with Stevens making a stop at Weymouth pier on the way back to Darlington Hall. He spends his second evening in Weymouth sitting, watching the pier lights come on, and thinking over his life with regret and with the grand plan of pleasing his American employer.
July, 1956, Darlington
- The novel opens with Stevens very gradually coming to the decision to take up a vacation offer from his employer, Mr. Farraday.
- Stevens will borrow Mr. Farraday's Ford to take a tour of the West Country while Mr. Farraday is away in America for a few weeks between August and September.
- Stevens flashes back to a conversation he had with Mr. Farraday a couple weeks earlier, when Mr. Farraday first offered Stevens a vacation.
- He then flashes back to his first meeting with Mr. Farraday in the spring of 1955, after Mr. Farraday bought Darlington Hall from the Darlington family, Stevens's previous employers.
- At that meeting Mr. Farraday asked Stevens to figure out a way to run the house with only four staff members: Mrs. Clements, Rosemary, Agnes, and Stevens himself. There used to be way more people working at Darlington Hall.
- Stevens tried to make do with the shorter staff, but he kept catching himself making small mistakes.
- Around the same time Mr. Farraday makes his vacation offer, Stevens receives a letter from Miss Kenton, a former housekeeper at Darlington Hall.
- Stevens decides to take the trip, if only to convince Miss Kenton to come back.
- Stevens tells Mr. Farraday that he will take his vacation offer and visit Miss Kenton. Mr. Farraday jokes that Stevens has a "lady friend." Embarrassed, Stevens isn't exactly sure how to reply.
- Stevens recalls an earlier instance when he tried to crack a joke with Mr. Farraday and failed miserably.
- Stevens decides he must write to Miss Kenton to let her know he plans to visit.
Day One, Evening, Salisbury
- The novel picks up with Stevens on the first night of his trip, in a guesthouse in Salisbury.
- Stevens reflects on his trip so far: that morning, he set out an hour later than planned.
- After driving for a while, he stopped on a hill to appreciate the scenery.
- Upon arriving in Salisbury, Stevens did a bit of sightseeing and admired the Salisbury Cathedral.
- Now, comfortably settled in his guest house, Stevens muses over what makes for a "great butler."
- Stevens dismisses a Mr. Jack Neighbours, who apparently was the rock star of all butlers for a while before he died in the war (presumably World War II).
- Stevens next considers the controversy over the Hayes Society, an exclusive club of butlers in the '20s and '30s. He doesn't think a great butler is necessarily tied to a distinguished household—i.e., nobility—but he does think they have a point with the notion of "dignity."
- Stevens considers his father to have been just such a paragon of butlerhood.
- Stevens Sr. (Stevens's father) had a favorite story about a butler in India who removed a tiger from his employer's dining room.
- Another anecdote: Stevens Sr. was driving around some guests who were insulting their host (his employer). Stevens Sr. stopped the car and opened the passenger door without saying a word. The guests promptly shut up.
- Yet another story about Stevens Sr.: his older brother Leonard was killed during the Boer War when the military officer in charge failed to take necessary precautions. Later, when the military officer stayed with Stevens Sr.'s employer, he was perfectly polite to the man.
Day Two, Morning, Salisbury
- Stevens wakes up very early in the morning, before anyone else in the guesthouse. He pores over Miss Kenton's letter again.
- Miss Kenton, he has to remind himself, is now Mrs. Benn. It seems that she has left her husband, but the details aren't clear. In the letter, Miss Kenton (which he still calls her) reminisces about a maid, Alice White, as well as an incident involving his father.
- Stevens flashes back to the incident in question. Miss Kenton and Stevens Sr. both arrived at Darlington Hall in the spring of 1922. Miss Kenton came to replace the housekeeper, and Stevens Sr., now quite elderly, came to take the position of underbutler. Maybe it was weird for ol' Stevens Sr. to work under his son, but he was way too professional to say anything about it.
- From the beginning, Stevens and Miss Kenton did not get along. When she arrived with some flowers for his pantry, he scolded her for calling his father by his first name, William.
- Next Miss Kenton chided Stevens for leaving his dustpan in the hall, when it was clearly his father who left it there.
- Then Miss Kenton found some of the silver smudged and hinted that Stevens Sr. wasn't doing a good job polishing it.
- Finally Miss Kenton pointed out that Stevens Sr. misplaced a sculpture. She voiced her opinion that he couldn't handle all the tasks that had been given to him.
- Stevens flashes forward to a conversation he had with Lord Darlington in his study.
- Darlington had been entertaining guests at his summerhouse the week before. Stevens Sr. had fallen while crossing the lawn to the summerhouse, dropping everything on his tray. Darlington told Stevens that he had to relieve Stevens Sr. of some of his duties.
- Stevens had a chat with his father, who protested that he only tripped because the steps were crooked.
- Later Miss Kenton called Stevens to the window. They could see Stevens Sr. retracing his steps up to the summerhouse, looking at the ground "as though he hoped to find some precious jewel."
- Stevens turns his attention back to his road trip and thinks about his drive to Salisbury the day before. He had stopped for a hen to cross the road. A woman picked up the hen and thanked him.
- Stevens then returns to his reminiscing, flashing back to a conference Lord Darlington convened at Darlington Hall in March 1923.
- After World War I, Darlington grew concerned about conditions in Germany. He felt the terms the Allies had imposed upon the Germans were inhumane. A German friend of his, Herr Bremann, had grown more and more despondent and finally shot himself. The conditions in Germany had convinced Darlington to become more involved in international affairs—hence the conference.
- In the days leading up to the conference, Stevens noticed that his father seemed to have renewed energy.
- Miss Kenton, on the other hand, was peeved at Stevens's constant little reminders and told him to communicate with her by messenger.
- Sir David Cardinal and two Foreign Ministers had already arrived when Darlington called Stevens into his study. Very awkwardly, he asked Stevens to have a chat with Sir David's son, who was engaged to be married, about the facts of life—i.e., sex. Stevens agreed.
- Stevens found the junior Mr. Cardinal in the library and tried to initiate "the talk," but Mr. Cardinal thought Stevens was talking about foreign affairs.
- Before Stevens could take another crack at "the talk," Mr. Lewis, an American senator, arrived. Over the next couple days, two ladies from Germany and an Italian gentleman also arrived.
- In the middle of making arrangements for his guests, Stevens noticed Mr. Cardinal in the garden. He again tried to have "the talk" with him but only managed to get in a chat about the "glories of nature."
- In the middle of "the talk," Monsieur Dupont, a French diplomat, arrived, so Stevens rushed off to greet him.
- That evening Stevens accidentally overheard Mr. Lewis, the American senator, bad-mouthing Darlington and the others to Monsieur Dupont.
- The first morning of the conference, all of the delegates met in the drawing room. At one point Monsieur Dupont pulled Stevens aside and asked him to help change the bandages on his feet. Stevens guided Monsieur Dupont to the billiards room to wait for his nurse.
- Then a footman interrupted to let him know that his father had taken ill upstairs. Stevens helped his father up to his room and a doctor was called.
- On the second day, Stevens could only find time to see his father in the evening. They had a brief chat.
- In the banquet room that evening, the delegates had a final dinner, ending with toasts. Darlington's toast was idealistic. Monsieur Dupont took Mr. Lewis to task for being so underhanded and backstabby. And Mr. Lewis denounced everyone as being hopelessly naïve about politics. Darlington defended the concept of honor to Mr. Lewis, which everyone applauded.
- After the banquet Miss Kenton alerted Stevens to his father's deteriorating condition, but Stevens continued to serve his guests. The doctor was called, but Stevens Sr. died before he got there.
- Monsieur Dupont asked Stevens for help with his bandages, and Stevens assured Dupont that the doctor, who was actually called to attend to his father, was on his way.
- Stevens finally went upstairs to see his dead father but quickly ushered the doctor downstairs to attend to Monsieur Dupont.
- Stevens's is happy remembering his behavior during the conference, feeling that he had acted with "dignity."
Day Two, Afternoon, Mortimer's Pond, Dorset
- After reflecting some more on the qualities of a great butler, Stevens sets out on the road.
- As he crosses into Dorset, his car starts to overheat.
- He gets help from a man working at a large house. On hearing that Stevens is from Darlington Hall, the man asks Stevens if he knew Lord Darlington. Stevens denies that he did. This is because Lord Darlington has gone down in history as a Nazi sympathizer… oops.
- After his car is fixed, Stevens makes a stop at Mortimer's Pond.
- Stevens flashes back to a recent visit by Mr. and Mrs. Wakefield, friends of Mr. Farraday. At one point, Mrs. Wakefield asked Stevens about Lord Darlington, but Stevens denied that he knew him.
- Later Mr. Farraday asked Stevens about his lie, and Stevens made some excuse about English butlers and past employers.
Day Three, Morning, Taunton, Somerset
- The previous night, Stevens arrived at the Coach and Horses, an inn outside Taunton, Somerset.
- Feeling restless, he went down to the bar, where he cracked a joke that no one got.
- It's now morning and Stevens is enjoying some tea. He goes off on a tangent about polishing silver.
- Stevens then flashes back to the '30s, when Darlington sometimes hosted Herr Ribbentrop, the German ambassador, at Darlington Hall, along with Sir Oswald Mosley, head of the British Union of Fascists.
- While people now kind of hate Darlington for associating with the Nazis, Stevens defends his previous employer, recalling that many aristocratic families welcomed Ribbentrop into their homes.
- Stevens then remembers that he accidentally left a smudge on some silver, which he quietly replaced for Mr. Farraday.
Day Three, Evening, Moscombe, near Tavistock, Devon
- Stevens turns his attention to the question of Darlington's anti-Semitism.
- Stevens recalls that with frequent visits in 1932 from Mrs. Carolyn Barnet, a woman associated with Mosley's British Fascists, Darlington seemed to make anti-Jewish comments more frequently.
- One day Darlington called Stevens in and told him to fire the two Jewish maids on staff.
- Stevens then met up with Miss Kenton for their daily meeting over cocoa and informed her that she had to let the maids go.
- Miss Kenton was furious and threatened to resign. But she didn't—a fact that Stevens joked about.
- A year after the incident, Darlington asked Stevens to find the two Jewish maids in order to compensate them for a decision that he regretted.
- Stevens told Miss Kenton, thinking she would be pleased with Darlington's change of heart. Instead she took him to task for not commiserating with her when she had to fire the two maids the year before.
- Stevens then remembers that after the Jewish maids left, they hired a maid named Lisa, who took a long time to train. Lisa ended up running away with a footman nine months later.
- Stevens returns to the present, where he is staying at a cottage belonging to Mr. and Mrs. Taylor. After getting lost outside Tavistock, his car runs out of gas. He wanders down a path until he comes across the Taylors' cottage, and they kindly offer to take him in for the night.
- Stevens flashes back to the years 1935 and 1936, when his friendly, professional relationship with Miss Kenton underwent a dramatic change.
- He remembers one incident when she came into his pantry and caught him reading a (gasp) romance novel.
- It was kind of a heated moment between them, and really embarrassing for Stevens.
- Around the same time, Miss Kenton began to take more frequent days off and to receive regular mail. She mentioned that she was meeting up with a former colleague, a butler, from her previous job at Granchester Lodge.
- Stevens wanted to discuss an upcoming visit from some important people from Scotland, but Miss Kenton said she was too tired. Stevens apologized and decided they should stop having their evening meetings altogether.
- Around the same time, Miss Kenton learned about the death of her aunt. Stevens, true to his uptight form, did not offer her any sympathy but instead made a few remarks about dishes not being put away properly.
- Stevens's thoughts turn to the events of the night. After dinner at the Taylors, a number of neighbors came by, all of whom seemed eager to meet Stevens. One of the most vocal was Harry Smith.
- In conversation, Stevens realizes too late that the neighbors have mistaken him for some dignitary. He is too embarrassed to correct them. The conversation turns to politics, and Stevens becomes even more uncomfortable.
- When Dr. Carlisle arrives, Stevens excuses himself from the table.
- Alone again, Stevens remembers an incident from 1935. Mr. Spencer, Darlington's guest, had asked Stevens some questions about politics and finance, to which Stevens merely replied, "I'm very sorry, sir, but I am unable to be of assistance on this matter."
- Mr. Spencer had declared Stevens's response proof that the ordinary man was incapable of handling lofty political issues. Darlington later apologized to Stevens for Mr. Spencer's behavior.
Day Four, Afternoon, Little Compton, Cornwall
- Stevens has now arrived at the Rose and Garden Hotel in Little Compton, where he's killing time in the dining hall until his 3 o'clock meeting with Miss Kenton. It's raining.
- Stevens thinks back to the beginning of his day. Dr. Carlisle had picked him up from the cottage and given him some gas to get him to the next town.
- On the drive, Dr. Carlisle asked Stevens if he was a manservant, and Stevens readily admitted that he was the butler of Darlington Hall.
- After Dr. Carlisle dropped Stevens off at his Ford, Stevens drove into Cornwall in the morning, while it was still sunny.
- Through the morning, Stevens can't help but think over one memory: standing in front of Miss Kenton's parlor door, knowing somehow that behind the door she was crying.
- Stevens believes this memory is not from the day Miss Kenton found out about her aunt's death, but from an evening a few months later.
- That evening Mr. Cardinal (the same Mr. Cardinal that Stevens attempted to have a birds-and-the-bees talk with in 1923) had shown up. He was now a columnist on international affairs.
- Stevens went to tell Miss Kenton to prepare a room for Mr. Cardinal, but she replied that she couldn't; she was going out that night.
- Miss Kenton then notified Stevens that her acquaintance had asked her to marry him.
- Stevens seemed to ignore Miss Kenton as he prepared to get the dinner service ready for Mr. Cardinal and Darlington.
- Before Stevens began the dinner service, Miss Kenton interrupted him and accused him of being unhappy about her leaving that night. Stevens denied that he was. Miss Kenton stormed off.
- During the dinner Mr. Cardinal and Darlington were quiet. But when they retired to the smoking-room, Stevens could hear them arguing. Mr. Cardinal later left for the library and Darlington went to his study.
- At 8:30, Stevens opened the door to two "distinguished gentlemen," whom Darlington escorted into the drawing room. Herr Ribbentrop arrived, and Stevens led him to the drawing room as well.
- A couple hours later, the back door rang. It was Miss Kenton, who announced to Stevens that she was getting married and leaving service.
- Stevens congratulated her.
- Miss Kenton told Stevens that she often amused her acquaintance with imitations of Stevens. Stevens didn't seem to care—he had the gentlemen to attend to.
- When Stevens went back upstairs, Mr. Cardinal asked him for some brandy.
- Mr. Cardinal confided his worries about Darlington's activities: he believed Darlington was being manipulated by the German government to promote Nazi interests in England.
- Darlington asked Stevens to bring up some port, so Stevens went back downstairs.
- As he walked past Miss Kenton's parlor, she opened the door and apologized for insulting him. Stevens appeared not to know what she was talking about.
- He walked past her parlor door again with the port. This time he felt paralyzed, certain that if he knocked he would find her crying in her room.
- But Stevens didn't knock; he went back upstairs to the drawing room with the port. After handing Darlington the port, he sat at his station outside the drawing room, feeling pleased with himself.
Day Six, Evening, Weymouth
- The chapter opens with Stevens on a pier in Weymouth, two days after his meeting with Miss Kenton. It's almost evening, and people have gathered on the pier to watch it be lit up.
- Stevens thinks back to his meeting with Miss Kenton.
- Instead of waiting for Stevens to meet her, Miss Kenton came to Stevens's hotel. They settled down in the tea lounge to talk.
- Over the course of two hours, Stevens learned that Miss Kenton was back with her husband, Mr. Benn. She asked him to stop by and visit her daughter.
- They chatted about old times. Mr. Cardinal's death during World War II came up, as well as a libel action that Darlington unsuccessfully brought against a newspaper.
- Stevens offered to drive Miss Kenton to the bus station and waited with her for her bus. He asked her if she was happy. Miss Kenton replied that while she was unhappy at first, she had grown to love her husband and her life after Darlington Hall.
- Back on the pier, the lights have come on, and a crowd of people cheer.
- Stevens and the man sitting next to him on a bench strike up a conversation. Stevens expresses his worry that he didn't have any dignity after all, despite his years of loyal service to Lord Darlington. The man tells him not to worry about the past and to enjoy the present.
- Stevens is consoled by the remarks. He notices a group of people laughing together and decides to try harder at bantering with Mr. Farraday.