This is a quiet, ruminative book set in England in 1956. Mr. Stevens is a butler. He has devoted himself to professionalism in providing service to an aristocratic household. He is aging and EVERYTHING is changing around him, forcing him to reexamine his work and his relationships.
England in 1956 resembled America in 2021 – recently traumatized and socio-politically divided. Why has so much changed so quickly? What is the essence of Englishness? Of American identity? What are the flaws of the system, and how may they be addressed? Issues of gender and social class abound in The Remains of the Day.
The plot covers only a few days, recorded as diary entries by the protagonist on a brief journey. It’s hard to comprehend the limitations Stevens lived with, despite his steady employment and relative financial security. There’s a romantic plot line, but it is so understated it barely exists.
In addition to analyzing his professional and personal life, Mr. Stevens tries to come to terms with a troubling aspect of England’s history, namely the complex interactions between Nazi Germany and some British aristocrats. American is presently trying to come to terms with its racist past.
The Remains of the Day has so much “atmosphere” that you could read it as a comedy of manners if that is your choice. But there’s much more going on.