“It is all very well, in these changing times, to adapt one's work to take in duties not traditionally within one's realm; but bantering is of another dimension altogether. For one thing, how would one know for sure that at any given moment a response of the bantering sort is truly what is expected? One need hardly dwell on the catastrophic possibility of uttering a bantering remark only to discover it wholly inappropriate.”
- Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day
This is from my second reading for British history class. I had tried Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go recently and didn't finish it, but this (more renowned) novel of his is really good so far. It's in the form of a 1956 travelogue by Mr. Stevens, the butler of Darlington Hall, during his road trip in the English countryside.
Overall, the characterization of Mr. Stevens is well-done, and it cracked me up to read of his attempts to reply with "witticisms" to his American employer's jokes (but as for his characterization...why are Americans always portrayed as informal and jokey?). Some may see Mr. Stevens as paranoid, but I feel the same way sometimes, truly terrified of having possibly said the wrong thing!
The book makes me even more depressed about the class system, though. It seems like Mr. Stevens feels like he has to constantly prove himself worthy and constantly maintain "dignity." And I can see how somebody in his position could come to feel undignified or ridiculous, which is sadder still.