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ISHIGURO, Kazuo



The Remains of the Day

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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. Then she added: "I wish there was something I could say."

"There’s no need, Miss Kenton."

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The truth is that Herr Ribbentrop was, throughout the thirties, a well-regarded figure, even a glamorous one, in the very best houses. Particularly around 1936 and 1937, I can recall all the talk in the servants' hall from visiting staff revolving around 'the German Ambassador', and it was clear from what was said that many of the most distinguished ladies and gentlemen in this country were quite enamoured of him. It is, as I say, irksome to have to hear the way these same people now talk of those times, and in particular, what some have said concerning his lordship. The great hypocrisy of these persons would be instantly obvious to you were you to see just a few of their own guest lists from those days;

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"I'll say. Look at Germany and Italy, Stevens. See what strong leadership can do if it's allowed to act. None of this universal suffrage nonsense there. 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? It may have been all very well once, but the world's a complicated place now. The man in the street can't be expected to know enough about politics, economics, world commerce and what have you. And why should he? In fact, you made a very good reply last night, Stevens. How did you put it?

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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.

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Something to the effect that it was not in your realm? Well, why should it be? 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? The hard reality is, surely, that for the likes of you and I, there is little choice other than to leave our fate, ultimately, in the hands of those great gentlemen at the hub of this world who employ our services. What is the point in worrying oneself too much about what one could or could not have done to control the course one’s life took? Surely it is enough that the likes of you and I at least try to make our small contribution count for something true and worthy. And if some of us are prepared to sacrifice much in life in order to pursue such aspirations, surely that is in itself, whatever the outcome, cause for pride and contentment.

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But what is the sense in forever speculating what might have happened had such and such a moment turned out differently? One could presumably drive oneself to distraction in this way. In any case, while it is all very well to talk of 'turning points', one can surely only recognize such moments in retrospect. Naturally, when one looks back to such instances today, they may indeed take the appearance of being crucial, precious moments in one's life; but of course, at the time, this was not the impression one had. Rather, it was as though one had available a never-ending number of days, months, years in which to sort out the vagaries of one's relationship with Miss Kenton; an infinite number of further opportunities in which to remedy the effect of this or that misunderstanding. There was surely nothing to indicate at the time that such evidently small incidents would render whole dreams forever irredeemable.

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