In Charles Dickens’ famous novel, Bleak House, there is an unforgettable character called Mrs. Jellyby. And if she was not such an archetype for certain real types of persons, she would be almost comical.
Mrs. Jellyby is obsessed with what Dickens coined “telescopic philanthropy,” that is an alleged love for humanity but always at long distance, faraway, meanwhile showing little charity to those around her, even (or especially) her own family. She is in love with causes… in Africa, or anywhere but where it should count.
She has no time for her own children or husband. She’s too busy in her “causes”. Her family’s bare necessities irritate her daily, since they always seem to be in her way. And they know it because she lets them know it. So they are grievously emotionally neglected.
Her poor husband is driven to despair by the situation, near to suicide, as she goes from one “cause” to the next, while he is isolated from her “charity”.
Only her suffering oldest daughter, Caddy, tries desperately to win some scrap of affection from her mother by working long hours *under* her, answering formatted correspondence generated by the never-ending bustling for “the cause”. And Caddy nearly wastes away in the trying.
I have always wondered how many political and theological Progressives would find that shoe fitting. Or any of us.
It’s easy for Mrs. Jellyby to love “humanity” in the abstract, people whom she’ll never meet, and to love her own “charity”.
But one like Dorothy Day, who, out of a traditional Faith, never neglected the real poor around her, said true charity towards real and flawed persons like ourselves can be a “harsh and dreadful” challenge. And I suspect every good mother knows this in the dreadful routine which sometimes leaves little time for care of self…
Which is why we husbands (and the children when old enough) need to be attentive to her need for help and regular fun and recreations outside the home which show how much she is appreciated for caring so deeply … about her own.