January 13, 2021

Remains Of The Day

Kazuo Ishiguro
Reading Time: 6 Minutes

Ishiguro On Being A Butler

  • Continentals cannot be butlers because they're a breed incapable of the emotional restraint that only the English possesses.

  • We English have an important advantage over foreigners in this respect. For this reason, when you think of a great butler, he is bound, almost by definition, to be an Englishman.

  • Indeed, the more one considers it, the more obvious it seems: association with a truly distinguished household is a prerequisite of 'greatness'.

  • A butler of any quality must get seen to inhabit his role, utterly and wholly. He cannot get seen casting it aside one moment to don it again the next, as though it were nothing more than a pantomime costume.

  • It is easy enough to have lofty ambitions. But without certain qualities, a butler will not progress beyond a certain point.

  • There existed a true camaraderie in our profession in those days, whatever the small differences in our approach. We were all cut from the same cloth.

  • Do you realize, Mr Stevens, how much it would have meant to me if you had thought to share your feelings last year? You knew how upset I was when my girls got dismissed. Do you realize how much it would have helped me? Why, Mr Stevens, why, why, why do you always have to pretend?

Ishiguro On England

  • The English landscape at its finest - as I saw it this morning - possesses a quality that the landscapes of other nations, however more superficially dramatic, inevitably fail to possess.

  • We call this land Great Britain, and there may be those who believe this a somewhat immodest practice.

  • What is pertinent is the calmness of that beauty, its sense of restraint. It is as though the land knows of its beauty, its greatness, and feels no need to shout it.

  • The sorts of sights offered in places like Africa and America, though undoubtedly exciting, would, I am sure, strike the objective viewer as inferior on account of their unseemly demonstrativeness.

  • It is with such men as it is with the English landscape seen at its best as I did this morning: when one encounters them, one knows one is in the presence of greatness.

  • It's one of the privileges of being born English that you're born free no matter who you are, no matter if you're rich or poor. You're born so that you can express your opinion freely, and vote in your member of parliament or vote him out.

  • You can't have dignity if you're a slave. But every Englishman can grasp it if only he cares because we fought for that right.

  • From my vantage point up on my ladder, I could see practically the whole of his long figure caught in the winter sunshine pouring in through the french windows and streaking much of the room.

Ishiguro On Evenings

  • 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.

  • Perhaps, then, there is something to his advice that I should cease looking back so much, that I should adopt a more positive outlook and try to make the best of what remains of my day. 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?

Ishiguro On Humour

  • By the very nature of a witticism, one gets given very little time to assess its various possible repercussions before one gets called to give voice to it. One gravely risks uttering all manner of unsuitable things if one has not first acquired the necessary skill and experience.

  • Perhaps it is indeed time I began to look at this whole matter of bantering more enthusiastically. After all, when one thinks about it, it is not such a foolish thing to indulge in - particularly if it is the case that in bantering lies the key to human warmth.

Ishiguro On Mr Farraday

  • But from my observation of Mr Farraday over these months, he is not one of those gentlemen prone to that most irritating of traits in an employer - inconsistency.

  • It was a most embarrassing situation, one in which Lord Darlington would never have placed an employee. But then I do not mean to imply anything derogatory about Mr Farraday; after all, an American gentleman and his ways are often very different.

Ishiguro On Pleasure

  • For the first time in many a year, I'm able to take my time, and I must say, it's rather an enjoyable experience. I'm just motoring for the pleasure of it, you see.

  • Something about this small encounter had put me in very good spirits. The simple kindness I got thanked for, and the simple kindness I offered in return, caused me somehow to feel exceedingly uplifted about the whole enterprise-facing me.

  • Why should one not enjoy in a light-hearted way, stories of ladies and gentlemen who fall in love and express their feelings for each other, often in the most elegant phrases?

Ishiguro On Professionalism

  • They wear their professionalism as a decent gentleman will wear his suit: he will not let ruffians or circumstances tear it off him in the public gaze; he will discard it when, and only when, he wills to do so, and this will invariably be when he is entirely alone.

  • I believe I have a good idea of what you mean by "professionalism". It appears to mean getting one's way by cheating and manipulating. It means ordering one's priorities according to greed and advantage rather than the desire to see goodness and justice prevail globally. If that is the "professionalism" you refer to, sir, I don't care for it and have no wish to acquire it.

  • For it is, in practice, not possible to adopt such a critical attitude towards an employer and at the same time provide good service.

  • In the end, I believe the matter to be no more complicated than this: I had given myself too much to do.

  • It was one of those events that at a crucial stage in one's development arrived to challenge and stretch one to the limit of one's ability and beyond. After that, one has new standards by which to judge oneself.

  • What you describe as "amateurism", sir, is what I think most of us here still prefer to call "honour".

  • There has been too much stress placed on the professional desirability of good accent and command of our generation's language. That is to say; these elements have been stressed sometimes at the cost of more critical professional qualities.

  • Those of us who wish to make our mark must realize that we best do so by concentrating on what is within our realm.

Ishiguro On Provoking Thoughts

  • One is not struck by the truth until prompted quite accidentally by some external event.

  • But then, I suppose, when with the benefit of hindsight, one begins to search one's past for such' turning points', one is apt to start seeing them everywhere.

  • There was surely nothing to indicate at the time that such small incidents would render whole dreams forever irredeemable.

  • Whether people agree or disagree - and I know there's not one soul in this room now who'd agree with everything I say - at least I'll get them thinking.

  • The few people qualified to know what's what get talked to a standstill by ignorant people all around them.

  • If your house is on fire, you don't call the household into the drawing-room and debate the various options for escape for an hour, do you?

  • 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.

  • I can't even say I made my own mistakes. One has to ask oneself - what dignity is there in that?

Ishiguro On Tradition

  • Now naturally, like many of us, I have a reluctance to change too much of the old ways. But there is no virtue at all in clinging as some do to tradition merely for its own sake.

  • Indeed, it has been an idea of mine that retaining unnecessary numbers for tradition's sake - resulting in employees having an unhealthy amount of time on their hands - has been a critical factor in the sharp decline of professional standards.
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