Essential Passage 1: Day One (Evening—Salisbury)
…And let me now posit this: "dignity" has to do crucially with a butler’s ability not to abandon the professional being he inhabits. Lesser butlers will abandon their professional being for the private one at the least provocation. For such persons, being a butler is like playing some pantomime role; a small push, a slight stumble, and the façade will drop off to reveal the actor underneath. The great butlers are great by virtue of their ability to inhabit their professional role and inhabit it to the utmost; they will not be shaken out by external events, however surprising, alarming or vexing. They wear their professionalism as a decent gentleman will wear his suit: he will not let ruffians or circumstance 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. It is, as I say, a matter of "dignity."
Stevens, the head butler at Darlington Hall, contemplates the true meaning of “dignity” in relation to being a man in service. After informing the reader of a variety of butlers of his acquaintance, Stevens uses his own father, also a butler, as a model for the true definition of dignity. He relates stories of his father exemplifying dignity in unusual circumstances. One is when he is driving some guests of his employer around the vicinity. The guests are slightly intoxicated and making disparaging remarks about Mr. Stevens’ employer, their host. Mr. Stevens stops the car, opens the back door, and simply glares at the passengers until they apologize. Another instance occurs when Mr. Stevens is forced to be a valet for a visiting guest, who happens to be the general who was responsible for the death of Mr. Stevens’ son in combat. However, putting personal feelings aside, Mr. Stevens provides excellent service. To Stevens, his son, this is the epitome of that most important of qualities for a butler—dignity.
Essential Passage 2: Day Two (Morning—Salisbury)
Miss Kenton was still standing out in the hall where I had first spotted her. As I emerged, she walked silently towards the staircase, a curious lack of urgency in her manner. Then she turned and said: "Mr. Stevens, I’m very sorry. Your father passed away about four minutes ago."
She looked at her hands, then up at my face. "Mr. Stevens, I’m very sorry," she said. The she added: "I wish there was something I could say."
"There’s no need, Miss Kenton."
"Dr. Meredith has not yet arrived." Then for a moment she bowed her head and a sob escaped her. But almost immediately, she resumed her composure and asked in a steady voice: "Will you come up and see him?"
"I’m very busy just now, Miss Kenton. In a little while perhaps."
"In that case, Mr. Stevens, will you permit me to close his eyes?"
"I would be most grateful if you would, Miss Kenton."
She began to climb the staircase, but I stopped her, saying: "Miss Kenton, please don’t think me unduly improper in not ascending to see my father in his deceased condition just at this moment. You see, I know my father would have wished me to carry on just now."
"Of course, Mr. Stevens."
"To do otherwise, I feel, would be to let him down."
"Of course, Mr. Stevens."
It is the climax of the international conference at Darlington Hall, an event of supreme importance to Lord Darlington and, it is believed, to the future of Europe as a whole. The topic is the harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles following World War I, in which Germany suffered under the vengeance of the allied nations. It is the wish of Lord Darlington that in some way this conference would help to ease these sanctions, thus bringing a more lasting peace to Europe. Stevens is especially cognizant of the importance, especially his duties to make sure that all goes well and each member of the conference suffers no...
(The entire section is 1735 words.)