P O S T E D B Y A L B E R T
The Countess Apraxina recently directed me to this passage from Dostoevsky’s Demons (more commonly known as The Possessed).* Clearly, bold, Third Sector visionaries encountered resistance even then!
[A]lthough Varvara Petrovna had in recent years become exceedingly economical, as they said, and even a bit stingy, still she could on occasion be unsparing of money for charity proper. She was a member of a charitable society in the capital. In a recent famine year she had sent 500 roubles to Petersburg, to the main committee for the receipt of aid for the victims, and this was talked about in town. Finally, quite recently, before the appointment of the new governor, she had all but established a local ladies’ committee to aid the poorest new mothers in our town and in the province. She was severely reproached among us for being ambitious; but the notorious impetuousness of Varvara Petrovna’s character, together with her persistence, nearly triumphed over the obstacles; the society was almost set up, and the initial idea broadened more and more in the delighted mind of the foundress: she was already dreaming of establishing a similar committee in Moscow, of gradually expanding its activities through all the provinces. And then, with a sudden change of governors, everything came to a halt; and the new governor’s wife, it was said, had already managed to utter in society a few pointed and, above all, apt and sensible objections regarding the supposed impracticability of the basic idea of such a committee, which—with embellishments, of course—had already been passed on to Varvara Petrovna.
Did the governor’s wife object to her logic model? her plans for project sustainability? Dostoevsky never says. As Arthur Chapman once remarked, envy is like a fly that passes all the body’s sounder parts and dwells upon the sores. The passage continues:
God alone knows what’s hidden in men’s hearts, but I suppose it was even with a certain pleasure that Varvara Petrovna now paused at the very gates of the cathedral, knowing that the governor’s wife would pass by presently, and then everyone else, and “let her see for herself how it makes no difference to me what she thinks or what further witticisms she may produce concerning the vanity of my charitable works. Take that, all of you!”
* Translated from the Russian by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, copyright 1994, and published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York.
Image source: University of Kansas