Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Orderly Dark that Comes Every Night Like a Good Butler

Here's the last excerpt from this re-reading of Ishiguro's Remains of the Day. If you've read the book, you know the context of the most important line in the novel, if you haven't read the book, send me an email, I'll send you a copy.

     'Oh, it's not that, Mrs Benn, not that at all. It's just that the fact remains, you do not seem to have been happy over the years. That is to say - forgive me - you have taken it on yourself to leave your husband on a number of occasions. If he does not mistreat you, then, well... one is rather mystified as to the cause of your unhappiness.'
     I looked into the drizzle again. Eventually, I heard Miss Kenton say behind me: 'Mr Steven, how can I explain? I hardly know myself why I do such things. But it's true, I've left three times now.' She paused a moment, during which time I continued to gaze out towards the fields on the other side of the road. Then she said: 'I suppose, Mr Stevens, you're asking me whether or not I love my husband.'
     'Really, Mrs Benn, I would hardly presume... '
     'I feel I should answer you, Mr Stevens. As you say, we may not meet again for many years. Yes, I do love my husband. I didn't at first. I didn't at first for a long time. 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. It was a shock to come out here and find myself married. For a long time, I was very unhappy, very unhappy indeed. But then year after year went by, there was the war, Catherine grew up, and one day I realized I loved my husband. You spend so much time with someone, you find you get used to him. He's a kind, steady man, and yes, Mr Stevens, I've grown to love him.'
     Miss Kenton fell silent for a moment. Then she went on:
     'But that doesn't mean to say, of course, there aren't occasions now and then - extremely desolate occasions - when you think to yourself: "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 might 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 implicatons 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. Indeed, I would not be able to rest if I thought such ideas were the cause of unhappiness for you and your husband....

He's heart-broken for hours, then reflects:


Michael Blumenthal

Just because a man pulls out your chair for you
and takes your coat at an elegant restaurant
is no guarantee that he really loves you. You know this,
and so whether he burps or farts over the dinner
like some sort of Chinese compliment
does not much matter to you, whether he subscribes
to the high sanctimony of the right thing
leaves you unmoved and lonely. Once,
like a Turkish princess, you were feted and dined
by all sorts of mannerly people, in a high castle
on the cliffs of Scotland. Now, so many thank-yous
and sincerelies later, it's the things unsaid,
the warm rudities of late night, that most move you
and you are wild for slurped sounds of the truly decent,
the I-chew-with-my-mouth-open look of the one
you will love forever. Whatever it is that might be said
for the predictable thing, the good manners
you were taught in childhood, it's more and more
the case of the auspicious oddity that excites you now,
the cool flippancy of the one who invents
his own decencies. Darling, I say to you,
fall to the floor all you want, I ain't pulling
chairs out for anyone. But what I'll whisper to you later,
in the orderly dark that comes every night like a good butler,
 will be sweeter than all that, believe me,
something you can write home to mom about
as if I were the man who had sent you a, dozen roses
on Valentine's Day, or smiled in the pretty picture,
or paid you the most beautiful compliment in the world—
only more slovenly, baby, more kind. 


  1. You've got to do this slice of history.

  2. No Bockwinkel promo? Tsk.

  3. Atomic Rooster! An older sibling had one of their albums, I used to play it all the time.