There’s something steady, steadying about the old country. Did you know that the first western experiment with sound money came when Henry I chopped off the hands of coin makers who were diluting silver with other metals while carrying out their craft (somebody tell the FED!)? Did you know that the first western ideas of property and justice were established pre-Magna Carta with the ‘reeve’ and ‘jury’ system of ancient Saxon England? Recent studies have shown that almost 50% of Britons live within one hundred miles give or take of where their ancestors lived, going back almost 1000 years. While America is perhaps known for its messy churn, its comings and goings as people move in and out, up and down, make and lose their fortunes to exist only for a season – where the grandchildren of important politicians or industry moguls might work right beside the next tycoon at a fast food restaurant as one goes up and another falls back: not so for Britain.
At least that’s how it has been; at least that’s how it is captured in our collective imagination as we watch shows like “Downton Abby” and “The Queen” and as we read books – books like “Remains of the Day”.
Truth of the matter is that the United Kingdom has changed a great deal since the days of Victorian England; from the pre-First World War classist England dominated by the nobility living lives of leisure in their grand old houses. Yet somehow, despite the collapse of the old houses – and the old names – England still has a sort of comforting stability which provides a bedrock for her American neighbors even two centuries after we said goodbye to the Queen.
“Remains of the Day” is about that. It is a beautifully written, simple story about a butler. It’s not even a story at all, really; it hearkens back to W. Somerset Maugham and T.S. Elliott more than it does to Stephen King or Clive Cussler as it presents us the ruminations of an old English butler who had served a great house, his memories and his impressions as he engages in a simple motor drive across his country. From his monologues and flashbacks emerge a picture of a man firmly content in his ‘commoner’ class; who considers great affairs as matters to be conducted by great men, who he has no compunction about considering his superiors. This of course offends every drop of American blood running through my veins – there’s something egalitarian and rebellious about us from the west; and even more so from the southwest of the west, my home. Nevertheless, despite this, there is also something steadying in the thought of a well-ordered society, which appeals to us – especially in times of madness.
For those who understand what I’m saying, you’ll enjoy this book. For those who don’t, “Remains of the Day” might not be for you.
Eliot, not Elliot.