Nick Hornby’s "About a Boy" and Kazuo Ishiguro’s "The Remains of the Day"

The representation of "Englishness(es)" in Hornby's and Ishiguro's literary works

Seminar Paper, 2004

8 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1. ‘Englishness’ in Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day
1.1 Stevens, the English butler
1.2 The English countryside
1.3 English butlers and Dignity
1.4 Lord Darlington
1.5 Englishness and Americans
1.6 Englishness vs. Japaneseness

2. ‘Englishness’ in Nick Hornby’s About a Boy
2.1 Cambridge and London
2.2 “The Lonely Londoners”: Isolation and alienation
2.3 ‘Englishnesses’

1. ‘Englishness’ in Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day

1.1 Stevens, the English butler

In his novel The Remains of the Day (1989) the Japanese British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro tries to question the nature of ‘Englishness’ and its values. The author personifies Englishness in his protagonist Mr Stevens, a butler who can be considered to be more English than any other English butler. Stevens has a strict sense of rank, he is a perfectionist and eager to please. His home is in the memory of his past. But Ishiguro’s butler does not only operate as a domestic servant. He also fulfils a metaphorical sense. Indeed, Stevens represents the mythic England, not so much the historically accurate one when he points out that “[he] tended to concern [him]self with international affairs more than domestic ones” (RD, p. 187). The average English butler would hardly think about the state of the nation. However, this mythic England which represents Englishness by definition does not consider the fact that “Englishness is constructed out of many overlapping myths and images” (CWW, p. 78). Actually, it is “more accurate to speak of ‘Englishnesses’” (CWW, p. 78).

1.2 The English countryside

Stevens knows what constitutes the essence of Englishness and what does not. His car trip to the West Country is also a journey into his English sense of self. He admires the beautiful landscape he encounters on his way to Cornwall where he is going to meet Miss Kenton. Stevens’s description of the scenery though is quite minimalist and stripped of adjectives. But it is this “land [which rises and falls] gently” with its “fields [that] are bordered by hedges and trees” (RD, p. 26) and its “lack of obvious drama” (RD, p. 29) that stands for the greatness of Britain itself.

1.3 English butlers and Dignity

Stevens’s ideas about the greatness of the English countryside also lead him to the question: what is a great (English) butler? In order to answer this question he looks towards the pronouncements of the Hayes Society. This fictitious professional organisation stipulates that elitist butlers must work for the aristocracy or landed gentry. They must not be butlers for businessmen. Stevens is proud to serve in Darlington Hall, because this fits the Hayes Society’s expectations. Besides the attachment to a distinguished household, the Hayes Society specifies that a butler must possess dignity. Stevens aspires to the impossibly high standards of his father/model butler by maintaining his dignity at the expense of his private and personal life. During the 1923 conference, for instance, Stevens continues to serve the guests in the smoking room, although his father is dying upstairs. Besides, during a meeting in 1936 he foregoes the opportunity to dissuade Miss Kenton from marrying Mr Benn in order to attend to Lord Darlington and his guests. Doing so, Stevens discounts his obligations as a son and as a potential husband. When Miss Kenton catches him in his pantry reading a sentimental romance novel he claims that this is “an […] efficient way to maintain and develop one’s command of the English language” (RD, p. 167). It is as if he needs to convince himself and the others that he has no emotional life. However, denial and displacement of his real feelings are essential if he wants to become a butler through and through.

1.4 Lord Darlington

Lord Darlington is a member of the English aristocracy and seems to embody the terms “dignity” and “Englishness”, with their cultural connotations of honour, decency, fair play and stiff upper lip. But his sense of fair play is violated by the Treaty of Versailles and he feels very strongly that Germany has suffered enough. However, Lord Darlington is dealing with political problems beyond his limit. Indeed, he assumes that other people are adhering to the same codes of decency and fair play that he is and has no comprehension of what the Nazi party or Adolf Hitler are really about. Lord Darlington’s involvement in politics ends inevitably with a “fall from grace” by being publicly exposed as a Nazi sympathiser.

Actually, Lord Darlington is not a perfect English gentleman. He is taken in by the Nazis to a dangerous degree, fires two maids because they are Jewish (although he later regrets his decision), and subjects Stevens to cruel ridicule by Mr Spencer, which he later apologizes for. The author gently makes fun of his gentlemanly “emotional restraint” when David Cardinal asks him to speak to his son Reginald about sex as he is getting married soon. Lord Darlington passes this task on to Stevens, and a comical encounter based on a complete misunderstanding follows from it.

Yet Stevens idolizes his employer, Lord Darlington, for he thinks of him as the embodiment of Englishness, and has no life, goal or identity apart from being a butler. When Stevens is on his journey to Cornwall to visit Miss Kenton he even pretends to be a gentleman like Lord Darlington. On the other hand, Stevens cannot face the fact that the man he worshipped as a god, that is Lord Darlington, proved to be unworthy (because of his fascist views). He refuses to admit this because to do so would be to admit that he has completely wasted his life.


Excerpt out of 8 pages


Nick Hornby’s "About a Boy" and Kazuo Ishiguro’s "The Remains of the Day"
The representation of "Englishness(es)" in Hornby's and Ishiguro's literary works
University of Trento
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ISBN (eBook)
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"Englishness" versus "Englishnesses": An Analysis of Nick Hornby’s "About a Boy" and Kazuo Ishiguro’s "The Remains of the Day"
Englishness, Hornby, Ishiguro, About a Boy, The Remains of the Day
Quote paper
Thomas Andreaus (Author), 2004, Nick Hornby’s "About a Boy" and Kazuo Ishiguro’s "The Remains of the Day", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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