Hi everyone! How’s your #RemainsReread going? If you’ve been following Random House Canada’s schedule, you have probably noticed that I should be wrapping up the book today and you would be right! Just as writing my Part One reflections on September 1st reminded me of school, my missing a post last week and having to cram part three and four into this one post also brings me back to my student days. I guess you really don’t grow out of being a procrastinator…
Anyway, as I noted in Part Two, the following wrap-up will contain spoilers as this is a discussion post! Please tread carefully if you haven’t read the book 😉
In this post, I will be talking about “Day Three – Morning” until the end of the book. At the end of the previous chapter, Stevens led a man into believing that he had never worked for Lord Darlington, even though we know that he had. Stevens then noted another time where he suggested to someone that he had never met Lord Darlington, despite his insistence to us that Lord Darlington was a “gentleman of great moral stature” and that all rumours about him have been “utter nonsense” (154). As Stevens’ words and actions didn’t match up, I was naturally suspicious of his previous employer, and in the remaining parts of the book, we learn more about the allegations against him. From Stevens’ memories, we learn that Lord Darlington had a “working relationship” with Herr Ribbentrop, a German Ambassador who was working under Hitler to influence Lord Darlington and other English households (165). Lord Darlington was also an acquaintance of Mrs. Barnet, who turned out to be “a member of Sir Oswald Mosley’s “blackshirts” organization” (174). We see these German influences coming to play when Lord Darlington instructs Stevens to dismiss two Jewish housemaids for no reason other than their Jewishness. Naturally, then, Lord Darlington has been accused of being anti-Semitic. It was interesting for me to see that Stevens, as the dutiful butler that he was, didn’t pause to question Lord Darlington’s decision and carried out his wishes whereas Miss Kenton was vocal about her objections. Equally interesting is the fact that Miss Kenton threatened to resign if Stevens let her housemaids go but didn’t follow through when he eventually did. To this day, Stevens insists on Lord Darlington’s innocence in this situation, arguing that many English ladies and gentlemen “were availing themselves of the hospitality of the German leaders” and “were returning with nothing but praise and admiration for their hosts” (166-7). He also tells us that Lord Darlington eventually “came to abhor anti-Semitism,” once he realized what it stood for and how wrong it was (167).
This information illuminated a few things for me. First, it finally let us in on why there were so many rumours surrounding Lord Darlington. Second, it explains why Stevens would be wary of associating himself with Lord Darlington. As a whole, this part of the story does a good job at illustrating what public reactions might have been like before and after World War II. I would assume that many lords and ladies in real life blindly accepted these German ideas without second-guessing them only to later realize and regret what they had done. However, Stevens and Miss Kenton add a second dynamic to this: Stevens belonged to a group who blindly followed orders without assessing for themselves what was right and what was wrong while Miss Kenton clearly understood that what was happening was wrong, but, as she later admits, out of cowardice she did nothing about it. There is no doubt that this was a very difficult point in history, so I would be interested to see what other readers thought about this section. Should we lay blame to certain figureheads or should we also examine the part that we play in major conflicts? It’s true that as individuals, Stevens and Miss Kenton could not have made a big difference in the events that followed, but what if more people had realized what was happening was wrong and decided to stand up for what they believed was right? Does Stevens’ insistence on being a dutiful butler absolve him from his passive participation?
While the issue of Lord Darlington’s integrity gave me a lot to think about, I must admit the rest of the novel was a bit of a disappointment for me. After asking so many questions in the previous sections I was hoping to learn more about Mr. Farraday and I also wanted to see more development when it came to Stevens. The “will they/won’t they” between Stevens and Miss Kenton is wrapped up nicely but it doesn’t seem like Stevens ever stands up for what he wants and instead always does what he thinks is “proper”. When Miss Kenton (or, Mrs. Benn) admits that she sometimes thinks about a life she could have lived with Stevens, he tells us that the news was heartbreaking for him to hear (290). But, instead of confessing his feelings, he concedes that there is no way for them to turn back time and that the past is the past. As someone who was a fan of Stevens for much of the novel, I wanted so badly for him to – for once – express how he really felt. Another frustrating part was when Stevens tells a man that Lord Darlington had “the privilege of being able to say… that he made his own mistakes” whereas for Stevens, he “can’t even say [he] made [his] own mistakes. Really – one has to ask oneself – what dignity is there in that?” (295-6). It seemed as though, at that point, Stevens would take his life into his own hands and become more of an independent thinker but in the end, he just resolves to become better at bantering so that he can better please his new employer. Why do you think this is? Is it because Stevens believes that the best times of his life has passed? Or is he so used to servitude that he doesn’t know any other way to live? Did you find this to be a satisfying resolution, or were you hoping for more (like me)?
To wrap things up, I will say that The Remains of the Day was a very pleasant read. If you are a fan of history, specifically World War history, this would be a great book to consider reading. As a reader who was really pulling for Stevens, though, I did hope to see him become more liberated, but maybe the point of the story was not that.
So, what did you think? How did you like the rest of The Remains of the Day? Thank you for joining my re-caps; I really want to do something like this again soon! Also, as an addendum, I’m sorry that this post was so long. If you read all the way through… thank you 🙂