The Long Loneliness Essay - Critical Context

Dorothy Day

Critical Context

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.