Masterplots II: Nonfiction Series The Long Loneliness Analysis
The Long Loneliness is at once a number of things. Viewed from the most obvious perspective, it is an account of a spiritual journey beset by obstacles that sent the pilgrim off the main highway onto side streets headed in a different direction. In each case, however, the detour in the end provided a new impetus to return to the highway and continue the journey.
Day viewed all of this as something other than a series of coincidences. On one of her detours, living a thoroughly sensuous life while cavorting with a variety of radicals and playwrights whose lives centered on the Provincetown Playhouse and the nearby saloons on Cape Cod, she first heard Francis Thompson’s haunting poem “The Hound of Heaven” recited in the unlikely “atmosphere of smoke and drink” by Eugene O’Neill. The idea of being pursued by God hit home and started her thinking once again of the meaning of life. In time she was back on the long-abandoned highway. As this is not the last time she mentions “The Hound of Heaven,” it seems clear that she came to view her life in the light of Thompson’s poem.
Literature in all of its forms played a vital role in shaping Day’s thought and actions, as the book makes evident. She was an avid and eclectic reader and became a very complex person. The works of Upton Sinclair and Pyotr Kropotkin were instrumental in focusing her attention on the plight of the working-class poor, and the latter, together with those of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Leo Tolstoy, helped set her in the direction of anarchism. At the same time, Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevski’s writings kept her faith in God alive, and Nikolai Gogol’s kindled it to a white heat. William James’s works awoke her to the value of voluntary poverty while Jack London’s nourished her radicalism.
Such readings alone, however, do not a Catholic make. The psalmists of the Old Testament and the writers of the New Testament were her frequent companions. The fifteenth century Imitatio Christi (The Imitation of Christ) was a source of strength at crucial times, as were the works of Saint Augustine, whose life was so similar to her own. She read Augustine’s works in her teens and quoted him often, thus indicating his impact on her. In her autobiography, she refers to his negative view of the state to bolster her...
(The entire section is 962 words.)
Masterplots II: Women’s Literature Series The Long Loneliness Analysis
The Long Loneliness reinterprets and updates Dorothy Day’s life story as related in the fictionalized work The Eleventh Virgin (1924) and From Union Square to Rome (1938), the first account of her conversion. The Eleventh Virgin, even with its probable embellishment of details, reconstructed dialogues, and name changes, enriches study of Day’s life, revealing her attitudes a few years before her religious conversion. The novel’s authenticity is confirmed by Day’s credo of writing from experience, its obvious parallels to the subsequent autobiographies, and her own remarks to her biographer, William D. Miller. Embarrassed by its mildly racy plot, breathless style, and moral immaturity, Day disavowed the “very bad book,” to the point of buying and destroying copies.
Favoring plot over psychological analysis and a contrived ending over reality, the book makes a bid to rejoin the heroine June (Dorothy Day) and her feckless companion Dick (Lionel Moise). June rejects the traditional domesticity of her mother to relish the excitement of a career and radical activism, while she samples the sexual freedom of “new womanhood.” Disappointed in love and career, in an amazing turnaround, June resolves to marry her unreliable paramour and have babies. Day’s personal agenda at the time is reflected in this jejune ending. The work documents Day’s gender-role discomfort well before her religious conversion, and the unlikely scenario underscores Day’s inability to envision an alternative to traditional female domesticity or its contemporary opposite, new womanhood.
The puzzling title The Eleventh Virgin, may refer to a biblical parable about salvation in which five virgins with oil lamps join a wedding feast and five others, who are unprepared, are turned away. Among neither the saved nor the damned, the solitary eleventh virgin ends her alienation by dreaming of marriage to the unworthy lover and motherhood—unlikely developments, despite her cheery optimism.
From Union Square to Rome revisits many events covered in the fictionalized autobiography. Addressed to Day’s communist brother (although initially published in an obscure Catholic magazine), the narrative links Day’s radical social conscience to her...
(The entire section is 944 words.)
The Long Loneliness is the centerpiece of Dorothy Day’s works. Her early articles in such publications as the Socialist Party’s Call, the Communist Party’s The Masses, The Liberator, and New Masses, and the liberal Catholic Commonweal are all but forgotten, as is her fictionalized autobiography, The Eleventh Virgin (1924). The inadequacies of From Union Square to Rome have been noted. Yet these earlier bits and pieces all contain elements of the Dorothy Day who emerges in The Long Loneliness, the work of a mature and integrated personality.
Loaves and Fishes, her history of the Catholic Worker movement published in 1963, can rightly be termed a sequel to The Long Loneliness. As autobiographical as it is historical, it resembles its predecessor. Though received by reviewers with acclaim, it is no substitute for The Long Loneliness. Although it can stand alone, it takes on an additional dimension when the two are combined.
Therese (1960), a biography of Therese de Lisieux, proves that Day can write just as well working from written source materials as she can from personal experiences. It also reconfirms her standing as an expert biographer. Not only the principal subject of the book but also every member of her family comes vividly to life. As in The Long Loneliness and Loaves and Fishes, Day demonstrates that she is second to none in understanding different personalities and depicting them as unique individuals.
She states in the preface to Therese that one of her reasons for writing the book was to make Catholics who think of themselves as being of little worth understand that they are much more. Therese led her life in obscurity but nevertheless came to affect the world and countless people in it. Day might have said the same about herself. Like Therese’s autobiography, hers demonstrates how much one can affect the lives of others by doing small things, in her case performing acts of charity for the littlest people of all. Therein lies the significance and popularity of this book. However helpless or powerless one feels, an accumulation of little things is no little thing in the eyes of God.