Document Type

Conference Paper

Publication Date




Conference Name

International Society for the Study of European Ideas - ISSEI 8th International Conference, July 22-27, 2002, Aberystwyth, Wales


This paper draws its title from an anecdote Stevens, the butler in The Remains of the Day (1989), recounts to illustrate the primary attribute for servants: the ability to perform duties without leaving any discernible traces. Mrs. D.C. Webster, an American married into British “old money,” expresses astonishment at the treatment of servants during an interview for the documentary, The Secret World of Fame and Fortune. Mrs. Webster “had a staff of twelve . . . They would do everything for you. If you took a sweater off, it would disappear. If they were too loud or if they were seen, they would be dismissed.” The Webster home is typical of the class and the era to which it and Ishiguro’s Darlington Hall belong. Only the commission of an error causes an awareness of the servant’s presence. The unfortunate effect of such a system is that not only do the servant’s efforts go unseen, and therefore unrewarded, the servant becomes invisible. In this regard, Stevens once complains that serving two dinner guests is more difficult than serving a full room because it is “most difficult to achieve that balance between attentiveness and the illusion of absence that is essential to good waiting” (72). More significant than Stevens’ efforts to be invisible is Lord Darlington’s attitude towards his butler. On the occasion cited, Lord Darlington assures his dinner companion that he can talk in front of Stevens, as if Stevens were not in the room with them.

Original Publication Citation

Ouellette, M. A. (2002, July). 'There shall be no discernible traces left': The invisible butler in Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day [Paper presentation]. International Society for the Study of European Ideas (ISSEI) 8th International Conference, Aberystwyth, Wales.