The novel The Remains of the Day tells the story of Stevens, an English butler who dedicates his life to the loyal service of Lord Darlington (mentioned in increasing detail in flashbacks). The novel begins with Stevens receiving a letter from an ex co-worker called Miss Kenton, describing her married life, which he believes hints at her unhappy marriage. The receipt of the letter allows Stevens the opportunity to revisit this once-cherished relationship, if only under the guise of possible re-employment. Stevens' new employer, a wealthy American, Mr. Farraday, encourages Stevens to borrow a car to take a well-earned break, a "motoring trip." As he sets out, Stevens has the opportunity to reflect on his unmoving loyalty to Lord Darlington, the meaning of the term "dignity", and even his relationship with his father. Ultimately Stevens is forced to ponder the true nature of his relationship with Miss Kenton. As the book progresses, increasing evidence of Miss Kenton's one-time love for Stevens, and his for her, is revealed.
Working together during the years leading up to WWII, Stevens and Miss Kenton fail to admit their true feelings. All of their recollected conversations show a professional friendship, which came close, but never dared, to cross the line to romance.
Miss Kenton, it later emerges, has been married for over 20 years and therefore is no longer Miss Kenton, but although Mrs. Benn admits to occasionally wondering what her life with Stevens might have been like, she has come to love her husband, and is looking forward to the birth of their first grandchild. Stevens muses over lost opportunities, both with Miss Kenton and with his long-time employer, Lord Darlington. At the end of the novel, Stevens instead focuses on the "remains of [his] day", referring to his future service with Mr. Farraday.