In the section for this week, we see another example of Mrs. Jellyby choosing her charity over her family. In preparing for Caddy’s wedding, Esther tries to “imbue Mrs. Jellyby beforehand with some faint sense of the occasion,” but instead, Mrs. Jellyby puts her work before her children—Caddy’s mother “hold[s] Borrioboolan interviews by appointment,” while her children “tumbled down the house, as they had always been accustomed to do,” (402*) We have talked previously about how this charity work seems self-centered on Mrs. Jellyby’s part. I am reminded of Mr. Jarndyce’s quote in chapter 8: “there were two classes of charitable people: one, the people who did a little and made a great deal of noise; the other, the people who did a great deal and made no noise at all,” where Mrs. Jellyby represents the former (109-110).
This made me think about how people view charity today. I recently studied the Rwandan Genocide of 1994 and one of the main criticisms of how the situation was handled internationally was that assistance (both from governments and NGOs) came reactively rather than proactively. While some groups “played dumb” about the situation in this African nation, the fact is that many scholars knew that the Genocide was going to happen and begged for assistance to stop it. The situation quickly escaladed and it is possible that it could have been avoided or at least tempered by intervention before the violence started—but no one wanted to get involved in the fray. However, after the dust settled and people began to realize the magnitude of what had happened, there was a cry for assistance to the country. For years after the Genocide, Rwanda has been the “darling” of international donors wanting to help rebuild because the nation has emerged into what appears to be a stable society, but ethnic tensions and repression remain.
This is one situation that I think could have been helped if people viewed charity as something to do for its own sake, rather than with a “Mrs. Jellby” type attitude—treating charity as something to do because the cause is popular.
*I am using a different edition so my page numbers are off.
Lots of information on Rwanda if anyone is interested: http://www.hrw.org/legacy/reports/1999/rwanda/