We are in 1956, it is summer and the butler Stevens is going on a six-day motoring trip through the West Country.
During his trip he remembers his past; his service at Lord Darlington:
"The fact is I gave my best to Lord Darlington. It is, of course, the responsibility of every butler to devote his utmost care in the devising of a staff plan. "I believe strongly that this 'dignity' is something one can meaningfully strive for throughout one's career. My father came of a generation mercifully free of such confusions of our professional values".
"I hope Father is feeling better now," I said. He went on gazing at me for a moment, then asked: "Everything in hand downstairs?'
"Yes, I dare say you can rest assured on that. I'd best be getting back. "
Then he said slowly: "I hope I've been a good father to you .I'm proud of you. A good son. I hope I've been a good father to you.
"I'm afraid we're extremely busy now, but we can talk again in the morning."
In the morning it was too late.
But 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.
"It is, as I say, a matter of 'dignity'.
Above all, during his trip, the hurting memories of his friendship with the housekeeper, Miss Kenton come back.
"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. '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. " Miss Kenton says to him and she leaves.
"For a great many people, the evening is the most enjoyable part of the day. Perhaps, then, there is something 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?
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?
But 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."
Quando arriva la sera e ripensiamo alla giornata appena trascorsa dovremmo sentirci soddisfatti, stanchi ma soddisfatti di ciò che si è fatto, senza rimpianti.
Mr. Stevens è un personaggio d'altri tempi, composto, lucido e senza esitazioni, ma quando arriva la sera si rende che nella vita si è fidato ciecamente delle scelte altrui, operate dal signore per cui lavorava, senza dubitare mai.
Durante il suo bellissimo viaggio in Inghilterra e nella società inglese, rilegge la sua vita passata come maggiordomo e pone al centro la grande questione su cosa sia la dignità, che nel caso di Mr. Stevens è la capacità di non spogliarsi di fronte agli altri, di mantenere compostezza e il rispetto del ruolo che si ricopre.
Ma questo per Mr. Stevens ha significato non osare e guardare la vita da un unico punto di vista, percorrerla su un unico sentiero. Ma nonostante questa consapevolezza, l'unico modo per affrontare quel che resta del giorno è rimanere sul binario tracciato, l'unico che si conosce, e trovare il sistema di far contento il nuovo padrone.
3 stelline e mezzo
Try to make the best of what remains of your day