Monday, February 4, 2008

Literary Butlers

In our book group this month--now virtual because of my move to Kentucky--we are reading The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. You might have thought that an author of a book on pantries would have read this novel before now, or at least her more literary "Cupcakes," but no, we had only seen the movie. [Painting of Butler in Love, left, by Mark Stock from Modernisminc.com]

While I can only hear Anthony Hopkins' voice narrating the book as I read it (one of the hazards of seeing an excellent movie first), it is a masterful novel.

The emotionally repressed character of Mr. Stevens, butler to Lord Darlington at Darlington Hall and chief head of household, has this to say about his pantry:

The butler’s pantry, as far as I am concerned, is a crucial office, the heart of the house’s operations, not unlike a general’s headquarters during a battle, and it is imperative that all things in it are ordered – and left ordered – in precisely the way I wish them to be.”

Like most butlers in the households of the great estates, Mr. Stevens lived in his pantry and had lock and key of the silver and liquor stores. He becomes quite befuddled when Miss Kenton (played by Emma Thompson in the movie) comes into his private space, his pantry. Her "marching into (his) pantry" was the ultimate violation as:

"any butler who regards his vocation with pride, any butler who aspires at all to a 'dignity in keeping with his position', as the Hayes Society once put it, should never allow himself to be 'off duty' in the presence of others...A butler of any quality must be seen to inhabit his role, utterly and fully; he cannot be seen casting it aside one moment simply to don it again the next as though it were nothing more than a pantomime costume."

For more literary analysis of this novel, please see my entry, "'Marching into the pantry' with Miss Kenton" and others posted by fellow Cupcakes, at Cupcake Chronicles. And for a more convivial, but equally proper, butler, read the chronicles of Jeeves and his man Bertie Wooster written about in countless novels by P.G. Wodehouse. Jeeves is far more fun--and less disarming--than poor Mr. Stevens.

1 comment:

gracemercyandpeace said...

First comment here...a New Hampshire-ite originally from Missouri, first found your blog a few months back, and promptly checked "The Pantry" from the Concord Public Library : )

My son and I are are great fans of Remains of the Day (movie and soundtrack) and Jeeves and Wooster (the show, with Hugh Laurie). Thank you for such a fun post!

dm