Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic
MLA

Bibliography

Course Hero. "The Remains of the Day Study Guide." Course Hero. 29 Dec. 2016. Web. 18 Sep. 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Remains-of-the-Day/>.

In text

(Course Hero)

APA

Bibliography

Course Hero. (2016, December 29). The Remains of the Day Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved September 18, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Remains-of-the-Day/

In text

(Course Hero, 2016)

Chicago

Bibliography

Course Hero. "The Remains of the Day Study Guide." December 29, 2016. Accessed September 18, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Remains-of-the-Day/.

Footnote

Course Hero, "The Remains of the Day Study Guide," December 29, 2016, accessed September 18, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Remains-of-the-Day/.

The Remains of the Day | Context

Share
Share

The backdrop of Kazuo Ishiguro's novel The Remains of the Day is Britain in the last days of the empire. Events that had reshaped the empire also reshaped the fortunes of the setting at Darlington Hall.

Decline of the Manor House

At the time, the world of the British manor house was at its height. Manor houses, also called halls, were a product of an era prior to the Industrial Revolution when wealth came from the land. In that predominantly rural society, farms and villages grew up around the twin establishments of a manor house and church. Owned by wealthy aristocrats, the great houses were surrounded by gardens, parklands, farms, and woods. However, time and industrialization brought changes foreshadowing the end of aristocratic wealth. The institution of the English estate was delivered a devastating blow by World War I, also called The Great War. England struggled to cope with the cost of the war and raised revenue through higher taxes. The burden on estate owners rose from 9 to 30 percent of their income, and many owners were forced to sell off part or all of their estates.

Fictional Darlington Hall survives the destructive forces of two world wars, dramatic political and economic shifts, and the owner's personal loss of fortune and reputation. For many of Britain's landed gentry, the cost of war, skyrocketing taxes, and declining farm rentals put an end to the life of rights, duties, and privileges enjoyed for generations. Maintaining their stately homes became more and more difficult. Estates of historical and cultural significance fell into ruin or were demolished by the hundreds.

The English Butler

An important influence in the creation of the butler Stevens in The Remains of the Day was another literary manservant named Reginald Jeeves, created by English author P.G. Wodehouse. The English butler has been described as "the shadow that speaks." His presence never intrudes, yet he is always at hand and absolutely necessary. In the literary world Jeeves is the gentleman's gentleman par excellence. In many of Wodehouse's humorous short stories and novels, the dignified, highly competent, and coolly wise Jeeves often saves his young, aristocratic employer, Bertie Wooster, from certain doom. Jeeves's character was an important influence as Ishiguro developed his notion of the qualities and virtues embodied by Stevens.

Surprisingly, Ishiguro's butler is as complete a fiction as Jeeves. In his research for The Remains of the Day, Ishiguro was amazed to find so few firsthand accounts of a servant's life. A sizable portion of the British population was employed in service up until World War II, yet few of those employed seemed to feel their lives worth recording. Thus Ishiguro made up most of the novel's details about the rituals of being a servant.

In the novel Stevens strives for greatness in his role as Lord Darlington's butler. Ishiguro drew inspiration for this trait from a film character in a 1974 thriller called The Conversation. The protagonist is a freelance surveillance expert who does everything he can to be the best in his field. A personal crisis arises when he realizes his obsession may have led to the murder of the young couple he was hired to spy on. Like Stevens, he pays a price for his single-minded ideal of professional greatness and his obsessive desire to achieve it.

World War I and the Treaty of Versailles

At the beginning of World War I, the British Empire was the foremost global power. Described as "the empire on which the sun never sets," it was the most extensive empire in world history.

At the heart of the novel is Lord Darlington's association with fascism and the Nazi Party, which rose to power following World War I. His misplaced sympathy for the German people suffering under the Treaty of Versailles leads to his ultimate disgrace.

World War I began with the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, archduke of the Austria-Hungarian Empire. While visiting Sarajevo, Bosnia, on June 28, 1914, the archduke and his wife, Sophie, were shot to death by a Serbian nationalist.

The assassination set off a rapid chain of events resulting in Austria-Hungary's declaring war on Serbia one month later, on July 28. Serbia was backed by Russia, Belgium, France, and Great Britain. Other countries would join these early Allies. Austria-Hungary was backed by Germany—the driving force behind the decision to go to war. On July 5, 1914, Kaiser Wilhelm II had pledged his country's complete support to Austria-Hungary and whatever direction the country chose to take in the conflict.

The war lasted more than four years, ending November 11, 1918. On June 28, 1919, the Treaty of Versailles was signed by Germany and the Allies at the Palace of Versailles near Paris.

Many involved in negotiating the treaty wanted to see Germany crushed. They blamed the devastating war on the Kaiser's pledge to support Austria-Hungary. It had cost the lives of 8.5 million men. Vast areas of northwestern Europe had been wiped clean of villages and towns. A postwar thirst for revenge wanted Germany brought to its knees.

The Treaty of Versailles was harsh. It stripped Germany of all its colonies and border territories. With them went large portions of mineral wealth in iron and coal. It drastically cut its military power and forbid air force and submarines. The Germans were to officially admit guilt for the war and pay reparations.

The German people were outraged. Their country had suffered a loss of two million men, as well as hunger and other scarcities due to war. The reparations were financially crippling. Their anger was fertile ground for the seeds of nationalism and the Nazi Party. Among the British aristocracy were people like the fictional Lord Darlington who felt the terms of the treaty were too severe and sympathized with Germany's plight. Misunderstanding Adolph Hitler's intentions as leader of the Nazi Party, they were admirers for a time, until his invasion of Czechoslovakia sparked World War II in 1939.

Post-World War II Britain and the Suez Crisis

The novel begins in July 1956, a significant turning point in British history. It is the month in which President Nasser of Egypt seized and nationalized the Suez Canal, a vital trade passage that reduced ships' travel times considerably. As a result of the episode, the influence of Britain and France was severely diminished in the Middle East.

The Suez Canal Company, backed by Britain and France, owned the canal. Nasser seized it in response to a British and American decision not to finance his ambitious dam project, the Aswan High Dam. This was during the Cold War, and the two Western powers were troubled by Nasser's growing political ties to communist Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union. Military efforts by Britain and France to regain control of the canal failed, and Nasser was declared a national hero in the Suez Crisis.

A decade earlier, Britain had emerged from World War II victorious but bankrupt. It had no choice but to withdraw from the empire it had built. Beginning with India, Britain gave up colonial territories it no longer had the military and economic power to control. Loss of the Suez Canal territory was a reluctant step in the withdrawal, and highlighted Britain's weakened global influence.

The Remains of the Day never mentions the Suez Crisis directly, but marks it by the month and year in which the story opens. The date symbolizes the passing of Britain's vast power and influence, as well the fading era of butlers in service to the empire's aristocracy.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about The Remains of the Day? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!