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While on his morning drive, Stevens once again discusses the quality of "greatness" in a butler. He says that a butler should be associated with a distinguished household, but that the "distinguished" butlers of his time, unlike the previous generation of butlers, search for employers who further the progress of humanity—employers who, in addition to being aristocratic, are morally noble.
Stevens suddenly realizes that an odd heated smell is coming from the engine of the car. He keeps driving, looks for a house where a chauffeur can assist him, and draws up in front of a large Victorian mansion. A man comes out of the house and fixes the Ford, which merely needs a refill of radiator water. Stevens asks the man how many people are employed at the house, because he can see through the windows that many of the rooms are dust-sheeted. The man tells Stevens that his employer is trying to sell the place off, because he "hasn't got much use for a house this size now." The man asks where Stevens is a butler, and when Stevens replies that he is from Darlington Hall, the man is very impressed, commenting, "You must be top-notch, working in a place like that. Can't be many like you left, eh?" The man then asks if Stevens used to work for Lord Darlington, but Stevens denies it. The man recommends that Stevens visit Mortimer's Pond.
While at the pond, Stevens explains to us that this is not the first time he has denied working for Lord Darlington—he also did so once before when an American couple, Mr. and Mrs. Wakefield, came to visit Mr. Farraday. When Mrs. Wakefield asked if Stevens had been at the house during Lord Darlington's residence, Stevens replied that he had not. Stevens explains that he is not in any way ashamed to have worked for Lord Darlington, but that so many foolish things are said about Lord Darlington that he denies working for him in order to avoid "unpleasantness." Stevens reiterates that Darlington was a man of great moral stature, and that he is proud to have worked in a truly distinguished household.
The previous night, Stevens slept in a small inn called "The Coach and Horses" outside the town of Taunton, Somerset. Upon arriving he went down to the bar, and the six or seven people there made a joke about how Stevens would not get much sleep that night due to the frequent loud arguments between the proprietor and his wife. The bar patrons all laughed at this remark, and Stevens felt that he should respond in kind. He says that the mistress' noise is "A local variation on the cock crow, no doubt." His remark is followed by silence, and Stevens is disappointed that his attempt at bantering failed once again, especially because he has lately been listening to a comedy show on the radio to help improve his skills.
After setting off, Stevens stops in the center of Taunton to take his midmorning tea. Out the window, he sees a directional sign for the village of Mursden. Mursden was where Giffen and Co., a silver polish company, used to be located. Stevens thinks that the founding of Giffen and Co. in the early 1920s is largely responsible for aristocratic households placing increased emphasis on having finely polished silver. Stevens claims that Mr. Marshall, a contemporary butler whom Stevens also deems "great," had such a high standard for the polishing of silver in Charleville House that visitors would often compliment the host on the brightness of the silver.
Stevens recalls that Lady Astor and George Bernard Shaw, during visits to Darlington Hall, complimented the silver. Stevens also tells of one night when Lord Halifax and Herr Ribbentrop came to dinner. After the dinner was over, Lord Darlington commented to Stevens that the finely polished silver had quite impressed Lord Halifax, and had put him into a better frame of mind.
Stevens remarks that while Herr Ribbentrop is regarded today as a "trickster," around 1936–1937 he was regarded as an honorable gentleman who, when he dined at great houses in England, always did so as a guest of honor. Stevens is annoyed with people who talk of those times as though they had known all along that Ribbentrop was deceitful, because these same people also speak poorly of Lord Darlington. It was not uncommon for Lord Darlington to stay with Nazis when his visited Germany during those times, but Stevens emphasizes that many established ladies and gentlemen in England also did so, not knowing the true nature of the Nazi regime. Though the leader of the British Union of Fascists, Sir Oswald Mosley, visited Darlington Hall on three occasions, Stevens insists that these visits all took place before the fascist organization "had betrayed its true nature."
Again, Stevens reflects with great satisfaction upon the episode with Lord Halifax and the silver, reiterating that he is happy to have worked in a house that contributed to the course of history. Indeed, he feels he practiced his profession at the fulcrum of great affairs. Stevens thinks of an incident that alarmed him last April regarding the silver. One evening at dinner, he saw Mr. Farraday examining the tip of his fork, at which point Stevens quickly removed the offending utensil and replaced it with a new one. He says the mistake was due to the current staff shortage, and thinks that if Miss Kenton returns, such slips would become a thing of the past.
These two sections give us a number of examples that demonstrate how much Stevens is out of place with the present time. The manservant who refills Stevens's radiator exemplifies the new sort of handyman that has replaced the more specific employees—butler, under-butler, housekeeper, and so on—that large manor houses required before World War II. The manservant's comment that there "aren't many like [Stevens] left" is completely accurate: it is as though Stevens is a species on the verge of extinction. Furthermore, Stevens's failed attempt at bantering in the bar of The Coach and Horses again illustrates his inability to adapt to new situations. His attempt at a witty comment is overwrought and bizarre, with the result that his audience fails to understand what he is talking about.
The fact that Giffen and Co. is closing signifies more than the fact that the practice of polishing silver is becoming obsolete: it is symbolic of Stevens's profession itself. Polishing silver is no longer high on most people's list of priorities now that the days of manor house galas are coming to an end. In these two sections of the novel, Stevens shows himself to be so far behind the times that he is a somewhat pathetic character. It is sad that polished silver is Stevens's only concrete contribution to the course of history, and that his skewed concept of dignity allows him to take a great deal of pride in this meager claim.
However, Stevens's emphasis on the fact that Lord Darlington was not the only Englishman who was a Nazi sympathizer is accurate. Stevens makes a good point when he says that it is easy for people to look back and be critical, but that it was much harder to tell the true nature of the Nazi regime at the time. Lord Darlington's personal situation involving Herr Bremann also demonstrates why Darlington was especially prone to giving the Germans the benefit of the doubt in World War II, even though this course of action turned out to be the worst possible one. In the character of Lord Darlington we see that in war, motives and people are more complicated than they may first appear. However, there is little doubt also that in persisting to help Germans, Lord Darlington acted stupidly, even if he did so with the best of intentions.
Although Stevens says that the only reason he denies having worked for Lord Darlington is to avoid "unpleasantness," it is clear that this claim is flimsy. If Stevens were truly proud of Lord Darlington and had no doubts about the virtuous nature of his employer's actions, it seems that Stevens would take every opportunity to defend Darlington. Stevens's strange behavior demonstrates that he does have doubts of his own: perhaps, though Stevens will never admit it himself, he feels that Lord Darlington may have been mistaken in what he did. To admit this, however, would be to admit that he himself was also mistaken, as he lived to serve an employer he viewed as virtuous. Because it is difficult for Stevens to admit an error on his own part, it is a small wonder that he is loath to admit that Lord Darlington may have been wrong.
In this section it becomes clear that Stevens feels that Miss Kenton will be able to fix everything. It seems she will not only work wonders around the house, but also allay Stevens's doubts about the past. If Miss Kenton were to return, Stevens could stop mulling over memories in his head and stop doubting the wisdom of his past actions and choices, at least with regard to his relationship with Miss Kenton. Especially because Stevens will never be able to change the fact that he trusted Lord Darlington to a fault, it is all the more important that he reclaim part of his past through Miss Kenton. She appears to be the solution not only to literal problems such as polishing silver, but to many deeper doubts and regrets as well.
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