The winner of the Booker Prize 1989, The Remains of the Day is a beautiful and haunting evocation of life between the wars in a Great English House, of lost causes and lost love

Whether you’re new to The Remains of the Day or have read it and would like to explore it more deeply, here is our comprehensive guide.


Written by Donna Mackay-Smith

Publication date and time: Published


At the end of his three decades of service at Darlington Hall, Stevens embarks on a country drive, during which he looks back over his career to reassure himself that he has served humanity by serving ‘a great gentleman’. But lurking in his memory are doubts about the true nature of Lord Darlington’s ‘greatness’ – and graver doubts about his own faith in the man he has served.

Kazuo Ishiguro’s moving portrait of the perfect English butler, his loyalty and his fading, insular world in post-war England, won the Booker Prize in 1989.

Book cover of The Remains Of The Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, depicting a ticking clock.

The main characters


Stevens is the head butler at the stately Darlington Hall. He is distinctly old-fashioned in his outlook with a steadfast adherence to tradition. His selfless loyalty to his employer, Lord Darlington, coupled with an unwavering commitment to his duties, reflects his deeply ingrained sense of pride and dignity. When Lord Darlington dies and the estate is taken over by an American named Mr Farraday, Stevens is left at a crossroads and begins to question the path his life has taken. He decides to embark on a journey through the English countryside to visit Miss Kenton, a former housekeeper at the hall, for whom he once had feelings, but with whom was reluctant to ever cross a professional line. 

Miss Kenton

Miss Kenton is the former housekeeper of Darlington Hall who has an unspoken bond with Stevens during their time working together, yet the boundaries of their professions meant their relationship never amounted to anything. Miss Kenton eventually leaves Darlington Hall and marries Mr Benn, a man whom she did not love initially.

Lord Darlington

Lord Darlington is the owner of Darlington Hall, a grand building which has been family-owned for centuries. Stevens believes Darlington is nothing but a gentleman, yet Darlington’s allegiances are questionable – he plays a significant role in relations between Germany and Britain in the run-up to the Second World War, often hosting German heads of state in the hall. Darlington is blind to the German’s agenda to further Nazi aims within Britain, using him as a pawn as they grow in power. After the war, he is labelled a Nazi sympathiser and eventually dies in disgrace.

Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson in the 1993 film The Remains of the Day

About Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishiguro’s works of fiction have earned him many honours around the world, including the Nobel Prize in Literature.

He was born in Nagasaki, Japan, and moved to the UK at the age of five. His work has been translated into over 50 languages. The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go have each sold more than two million copies and were both made into acclaimed films. Ishiguro was awarded a knighthood in 2018 for Services to Literature. He also holds the decorations of Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from France and the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star from Japan.

1989 Booker Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro

What the critics said

Lawrence Graver, The New York Times

‘Kazuo Ishiguro’s tonal control of Stevens’ repressive yet continually reverberating first-person voice is dazzling. So is his ability to present the butler from every point on the compass: with affectionate humor, tart irony, criticism, compassion and full understanding. It is remarkable, too, that as we read along in this strikingly original novel, we continue to think not only about the old butler, but about his country, its politics and its culture.’

Peter Beech, The Guardian

The Remains of the Day is a book about a thwarted life. It’s about how class conditioning can turn you into your own worst enemy, making you complicit in your own subservience. It’s probably quite an English book – I can’t imagine readers in more gregarious nations will have much patience with a protagonist who takes four decades to fail to declare his feelings. “Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way,” as Pink Floyd sang. It’s a book for anyone who feels they’ve ever held themselves back when something that truly mattered was within their grasp.’

Kirkus Reviews

‘This novel has won high praise in England, and one can certainly respect the convincing voice and the carefully bleached prose; yet there is something doomed about Ishiguro’s effort to enlist sympathy for such a self-censoring stuffed shirt, and in the end, he can manage only a small measure of pathos for his disappointed servant.’

Salman Rushdie, The Guardian

‘The real story here is that of a man destroyed by the ideas upon which he has built his life. Stevens is much preoccupied by “greatness”, which, for him, means something very like restraint. The greatness of the British landscape lies, he believes, in its lack of the “unseemly demonstrativeness” of African and American scenery. It was his father, also a butler, who epitomised this idea of greatness; yet it was just this notion which stood between father and son, breeding deep resentments and an inarticulacy of the emotions that destroyed their love.’

Publishers Weekly

‘Greeted with high praise in England, where it seems certain to be shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Ishiguro’s third novel is a tour de force – both a compelling psychological study and a portrait of a vanished social order […] This insightful, often humorous and moving novel should significantly enhance Ishiguro’s reputation here.’

What the author said

‘It’s precisely because our perspectives are so limited that we are often caught out by history over a larger sweep of time. However hard we try most of us are not remarkable enough to be able to stand outside the climate of our day. We are caught up in the fervour of our day; we are caught up in the assumptions and values of our day.

‘This is precisely what often leads to people – however well-meaning – contributing to things they often regret because we just don’t have perspective. With An Artist of the Floating World and The Remains of the Day, a major theme of these novels was that because people didn’t have extraordinary perspective, the sweep of history just left them high and dry – and rather tragically regretting everything they did. So it was very important for me to create a vision of how parochial the actual vision of [Stevens] is. I found once again the ‘You’ device, by just having him address somebody, was quite an effective way, without making a huge song and dance about it, or creating huge dramatic scenes I think the reader can get a sense of how limited a perspective [Stevens] has.’ 

Listen to the full interview on the Guardian Books podcast.

Author Kazuo Ishiguro sitting in front of his books.

Questions and discussion points

The Remains of the Day is narrated in the first person by Stevens, who often addresses the reader directly. ‘You will perhaps understand,’ he often muses. What effect does this use of narrative voice have on the reading experience, and does it allow for a deeper connection with Stevens’ experiences?  

The novel’s structure also incorporates a series of flashbacks, which allow Stevens to reflect on events from his past. How do these moments contribute to Stevens’ character development, and our overall understanding of the story?

Stevens is commonly understood to be an unreliable narrator. Discuss how Ishiguro has employed unreliable narration throughout The Remains of the Day, noting some key scenes where you may have questioned the veracity of Stevens’ account.

While the novel is a deeply personal account of Stevens’ life, the background is coloured by significant historical and political events around the Second World War. What role does the arc of history play in the novel, and how does it intertwine with the life of the individual?

Loyalty is a key theme within the novel. Stevens often fondly reminisces about Lord Darlington, whom he describes as ‘a gentleman’. Darlington later dies in disgrace after being labelled a Nazi sympathiser. To what extent do you see a detachment between Stevens’ view of Lord Darlington and your own as a reader, allowing for perspective of the broader political history of the time?

The Remains of the Day observes social hierarchies and the times at which these may be exploited. Writing in the Guardian, Peter Beech said ‘It’s about how class conditioning can turn you into your own worst enemy, making you complicit in your own subservience.’ At which points in the novel could you consider Stevens to have been complicit?

Stevens spends much of his time preoccupied with upholding dignity. To what extent does this relentless pursuit constrain him, and how does it extend beyond the boundaries of his professional life?

When Miss Kenton reveals ‘there’s no turning back the clock now. One can’t be forever dwelling on what might have been.’ Stevens takes ‘a moment or two’ to fully digest her words, and finally admits ‘at that moment, my heart was breaking’. It is one of the few fleeting moments in the novel in which we observe a display or admission of emotion by Stevens. Discuss how this emotional restraint has shaped Stevens’ life. 

Throughout the novel, Ishiguro depicts a distinctly parochial England, through its distinctive landscapes and perspectives. To what extent is he utilising stereotypes and are there any points at which he could be manipulating the reader by reflecting cliches, rather than an authentic version of English life? 

In an interview with The New York Times, Ishiguro said: ‘What I’m interested in is not the actual fact that my characters have done things they later regret’, adding: ‘I’m interested in how they come to terms with it.’ What role do you see regret playing within the novel, and do you think, in the end, Stevens’ can ever come to terms with the events of this life and the opportunities he has denied himself? 

Film still of Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson in The Remains of the Day.

Key quotes from The Remains of the Day

‘Indeed — why should I not admit it? — in that moment, my heart was breaking.’

‘The evening’s the best part of the day. You’ve done your day’s work. Now you can put your feet up and enjoy it.’

‘I can’t even say I made my own mistakes. Really - one has to ask oneself - what dignity is there in that?’

‘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?’

‘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?’

‘The rest of my life stretches out as an emptiness before me.’

‘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.’

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