Friday, July 24, 2015

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro – July 22, 2015

First Edition, 1989

This reading had two occasions to celebrate, Eid al-Fitr, and Thommo's impending departure to Istanbul to begin a 40-country drive around the world in his Hyundai i20. We celebrated the breaking of the fast with semia payasam and shammi kabab brought by Zakia. And ordered up namkeen, tea and coffee from the CYC kitchen for Thommo's journey – he'll be leaving on Aug 2.

Zakia, Priya, Thommo

 The novel was all about buttling, and we were regaled with tales of butlers who had survived the most extreme of circumstances without losing their aplomb. Stevens in the present novel is a particularly anal variety of the tribe. When Joe used that word Thommo remarked there was a Bengali babu in his office in Calcutta named অনল, pronounced 'onol', who unfortunately spelled his name in English, Anal.

Preeti & Pamela

Philosophically this novel propounds the tale of one who habitually subordinates his life's ambitions and goals to those of his master. Call it servility in one sense, but it is the kind of supreme sacrifice of the ego through which saints reach their goal by denying the self on the altar of a higher good. The tragedy of Stevens the butler is that his master ultimately fails, but not on account of any lack of effort on Stevens' part.

Thommo, Preeti, Pamela, Joe

There's also an abortive romance that denies Stevens the one chance he had of rounding out the evening of his life, when nothing remains of the day. In the film version it is with Mrs Benn (Emma Thompson) that Stevens (Anthony Hopkins) silently sheds a tear in parting.

Panoramic view of the readers

Here we are enjoying our double feast:

Thommo is Rs 5L short of the Rs 15L funding & Hyundai hasn't chipped in yet ...

Celebrating Eid Al-Fitr with Zakia's Semia Payasam & Shammi Kabab


And here's the group photograph at the end of the reading:

Joe, Zakia, Priya, Thommo, KumKum, Talitha, Shoba, Pamela, Preeti



The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Full Record and Account of the Reading on July 22, 2015

Kazuo Ishiguro


Thommo has paid Rs 3,000/- to CYC for 12 sessions beginning with the one we had on June 26, 2015. Money was collected from all the participants at the last session, except Priya who paid for herself and Sunil at this session. Anyone who has not paid – please do so asap, to KumKum, since Thommo, our treasurer, is leaving on his safari.


The dates for the next two sessions are
Poetry: Thur Aug 13, 2015
Fiction: Fri, Sep 18, 2015 (it will be Willa Cather's My Antonia, instead of the Edgar Allan Poe stories as originally scheduled, because Thommo the co-selector of Poe will be absent from Aug through Oct.)


The attendance at this session:
Present: Thommo, Priya, Pamela, Preeti, KumKum, Joe, Talitha, Shoba, Zakia
Absent: Ankush (not heard from), Kavita (abroad in Spain), Govind Sethunath (?), Vijay (probably has dropped out), CJ (in Mumbai), Sunil (in Bengaluru for daughter's admission), Gopa (in Bengaluru), Saraswathy Rajendran (new member, missed first session for a 'brain' function)

Introduction to the Book
Talitha as one of the selectors of the book provided an introduction to the author and the novel. See
Ishiguro was born in Japan in Nagasaki in 1964 and at the age of 6 he came to England with his parents on what was to be a temporary stay. But they emigrated and he grew up in England and went to the University of Kent in 1978 and did his Master's from the University of East Anglia's creative-writing course in 1980. Such courses were imported from America. Before he wrote The Remains of the Day, there were two novels, the first set in Japan in Nagasaki. But Ishiguro does not claim to know Japan, never having returned there when he wrote the novel. The themes, Talitha said, for the first were a widow, a widower for the second novel, and then this third novel about the interior life of a butler set in the fifties. It won the Booker prize in the year it was published, 1989, and Ishiguro never looked back.
He also writes lyrics for songs. In Never Let Me Go, a novel he wrote in 2005 the title is taken from a pop-song in which the singer embraces a pillow as she sings and appeals to Cathy H not to have her organs distributed to numerous patients.
Ishiguro writes about memories, digressions, distortions, and how they haunt. Talitha said that between perception and memory there intervenes a layer of self-deception. Two words that recur in this novel are Dignity and Bantering. The former is the age-old goal of butlers and it is almost an obsession with Stevens the butler in The Remains of the Day. Bantering is a goal Stevens charts for his future career under his new employer, Farraday.


Book Reviews:
Salman Rushdie upon re-reading the novel 23 years later says “The real story here is that of a man destroyed by the ideas upon which he has built his life.” Rushdie asks rhetorically “Why, when the stranger tells him that he ought to put his feet up and enjoy the evening of his life, is it so hard for Stevens to accept such sensible, if banal, advice? What has blighted the remains of his day?”


In the above Paris Review interview this fragment of conversation takes place:
INTERVIEWER
How did the English setting come about for The Remains of the Day
ISHIGURO
It started with a joke that my wife made. There was a journalist coming to interview me for my first novel. And my wife said, Wouldn’t it be funny if this person came in to ask you these serious, solemn questions about your novel and you pretended that you were my butler? We thought this was a very amusing idea. From then on I became obsessed with the butler as a metaphor.
INTERVIEWER
As a metaphor for what?
ISHIGURO
Two things. One is a certain kind of emotional frostiness. The English butler has to be terribly reserved and not have any personal reaction to anything that happens around him. It seemed to be a good way of getting into not just Englishness but the universal part of us that is afraid of getting involved emotionally. The other is the butler as an emblem of someone who leaves the big political decisions to somebody else. He says, I’m just going to do my best to serve this person, and by proxy I’ll be contributing to society, but I myself will not make the big decisions. Many of us are in that position, whether we live in democracies or not. Most of us aren’t where the big decisions are made. We do our jobs, and we take pride in them, and we hope that our little contribution is going to be used well. 

The New York Times had a very upbeat review:
Kazuo Ishiguro's tonal control of Stevens' repressive yet continually reverberating first-person voice is dazzling.”


Michio Kakutani of the NY Times, who has taken much more famous writers down a peg or two, also praises the novel and calls it 'dazzling', 'elegiac':


The Guardian also, looking back on the novel, applauds its triumph in the Man Booker prize.
Poignant, subtly plotted and with the perfect unreliable narrator, Kazuo Ishiguro's novel about a repressed servant deserved to rise above the clamour surrounding the shortlist in the year of his Booker triumph.”

Stevens' Journey

Stevens drives from Oxfordshire through Wiltshire, Somerset, Dorset and Devon, and on to Cornwall. Dartmoor, Devon. This Google map charts his journey:

More about the route with photos is here:

Talitha
Talitha reading, with KumKum

Talitha read the passage in which Stevens while busy with household duties and guests is called away to attend to his ailing father in his attic room. The scene is quite traumatic, KumKum said. But the son manages to exit, saying the situation downstairs is volatile and he'd best be getting back. Stevens is bent on keeping a stiff upper lip. Thommo mentioned that the Merchant-Ivory film he's seen several times on local TV channels is fantastic because of the actors, Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. 

In the film version Hopkins allows a bit more emotion for Stevens. There are several contrasts between the film and the novel (Ruth Prawer Jhabwala wrote the screenplay) and they are described here:
Joe added that the original screenplay was written by Harold Pinter, but when a new writer was inducted he insisted on his contractual right to have his name deleted from the film advertising totally. But he was paid in full.
Talitha told a story about some neta who was told during a function that his wife had died, but he stayed on and completed the duties before he went off to take care of his grief. 
George Bush continuing to read the story My Pet Goat

Much more bizarre is the picture of George Bush that was shown on a split screen on American TV, one half with the World Trade Center towers crumbling, and the other half with President George Bush continuing to read the story My Pet Goat to children at a school in in Sarasota, FL, after having been told by an aide of the terror attack on Sept 11, 2001:
Thommo said the stiffness of Stevens stems from his not knowing what to say. He's quite torn, said Talitha. Priya said the root cause of his appearing indurate is Stevens' loyalty to his work, which his father appreciated. Priya narrated how as children their great challenge was to make the personal man-servant of their grandfather laugh; he was grim and no amount of childish banter would cause a crease to appear at the edge of his lips. He was the Indian equivalent, if not of a butler, then of a valet.

Shashi Tharoor at the Oxford Union debate, July 20, 2015  

Thommo mentioned a debate in England at the Oxford Union when Shashi Tharoor made an oration asking for reparations to India by Britain for its horrible legacy of impoverishing India; he said the Hindi word 'loot' had been introduced into the English language and into English habits. See the video and text at



KumKum

KumKum's reading featured the intimate scene, the only one in the book, between Miss Kenton and Stevens: Kenton barges into the butler's pantry and tries to forcibly remove the book Stevens was reading to find what it was about.
What's in that book - Come on, let me see

KumKum said it brought to mind a Bengali song (click this link to hear the song) 'Prem Ekbare Eseychhilo Nirobe ' i.e. love came but once, quietly. Surely, it is extravagant, to classify this encounter in the pantry as an amorous spark. Joe shifting to Hindi said that these two characters had absolutely zero EQ. Priya agreed and characterised Stevens as a 'tube-light,' in Bollywood terms.
Joe, laughing, said Stevens may have been requisitioned to teach the facts of life to Reggie, but he was aware only of the nether half of the body, and knew nothing at all about its manifestation in the heart and the emotions! Thommo said such a deficit was precisely what he must have hoped to make good by reading sentimental stories.
Joe pointed out the build-up about the forthcoming meeting with Miss Kenton as the West country journey progresses. It was obviously not about filling a housekeeping vacancy  his unsatisfied longing for romance must have been the motive. What a letdown finally by Ishiguro who has a stranger tell Stevens to put up his feet and relax in the evening of his life – which he is not going to do, for the obsession to excel in 'bantering' has seized him in order to please his new American employer!


Zakia
Zakia read from the end of the novel where Stevens meets a retired old-timer and is told that evening is the best part of the day, and now that the work's been done he can put up his feet and enjoy. Talitha said the meaning of the novel is brought out in these lines, "I gave my best to Lord Darlington. I gave him the very best I had to give, and now – well – I find I do not have a great deal more left to give." Thommo noted that Stevens may have put himself in a strange place, for his new American employer may have been happy with him as he was, but Stevens is not satisfied with himself. Having achieved the pinnacle of dignity, now he must overcome the more mundane challenge of 'bantering.'
About Lord Darlington his previous employer, Talitha said he wasn't really pro-Nazi so much as expressing the common realisation by that time that the Versailles Treaty had imposed unbearable reparations on Germany. Lord Keynes pointed this out in his famous essay The Economic Consequences of Peace:


Keynes had tried to prevent such onerous conditions being imposed, but failed to convince the vengeful allies. Many connect the rise of Hitler, and his popularity, to patriotic Germans with pride wishing to give it back with interest. Lord Darlington was trying at best to broker peace. Thommo noted that most of British royalty was German in origin. Mountbatten was Battenberg. Preeti wondered if there was an analogy between the conditions being imposed on Greece in the present crisis, largely by Germany, with the harsh conditions at one time imposed on Germany by the Versailles Treaty.


Priya

Priya picked the climactic passage in which Stevens and Mrs Benn (the former Miss Kenton) meet. But before that the definition of a butler arose as an issue and Joe narrated a trivial fact he picked up about Anthony Hopkins playing the butler in the film. 
Hopkins as the butler  his life has been a foolish mistake

As a guest on a TV show, Hopkins let on that he got tips on how to play a butler from a real-life butler, Cyril Dickman, who served for 50 years at Buckingham Palace. Dickman said there was nothing to being a butler, really – when you're in the room it should be even more empty. Hence people remark on the stillness of Hopkins in the film role.
About the passage Joe said when Stevens and Mrs Benn meet at the end, it is the first time we are seeing both of them off-duty. Hence there is a naturally relaxed tenor, in contrast to all their other encounters at Darlington Hall. Even the talk seems more human, and quite different from anything in the novel that takes place within the precincts of Darlington Hall. Yes, for once they talk like normal people, said Thommo.

Stevens and Mrs Benn at the parting

 Thommo spoke of the absolutes of hierarchy in the British class system that pervades every aspect of life, including the life of servants. He noted that in his experience when a junior assistant and a senior assistant had to share the same digs, the senior chap drew a line in the flat and insisted that the junior should never cross it!


Thommo
Thommo took up for reading a portion of the book where Stevens dwells on what makes a butler great. Stevens quotes from the Hayes Society of butlers and their rules of admission. Talitha was struck by how much Stevens reflected on his profession, and the merits by which one could ascend the ladder of proficiency. Butlers put their job above all else – the job of looking after their master and managing the household.
In this connection Priya said it happened once that Sudha Murthy, wife of N. R. Narayana Murthy (co-founder of Infosys), was waiting outside Bombay House (Tata HQ) when JRD Tata came out:
Narayana Murthy and Sudha Murthy

One day I was waiting for Murthy, my husband, to pick me up after office hours. To my surprise I saw JRD standing next to me. I did not know how to react. Yet again I started worrying about that postcard. Looking back, I realise JRD had forgotten about it. It must have been a small incident for him, but not so for me.
Young lady, why are you here?” he asked.
Office time is over.” I said, “Sir, I’m waiting for my husband to come and pick me up.”
JRD said, “It is getting dark and there’s no one in the corridor. I’ll wait with you till your husband comes.”
I was quite used to waiting for Murthy, but having JRD waiting alongside made me extremely uncomfortable.
I was nervous. Out of the corner of my eye I looked at him. He wore a simple white pant and shirt. He was old, yet his face was glowing. There wasn’t any air of superiority about him. I was thinking, 'Look at this person. He is a chairman, a well-respected man in our country and he is waiting for the sake of an ordinary employee.'
Then I saw Murthy and I rushed out. JRD called and said, “Young lady, tell your husband never to make his wife wait again.”


Preeti

Preeti read the account of the tiger in the dining room, discovered by the butler of an ex-colonial who had travelled to India. The tiger was dispatched without ceremony by the butler with three gunshots heard off-stage by the guests in the drawing room. This story it seems was related often by Stevens' father, and was as close as he “ever came to reflecting critically on the profession he practised.”

Tiger in a distinguished home

After the reading Joe got up, draped a napkin over his left hand and making a bow as though to his master, whispered with butler-like precision, “Excuse me, Sir, there appears to be a tiger in the dining room ...”


Pamela
Pamela read a passage where Stevens becomes conscious that a witticism is expected of him by the villagers in the inn when they warn him, “you'll get woken by [the landlord's] missus shouting at him right from the crack of dawn." So he gathers his wits and replies, “A local variation on the cock crow, no doubt." The KRG readers too laughed in the reading room. 
Stevens mentions he listens to a radio programme where witty repartees in the best of taste are exchanged. He resolves once a day “to formulate three witticisms based on my immediate surroundings at that moment.” This notion of a butler practising humour consciously also provoked laughter in the audience. All in all, it was a fine passage to bring out the mental exercises that are required of a great butler. We enjoyed.


Joe
Joe's Introduction to the novel
The butler, Stevens, is a lonely repressed character, whose major tragedy is that he is living someone else's life. As he tells Miss Kenton, “my vocation will not be fulfilled until I have done all I can to see his lordship through the great tasks he has set himself.”
Having subjugated his life to that of his employer, Lord Darlington, it is not surprising he misses quite a few opportunities for his own life: companion-ship, closer filial attachment, a life in retirement, children, and so on. Sadly, it turns out his employer Lord Darlington was a Nazi sympathiser, not maliciously so but naively, which makes the ensuing events of WWII doubly tragic for Stevens and his employer. The other great altar on which the butler sacrifices himself, is the grandiose idea of a butler's need for 'dignity', regarding which there are many discourses, which grow tiresome.
At the end of the novel Stevens gets some sage advice from a retired man who had worked in houses: “We've all got to put our feet up at some point. Look at me. Been happy as a lark since the day I retired. All right, so neither of us are exactly in our first flush of youth, but you've got to keep looking forward.” Stevens concludes, “I should adopt a more positive outlook and try to make the best of what remains of my day.” And the thought of developing his bantering skills and surprising his new master, Mr Farraday, gives him a lift as the novel closes.
Joe considered the novel something of a failure for its inability to move the reader to any degree of sympathy for the anal butler. It also fails to provide the kind of lyrical language in which Thomas Hardy could clothe his novels when describing much the same countryside through which Stevens travels in his Ford. The stiff formality of the language in the novel is meant to reflect the butler's persona, but there are too many stiff people in the novel: his lordship, the guests at Darlington Hall, Miss Kenton, even the new American owner Mr Farraday. Ishiguro's range in this novel is manifestly limited in emotional range.
Joe also complained of the lack of humour in the novel, but Talitha protested saying many of the exchanges with Miss Kenton can be read with a smile, and there's the tiger episode. Of course, Joe chose, as he said, the only Jeeves-like passage in the novel, when Stevens is tasked with furthering Reginald's education about the birds and the bees. 

Talitha said in the Wodehouse novels we do not get to see things from Jeeves' side, and therefore are unaware of the perhaps equally joyless professional life he led.
KumKum added the generalisation that men don't understand or appreciate many things and that's why Joe reacted negatively to the protagonist in this novel, as well as to the tepid 'romantic' interest in Mis Kenton shown by Stevens. But Pamela liked the lively stage manner in which Joe read the passage of exchanges between a butler who is on the threshold of getting to the point about procreation, and Reggie who manages to ease out of the conversation at the critical moment.


Shoba

Shoba, who came late after a school engagement, read a Twitter-sized passage from the very end, full of regret. Stevens exclaims, “All those years I served [his lordship], I trusted I was doing something worthwhile. I can't even say I made my own mistakes.” The culminating cry, “what dignity is there in that?" is the mournful coda on which the novel ends. 
Even the much-vaunted dignity elaborated upon at such length in the novel ends up being a missed bus.
Priya, ever-sympathetic Priya, said at this point she felt the loss of the butler achingly. Shoba's comment was that Stevens is first a butler, then a man.
Preeti has been speaking to children in high schools professionally, and finds that many of them are living their parents' desires for them, rather than deciding for themselves. One 12th Standard girl said, “I'm lost, I don't know what to do.” Preeti encouraged her to think and said it is not a bad place to be, for then you can find out by exploring. Her other comrades in chorus exclaimed, “This is the 12th. How come you don't know?” 
This provoked a discussion on the extent to which children are striking out on their own now, with the new opportunities in India, and not falling in line with the few well-trodden paths chosen by kids in the fifties and sixties. KumKum said many children of friends she knows are being more adventurous: wild-life biologist, film director, entrepreneur, … Thommo mentioned that lots of boys are going into fashion-design to cater to the new markets for modern clothing so that the young and the old with money to spare can look classy.


The Readings


Talitha
p. 100 Stevens, the butler, tries to take care of an ailing father.
The next day, the discussions in the drawing room appeared to reach a new level of
intensity and by lunchtime, the exchanges were becoming rather heated. My
impression was that utterances were being directed accusingly, and with increasing
boldness, towards the armchair where M. Dupont sat fingering his beard, saying
little. Whenever the conference adjourned, I noticed, as no doubt his lordship did
with some concern, that Mr Lewis would quickly take M. Dupont away to some
corner or other where they could confer quietly. Indeed, once, shortly after lunch, I
recall I came upon the two gentlemen talking rather furtively just inside the library
doorway, and it was my distinct impression they broke off their discussion upon
my approach.
In the meantime, my father's condition had grown neither better nor worse. As I
understood, he was asleep for much of the time, and indeed, I found him so on the
few occasions I had a spare moment to ascend to that little attic room. I did not
then have a chance actually to converse with him until that second evening after
the return of his illness.
On that occasion, too, my father was sleeping when I entered. But the
chambermaid Miss Kenton had left in attendance stood up upon seeing me and
began to shake my father's shoulder.
"Foolish girl!" I exclaimed. "What do you think you are doing?"
"Mr Stevens said to wake him if you returned, sir."
"Let him sleep. It's exhaustion that's made him ill."
"He said I had to, sir," the girl said, and again shook my father's shoulder.
My father opened his eyes, turned his head a little on the pillow, and looked at me.
"I hope Father is feeling better now," I said. He went on gazing at me for a
moment, then asked: "Everything in hand downstairs?'
"The situation is rather volatile. It is just after six o'clock, so Father can well
imagine the atmosphere in the kitchen at this moment."
An impatient look crossed my father's face.
"But is everything in hand?" he said again.
"Yes, I dare say you can rest assured on that.
I'm very glad Father is feeling better."
With some deliberation, he withdrew his arms from under the bedclothes and
gazed tiredly at the backs of his hands. He continued to do this for some time.
"I'm glad Father is feeling so much better," I said again eventually. "Now really, I'd
best be getting back. As I say, the situation is rather volatile."
He went on looking at his hands for a moment.
Then he said slowly: "I hope I've been a good father to you."
I laughed a little and said: "I'm so glad you're feeling better now."
"I'm proud of you. A good son. I hope I've been a good father to you. I suppose I
haven't."
"I'm afraid we're extremely busy now, but we can talk again in the morning."
My father was still looking at ,his hands as though he were faintly irritated by
them.
"I'm so glad you're feeling better now," I said again and took my leave ..


KumKum
p. 173 Miss Kenton prises a book out of Stevens' hands in a scene of intimacy

In thinking about this recently, it seems possible that that odd incident the evening Miss Kenton came into my pantry uninvited may have marked a crucial turning point. Why it was she came to my pantry I cannot remember with certainty. I have a feeling she may have come bearing a vase of flowers 'to brighten things up', but then again, I may be getting confused with the time she attempted the same thing years earlier at the start of our acquaintanceship. I know for a fact she tried to introduce flowers to my pantry on at least three occasions over the years, but perhaps I am confused in believing this to have been what brought her that particular evening. I might emphasize, in any case, that notwithstanding our years of good working relations, I had never allowed the situation to slip to one in which the housekeeper was coming and going from my pantry all day. The butler's pantry, as far as I am concerned, is a crucial office, the heart of the house's operations, not unlike a general's headquarters during a battle, and it is imperative that all things in it are ordered – and left ordered – in precisely the way I wish them to be. I have never been that sort of butler who allows all sorts of people to wander in and out with their queries and grumbles. If operations are to be conducted in a smootly co-ordinated way, it is surely obvious that the butler's pantry must be the one place in the house where privacy and solitude are guaranteed.
As it happened, when she entered my pantry that evening, I was not in fact engaged in professional matters. That is to say, it was towards the end of the day during a quiet week and I had been enjoying a rare hour or so off duty. As I say, I am not certain if Miss Kenton entered with her vase of flowers, but I certainly do recall her saying:
'Mr. Stevens, your room looks even less accommodating at night than it does in the day. The electric bulb is too dim, surely, for you to be reading by.'
'It is perfectly adequate, thank you, Miss Kenton.'
'Really, Mr. Stevens, this room resembles a prison cell. All one needs is a small bed in the corner and one could well imagine condemned men spending their last hours here.'
Perhaps I said something to this, I do not know. In any case, I did not look up from my reading, and a few moments passed during which I waited for Miss Kenton to excuse herself and leave. But then I heard her say:
'Now I wonder what it could be you are reading there, Mr. Stevens.'
'Simply a book, Miss Kenton.'
'I can see that, Mr. Stevens. But what sort of book – that is what interests me.'
I looked up to see Miss Kenton advancing towards me. I shut the book, and clutching it to my person, rose to my feet.
'Really, Miss Kenton,' I said, 'I must ask you to respect my privacy.'
'But why are you so shy about your book, Mr.Stevens ? I rather suspect it may be something rather racy.'
'It is quite out of the question, Miss Kenton, that anything “racy', as you put it, should be found on his lordship's shelves.' …................
'Please show me the volume you are holding, Mr.Stevens,' Miss Kenton said, continuing her advance, 'and I will leave you to the pleasure of your reading. What on earth can it be you are so anxious to hide?' …...........
'I wonder, is it a perfectly respectable volume, Mr Stevens, or are you in fact protecting me from its shocking influence?'
Then she was standing before me, and suddenly the atmosphere underwent a peculiar change – almost as though the two of us had been suddenly thrust on to some other plane of being altogether. I am afraid it is not easy to describe clearly what I mean here. All I can say is that everything around us suddenly became very still; it was my impression that Miss Kenton's manner also underwent a sudden change; there was a strange seriousness in her expression, and it struck me she seemed almost frightened.
'Please, Mr Stevens, let me see your book.'
She reached forward and began gently to release he volume from my grasp. I judged it best to look away while she did so, but with her person positioned so closely, this could only be achieved by my twisting my head away at a somewhat unnatural angle. Miss Kenton continued very gently to prise the book away, practically one finger at a time. The process seemed to take a very long time – throughout which I managed to maintain my posture – until I finally heard her say:
'Good gracious, Mr Stevens, it isn't anything so scandalous at all. Simply a sentimental love story.'


Zakia
p. 252 – Stevens meets a stranger – the evening's the best part of the day.
The pier lights have been switched on and behind me a crowd of people have just given a loud cheer to greet this event. There is still plenty of daylight left - the sky over the sea has turned a pale red - but it would seem that all these people who have been gathering on this pier for the past half-hour are now willing night to fall.This confirms very aptly, I suppose, the point ,made by the man who until a little while ago was sitting here beside me on this bench, and with whom I had my curious discussion. His claim was that for a great many people, the evening was the best part of the day, the part they most looked forward to. And as I say, there would appear to be some truth in this assertion, for why else would all these people give a spontaneous cheer simply because the pier lights have come on?"
Of course, the man had been speaking figuratively, but it is rather interesting to see his words borne out so immediately at the literal level. I would suppose he had been sitting here next to me for some minutes without my noticing him, so absorbed had I become with my recollections of meeting Miss Kenton two days ago. In fact, I do not think I registered his presence on the bench at all until he declared out loud:
"Sea air does you a lot of good."
I looked up and saw a heavily built man, probably in his late sixties, wearing a rather tired tweed jacket, his shirt open at the neck. He was gazing out over the water, perhaps at some seagulls in the far distance, and so it was not at all clear that he had been talking to me. But since no one else responded, and since I could see no other obvious persons close by who might do so, I eventually said:
"Yes, I'm sure it does."
"The doctor says it does you good. So I come up here as much as the weather will let me."
The man went on to tell me about his various ailments, only very occasionally turning his eyes away from the sunset in order to give me a nod or a grin. I really only started to pay any attention at all when he happened to mention that until his retirement three years ago, he had been a butler of a nearby house. On inquiring further, I ascertained that the house had been a very small one in which he had been the only full-time employee. When I asked him if he had ever worked with a proper staff under him, perhaps before the war, he replied:
"Oh, in those days, I was just a footman. I wouldn't have had the know-how to be a butler in those days. You'd be surprised what it involved when you had those big houses you had then."
At this point, I thought it appropriate to reveal my identity, and although I am not sure 'Darlington Hall' meant anything to him, my companion seemed suitably impressed.
"And here I was trying to explain it all to you," he said with a laugh. "Good job you told me when you did before I made a right fool of myself. Just shows you never know who you're addressing when you start talking to a stranger. So you had a big staff, I suppose. Before the war, I mean."
He was a cheerful fellow and seemed genuinely interested, so I confess I did spend a little time telling him about Darlington Hall in former days. In the main, I tried to convey to him some of the 'know-how', as he put it, involved in overseeing large events of the sort we used often to have. Indeed, I believe I even revealed to him several of my professional 'secrets' designed to bring that extra bit out of staff, as well as the various 'sleights-of-hand' - the equivalent of a conjuror's - by which a butler could cause a thing to occur at just the right time and place without guest seven glimpsing the often large and complicated manoeuvre behind the operation. As I say, my companion seemed genuinely interested, but after a time I felt I had revealed enough and so concluded by saying:
"Of course, things are quite different today under my present employer. An American gentleman."
"American, eh? Well, they're the only ones can afford it now. So you stayed on with the house. Part of the package." He turned and gave me a grin.
"Yes," I said, laughing a little. "As you say, part of the package."
The man turned his gaze back to the sea again, took a deep breath and sighed contentedly. We then proceeded to sit there together quietly for several moments.
"The fact is, of course," I said after a while, "I gave my best to Lord Darlington. I gave him the very best I had to give, and now - well - I find I do not have a great deal more left to give."
The man said nothing, but nodded, so I went on:
"Since my new employer Mr Farraday arrived, I've tried very hard, very hard indeed, to provide the sort of service I would like him to have. I've tried and tried, but whatever I do I find I am far from reaching the standards I once set myself. More and more errors are appearing in my work. Quite trivial in themselves – at least so far. But they're of the sort I would never have made before, and I know what they signify. Goodness knows, I've tried and tried, but it's no use. I've given what I had to give. I gave it all to Lord Darlington."
"Oh dear, mate. Here, you want a hankie? I've got one somewhere. Here we are.
It's fairly clean. Just blew my nose once this morning, that's all. Have a go, mate."
"Oh dear, no, thank you, it's quite all right. I'm very sorry, I'm afraid the travelling has tired me. I'm very sorry."
"You must have been very attached to this Lord whatever. And it's three years since he passed away, you say? I can see you were very attached to him, mate."
"Lord Darlington wasn't a bad man. He wasn't a bad man at all. And at least he had the privilege of being able to say at the end of his life that he made his own mistakes. His lordship was a courageous man. He chose a certain path in life, it proved to be a misguided one, but there, he chose it, he can say that at least. As for myself, I cannot even claim that. You see, I trusted. I trusted in his lordship's wisdom. All those years I served him, I trusted I was doing something worthwhile. I can't even say I made my own mistakes. Really - one has to ask oneself – what dignity is there in that?"
"Now, look, mate, I'm not sure I follow everything you're saying. But if you ask me, your attitude's all wrong, see? Don't keep looking back all the time, you're bound to get depressed. And all right, you can't do your job as well as you used to.But it's the same for all of us, see? We've all got to put our feet up at some point. Look at me. Been happy as a lark since the day I retired. All right, so neither of us are exactly in our first flush of youth, but you've got to keep looking forward." And I believe it was then that he said:
"You've got to enjoy yourself. 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. That's how I look at it. Ask anybody, they'll all tell you. The evening's the best part of the day."


Priya
p.249 – Stevens and Mrs Benn (the former Miss Kenton) finally meet
The rain was still falling steadily as we got out of the car and hurried towards the shelter. This latter - a stone construct complete with a tiled roof - looked very sturdy, as indeed it needed to be, standing as it did in a highly exposed position against a background of empty fields. Inside, the paint was peeling everywhere, but the place was clean enough. Miss Ken ton seated herself on the bench provided, while I remained on my feet where I could command a view of the approaching bus. On the other side of the road, all I could see were more farm fields; a line of telegraph poles led my eye over them into the far distance.
After we had been waiting in silence for a few minutes, I finally brought myself to say:
"Excuse me, Mrs Benn. But the fact is we may not meet again for a long time. I wonder if you would perhaps permit me to ask you something of a rather personal order. It is something that has been troubling me for some time." "Certainly, Mr Stevens. We are old friends after all."
"Indeed, as you say, we are old friends. I simply wished to ask you, Mrs Benn. Please -do not reply if you feel you shouldn't. But the fact is, the letters I have had from you over the years, and in particular the last letter, have tended to suggest that you are - how might one put it? - rather unhappy. I simply wondered if you were being ill-treated in some way. Forgive me, but as I say, it is something that has worried me for some time. I would feel foolish had I come all this way and seen you and not at least asked you."
"Mr Stevens, there's no need to be so embarrassed.
We're old friends, after all, are we not? In fact, I'm very touched you should be so concerned. And I can put your mind at rest on this matter absolutely. My husband does not mistreat me at all in any way. He is not in the least a cruel or ill- tempered man."
"I must say, Mrs Benn, that does take a load from my mind."
I leaned forward in to the rain, looking for signs of the bus.
"I can see you are not very satisfied, Mr Stevens," Miss Kenton said. "Do you not believe me?"
"Oh, it's not that, Mrs Benn, not that at all.
It's just that the fact remains, you do not seem to have been happy over the years. That is to say - forgive me - you have taken it on yourself to leave your husband on a number of occasions. If he does not mistreat you, then, well ... one is rather mystified as to the cause of your unhappiness."
I looked out into the drizzle again. Eventually, I heard Miss Kenton say behind me: "Mr Stevens, how can I explain? I hardly know myself why I do such things. But it's true, I've left three times now." She paused a moment, during which time I continued to gaze out towards the fields on the other side of the road. Then she said: "I suppose, Mr Stevens, you're asking whether or not I love my husband."
"Really, Mrs Benn, I would hardly presume ... "
"I feel I should answer you, Mr Stevens. As you say, we may not meet again for many years. Yes, I do love my husband. I didn't at first. I didn't at first for a long time. When I left Darlington Hall all those years ago, I never realized I was really, truly leaving. I believe I thought of it as simply another ruse, Mr Stevens, to annoy you.
It was a shock to come out here and find myself 'J married. For a long time, I was very unhappy, very unhappy indeed. But then year after year went by, there was the war, Catherine grew up, and one day I realized I loved my husband. You spend so much time with someone, you find you get used to him. He's a kind, steady man, and yes, Mr Stevens, I've grown to love him."
Miss Kenton fell silent again for a moment.
Then she went on:
"But that doesn't mean to say, of course, there aren't occasions now and then - extremely desolate occasions - when you think to yourself: 'What a terrible mistake I've made with my life.' And you get to thinking about a different life, a better life you might have had. For instance, I get to thinking about a life I may have had with you, Mr Stevens. And I suppose that's when I get angry over some trivial little thing and leave. But each time I do so, I realize before long - my rightful place is with my husband. 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."
I do not think I responded immediately, for it took me a moment or two to fully digest these words of Miss Kenton. Moreover, as you might appreciate, their implications were such as to provoke a certain degree of sorrow within me. Indeed - why should I not admit it? - at that moment, my heart was breaking. Before long, however, I turned to her and said with a smile:
"You're very correct, Mrs Benn. As you say, it is too late to turn back the clock. Indeed, I would not be able to rest if I thought such ideas were the cause of unhappiness for you and your husband. We must each of us, as you point out, be grateful for what we do have. And from what you tell me, Mrs Benn, you have reason to be contented. In fact I would venture, what with Mr Benn retiring, and with grandchildren on the way, that you and Mr Benn have some extremely happy years before you. You really mustn't let any more foolish ideas come between yourself and the happiness you deserve."
"Of course, you're right, Mr Stevens. You're so kind."
"Ah, Mrs Benn, that appears to be the bus coming now."


Thommo
p.119 – What is a butler?
IT would seem there is a whole dimension to the question 'what is a 'great' butler?' I have hitherto not properly considered. It is, I must say, a rather unsettling experience to realize this about a matter so close to my heart, particularly one I have given much thought to over the years. But it strikes me I may have been a little hasty before in dismissing certain aspects of the Hayes Society's criteria for membership. I have no wish, let me make clear, to retract any of my ideas on 'dignity' and its crucial link with 'greatness'. But I have been thinking a little more about that other pronouncement made by the Hayes Society – namely the admission that it was a prerequisite for membership of the Society that 'the applicant be attached to a distinguished household'. My feeling remains, no less than before, that this represents a piece of unthinking snobbery on the part of the Society. However, it occurs to me that perhaps what one takes objection to is, specifically, the outmoded understanding of what a 'distinguished household' is, rather than to the general principle being expressed. Indeed, now that I think further on the matter, I believe it may well be true to say it is a prerequisite of greatness that one 'be attached to a distinguished household' - so long as one takes 'distinguished' here to have a meaning deeper than that understood by the Hayes Society.
In fact, a comparison of how I might interpret 'a distinguished household' with what the Hayes Society understood by that term illuminates sharply, I believe, the fundamental difference between the values of our generation of butlers and those of the previous generation. When I say this, I am not merely drawing attention to the fact that our generation had a less snobbish attitude as regards which employers were landed gentry and which were 'business'. What I am trying to say - and I do not think this an unfair comment - is that we were a much more idealistic generation. Where our elders might have been concerned with whether or not an employer was titled, or otherwise from one of the 'old' families, we tended to concern ourselves much more with the moral status of an employer. I do not mean by this that we were preoccupied with our employers' private behaviour. What I mean is that we were ambitious, in a way that would have been unusual a generation before, to serve gentlemen who were, so to speak, furthering the progress of humanity. It would have been seen as a far worthier calling, for instance, to serve a gentleman such as Mr George Ketteridge, who, however humble his beginnings, has made an undeniable contribution to the future well-being of the empire, than any gentleman, however aristocratic his origin, who idled away his time in clubs or on golf courses.
In practice, of course, many gentlemen from the noblest families have tended to devote themselves to alleviating the great problems of the day, and so, at a glance, it may have appeared that the ambitions of our generation differed little from those of our predecessors. But I can vouch there was a crucial distinction in attitude, reflected not only in the sorts of things you would hear fellow professionals express to each other, but in the way many of the most able persons of our generation chose to leave one position for another. Such decisions were no longer a matter simply of wages, the size of staff at one's disposal or the splendour of a family name; for our generation, I think it fair to say, professional prestige lay most significantly in the moral worth of one's employer.
I believe I can best highlight the difference between the generations by expressing myself figuratively. Butlers of my father's generation, I would say, tended to see the world in terms of a ladder - the houses of royalty, dukes and the lords from the oldest families placed at the top, those of 'new money' lower down and so on, until one reached a point below which the hierarchy was determined simply by wealth – or the lack of it. Any butler with ambition simply did his best to climb as high up this ladder as possible, and by and large, the higher he went, the greater was his professional prestige. Such are, of course, precisely the values embodied in the Hayes Society's idea of a 'distinguished household', and the fact that it was confidently making such pronouncements as late as 1929 shows clearly why the demise of that society was inevitable, if not long overdue. For by that time, such thinking was quite out of step with that of the finest men emerging to the forefront of our profession. For our generation, I believe it is accurate to say, viewed the world not as a ladder, but more as a wheel.


Preeti
p. 36 – The butler finds a tiger in the dining room.
There was a certain story my father was fond of repeating over the years. I recall listening to him tell it to visitors when I was a child, and then later, when I was starting out as a footman under his supervision. I remember him relating it again the first time I returned to see him after gaining my first post as butler – to a Mr and Mrs Muggeridge in their relatively modest house in Allshot, Oxfordshire. Clearly the story meant much to him. My father's generation was not one accustomed to discussing and analysing in the way ours is and I believe the telling and retelling of this story was as close as my father ever came to reflecting critically on the profession he practised. As such, it gives a vital clue to his thinking.
The story was an apparently true one concerning a certain butler who had travelled with his employer to India and served there for many years maintaining amongst the native staff the same high standards he had commanded in England. One afternoon, evidently, this butler had entered the dining room to make sure all was well for dinner, when he noticed a tiger languishing beneath the dining table. The butler had left the dining room quietly, taking care to close the doors behind him, and proceeded calmly to the drawing room where his employer was taking tea with a number of visitors. There he attracted his employer's attention with a polite cough, then whispered in the latter's ear: "I'm very sorry, sir, but there appears to be a tiger in the dining room. Perhaps you will permit the twelve-bores to be used?"
And according to legend, a few minutes later, the employer and his guests heard three gun shots. When the butler reappeared in the drawing room some time afterwards to refresh the teapots, the employer had inquired if all was well. "Perfectly fine, thank you, sir," had come the reply. "Dinner will be served at the usual time and I am pleased to say there will be no discernible traces left of the recent occurrence by that time."
This last phrase - 'no discernible traces left of the recent occurrence by that time' - my father would repeat with a laugh and shake his head admiringly.


Pamela
p.137 On witticisms
I LODGED last night in an inn named the Coach and Horses a little way outside the town of Taunton, Somerset. This being a thatch-roofed cottage by the roadside, it had looked a conspicuously attractive prospect from the Ford as I had approached in the last of the daylight. The landlord led me up a timber stairway to a small room, rather bare, but perfectly decent. When he inquired whether I had dined, I asked him to serve me with a sandwich in my room, which proved a perfectly satisfactory option as far as supper was concerned. But then as the evening drew on, I began to feel a little restless in my room, and in the end decided to descend to the bar below to try a little of the local cider.
There were five or six customers all gathered in a group around the bar - one guessed from their appearance they were agricultural people of one sort or another - but otherwise the room was empty. Acquiring a tankard of cider from the landlord, I seated myself at a table a little way away, intending to relax a little and collect my thoughts concerning the day. It soon became clear, however, that these local people were perturbed by my presence, feeling something of a need to show hospitality. Whenever there was a break in their conversation, one or the other of them would steal a glance in my direction as though trying to find it in himself to approach me. Eventually one raised his voice and said to me:
"It seems you've let yourself in for a night upstairs here, sir."
When I told him this was so, the speaker shook his head doubtfully and remarked: "You won't get much of a sleep up there, sir. Not unless you're fond of the sound of old Bob" - he indicated the landlord - "banging away down here right the way into the night. And then you'll get woken by his missus shouting at him right from the crack of dawn."
Despite the landlord's protests, this caused loud laughter all round.
"Is that indeed so?" I said. And as I spoke, I was struck by the thought - the same thought as had struck me on numerous occasions of late in Mr Farraday's presence - that some sort of witty retort was required "of me. Indeed, the local people were now observing a polite silence, awaiting my next remark. I thus searched my imagination and eventually declared:
"A local variation on the cock crow, no doubt." At first the silence continued, as though the local persons thought I intended to elaborate further. But then noticing the mirthful expression on my face, they broke into a laugh, though in a somewhat bemused fashion. With this, they returned to their previous conversation, and I exchanged no further words with them until exchanging good nights a little while later.
I had been rather pleased with my witticism when it had first come into my head, and I must confess I was slightly disappointed it had not been better received than it was. I was particularly disappointed, I suppose, because I have been devoting some time and effort over recent months to improving my skill in this very area. That is to say, I have been endeavouring to add this skill to my professional armoury so as to fulfil with confidence all Mr Farraday's expectations with respect to bantering.
For instance, I have of late taken to listening to the wireless in my room whenever I find myself with a few spare moments – on those occasions, say, when Mr Farraday is out for the evening. One programme I listen to is called Twice a Week or More, which is in fact broadcast three times each week, and basically comprises two persons making humorous comments on a variety of topics raised by readers' letters. I have been studying this programme because the witticisms performed on it are always in the best of taste and, to my mind, of a tone not at all out of keeping with the sort of bantering Mr Farraday might expect on my part. Taking my cue from this programme, I have devised a simple exercise which I try to perform at least once a day; whenever an odd moment presents itself, I attempt to formulate three witticisms based on my immediate surroundings at that moment. Or, as a variation on this same exercise, I may attempt to think of three witticisms based on the events of the past hour.
You will perhaps appreciate then my disappointment concerning my witticism yesterday evening. At first, I had thought it possible its limited success was due to my not having spoken clearly enough. But then the possibility occurred to me, once I had retired, that I might actually have given these people offence. After all, it could easily have been understood that I was suggesting the landlord's wife resembled a cockerel - an intention that had not remotely entered my head at the time. This thought continued to torment me as I tried to sleep, and I had half a mind to make an apology to the landlord this morning. But his mood towards me as he served breakfast seemed perfectly cheerful and in the end I decided to let the matter rest.
But this small episode is as good an illustration as any of the hazards of uttering witticisms. By the very nature of a witticism, one is given very little time to assess its various possible repercussions before one is called to give voice to it, and one gravely risks uttering all manner of unsuitable things if one has not first acquired the necessary skill and experience.


Joe
p.86 Teaching Reggie the facts of life. Day Two – Morning (897 words)
"I'll get to the point, Stevens. I happen to be the young man's godfather.
Accordingly, Sir David has requested that I convey to young Reginald the facts of life."
"Indeed, sir."
"Sir David himself finds the task rather daunting and suspects he will not accomplish it before Reginald's wedding day."
"Indeed, sir."
"The point is, Stevens, I'm terribly busy. Sir David should know that, but he's asked me none the less." His lordship paused and went on studying his page.
"Do I understand, sir," I said, "that you wish me to convey the information to the young gentleman?"
"If you don't mind, Stevens. Be an awful lot off my mind. Sir David continues to ask me every couple of hours if I've done it yet."
"I see, sir. It must be most trying under the present pressures."
"Of course, this is far beyond the call of duty, Stevens."
"I will do my best, sir. I may, however, have difficulty finding the appropriate moment to convey such information."
"I'd be very grateful if you'd even try, Stevens.
Awfully decent of you. Look here, there's no need to make a song and dance of it.
Just convey the basic facts and be done with it. Simple approach is the best, that's my advice, Stevens."
"Yes, sir. I shall do my best."
"Jolly grateful to you, Stevens. Let me know how you get on."
.
I happened to glance out of a window and spotted the figure of the young Mr Cardinal taking some fresh air around the grounds. He was clutching his attaché case as usual and I could see he was strolling slowly along the path that runs the outer perimeter of the lawn, deeply absorbed in thought. I was of course reminded of my mission regarding the young gentleman and it occurred to me that an outdoor setting, with the general proximity of nature, and in particular the example of the geese close at hand, would not be an unsuitable setting at all in which to convey the sort of message I was bearing. I could see, moreover, that if I were quickly to go outside and conceal my person behind the large rhododendron bush beside the path, it would not be long before Mr Cardinal came by. I would then be able to emerge and convey my message to him. It was not, admittedly, the most subtle of strategies, but you will appreciate that this particular task, though no doubt important in its way, hardly took the highest priority at that moment. There was a light frost covering the ground and much of the foliage, but it was a mild day for that time of the year. I crossed the grass quickly, placed my person behind the bush, and before long heard Mr Cardinal's footsteps approaching. Unfortunately, I misjudged slightly the timing of my emergence. I had intended to emerge while Mr Cardinal was still a reasonable distance away, so that he would see me in good time and suppose I was on my way to the summerhouse, or perhaps to the gardener's lodge. I could then have pretended to notice him for the first time and have engaged him in conversation in an impromptu manner. As it happened, I emerged a little late and I fear I rather startled the young gentleman, who immediately pulled his attaché case away from me and clutched it to his chest with both arms.
"I'm very sorry, sir."
"My goodness – Stevens. You gave me a shock.
I thought things were hotting up a bit there."
"I'm very sorry, sir. But as it happens I have something to convey to you."
"My goodness yes, you gave me quite a fright."
"If I may come straight to the point, sir. You will notice the geese not far from us."
"Geese?" He looked around a little bewildered.
"Oh yes. That's what they are."
"And likewise the flowers and shrubs. This is not, in fact, the best time of year to see them in their full glory, but you will appreciate, sir, that with the arrival of spring, we will see a change – a very special sort of change – in these surroundings."
"Yes, I'm sure the grounds are not at their best just now. But to be perfectly frank, Stevens, I wasn't paying much attention to the glories of nature. It's all rather worrying. That M. Dupont's arrived in the foulest mood imaginable. Last thing we wanted really."
"M. Dupont has arrived here at this house, sir?"
"About half an hour ago. He's in the most foul temper."
"Excuse me, sir. I must attend to him straight away."
"Of course, Stevens. Well, kind of you to have come out to talk to me."
"Please excuse me, sir. As it happened, I had a word or two more to say on the topic of – as you put it yourself – the glories of nature. If you will indulge me by listening, I would be most grateful. But I am afraid this will have to wait for another occasion. "
"Well, I shall look forward to it, Stevens.
Though I'm more of a fish man myself. I know all about fish, fresh water and salt."
"All living creatures will be relevant to our forthcoming discussion, sir. However, you must now please excuse me. I had no idea M. Dupont had arrived."


Shoba
p.255 Regrets
"Lord Darlington wasn't a bad man. He wasn't a bad man at all. And at least he had the privilege of being able to say at the end of his life that he made his own mistakes. His lordship was a courageous man. He chose a certain path in life, it proved to be a misguided one, but there, he chose it, he can say that at least. As for myself, I cannot even claim that. You see, I trusted. I trusted in his lordship's wisdom. All those years I served him, I trusted I was doing something worthwhile. I can't even say I made my own mistakes. Really – one has to ask oneself – what dignity is there in that?"

1 comment:

KumKum Cleetus said...

Joe's latest blog post is an excellent report on KRG's July 22, 2015 Session.

Apart from Joe, the rest of us loved Ishiguro's 'The Remains of The Day' and his style of narration. Even Joe gleaned from the book a couple of humorous paragraphs to read to us. And he read very well, evincing the drama and the humour latent in those paragraphs.

I was surprised that the post even had a link to the old Bengali song I vaguely remembered, and thought may have the same theme as the paragraphs I chose to read. After listening to the song when I clicked the link, I am convinced the lyrics truly represent Steven's trepidation in recognising LOVE when it appeared before him.

Well done Joe!

Bon Voyage to our evergreen explorer, Thommo! We wish him well on his long drive through Turkey and many countries in Europe, and through USA. We hope he will return safely with tall tales to delight us.

KumKum