Essential Quotes

Essential Quotes by Character: Stevens

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."

"I see."

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.)

Essential Quotes by Theme: Misplaced Loyalty

Essential Passage 1: Day Two (Afternoon—Mortimer’s Pond, Dorset)

It is no doubt the quiet of these surroundings that has enabled me to ponder all the more thoroughly these thoughts which have entered my mind over this past half-hour or so. Indeed, but for the tranquility of the present setting, it is possible I would not have thought a great deal further about my behaviour during my encounter with the batman. That is to say, I may not have thought further why it was that I had given the distinct impression I had never been in the employ of Lord Darlington. For surely, there is no real doubt that is what occurred. He had asked: "You mean you actually used to work for that Lord Darlington?" and I had given an answer which could mean little other than that I had not. It could simply be that a meaningless whim had suddenly overtaken me at that moment—but that is hardly a convincing way to account for such distinctly odd behaviour. In any case, I have now come to accept that the incident with the batman is not the first of its kind; there is little doubt it has some connection—though I am not quite clear of the nature of it—with what occurred a few months ago during the visit of the Wakefields.

On his travels, Stevens runs out of water in his radiator. He finds a nearby home, which had once seen better days. Living there is one of two servants of the Colonel. This servant had been the Colonel's batman (personal servant) during the war. Sharing some areas of interest, Stevens and the batman strike up a conversation. Stevens mentions that he is a butler at Darlington Hall. The name sparks a memory in the batman’s mind, who then recalls the news that he has heard about Lord Darlington and his activities before the war. When asked pointblank if Stevens had worked for “that” Lord Darlington, Stevens replies that he did not, but is instead employed by Mr. Farraday, an American businessman. Later, back on the road, Stevens ponders the reason behind his denial. He would like to brush it off to a mere whim, but similar denials have happened several times before. He recalls a recent circumstance in which a visitor of Mr. Farraday’s, Mrs. Wakefield, had also asked if he had known Lord Darlington. Stevens denies having worked at Darlington Hall during that time period. This leads to an uncomfortable situation since Mr. Farraday had bragged on Stevens’ service in the house for years, making Mr. Farraday appear to be a liar in the eyes of his guest.

Essential Passage 2: Day Three (Evening—Moscombe, Near Tavistock, Devon)

...if a butler is to be of any worth to anything or anybody in life, there must surely come a time when he ceases his searching; a time when he must say to himself: "This employer embodies all that I find noble and admirable. I will hereafter devote myself to serving him." This is loyalty intelligently bestowed. What is there "undignified" in this? One is simply accepting an inescapable truth: that the likes of you and I will never be in a position to comprehend the great affairs of today’s world, and our best course will always be to put our trust in an employer we judge to be wise and honourable, and to devote our energies to the task of serving him to the best of our ability....What is there "undignified," what is there at all culpable in such an attitude? How can one possibly be held to blame in any sense because, say, the passage of time has shown that Lord Darlington’s efforts were misguided, even foolish? Throughout the years I served him, it was he and he alone who weighed up evidence and judged it best to proceed in the way he did, while I simply confined myself, quite properly, to affairs within my own professional realm. And as far as I am concerned, I carried out my duties to the best of my abilities, indeed to a standard which many may consider "first rate." It is hardly my fault if his lordship’s life and work have turned out today to look, at best, a sad waste—and it is quite illogical that I should feel any regret or shame on my own account.

At an evening gathering in which Lord Darlington entertains three gentlemen for dinner, Stevens becomes the target of a political point. One of the gentlemen, Mr. Spencer, poses several questions of a political nature to Stevens, who states consistently that he is “unable to be of assistance in this matter.” One does not know if Stevens is truly unable to give an intelligent answer to Mr. Spencer’s questions or if he simply feels it is unsuitable that a servant should present his views to guests of his employers. Either way, Stevens is portrayed as someone who does not deserve to have a say in the nation’s concerns. Mr. Spencer...

(The entire section is 1972 words.)