Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Dorothy Day’s “road to Rome” was far from straight and narrow. The Long Loneliness is an autobiographical account of the spiritual odyssey that brought her to Catholicism and to cofound the Catholic Worker movement. A writer by profession, she produced a book that reflects her expertise in conveying her feelings and beliefs to the average reader while at the same time satisfying the demands of the scholar. Her earlier autobiography, From Union Square to Rome (1938), was criticized by such diverse publications as Catholic World and The New Republic for its vagueness and its lack of an orderly presentation of her thought. The Long Loneliness remedies those defects.

Aside from the four-page introduction titled “Confession,” the book is divided into three parts, each corresponding to a different phase of her life. Part 1, “Searching,” begins with her birth and ends at an undefined point in the 1920’s. The touchstones used to measure the state of her life during these early years, as with all of her life, are religion and her response to it. While religion was given scant attention in her home, she appears to have been a born mystic. From her earliest recollections, even the mention of God or the sight of someone at prayer affected her deeply. From childhood into her late teens, she cultivated a deep spirituality. A professor at the University of Illinois, however, convinced her that religion was but a crutch for the weak while she was one of the strong. Radical politics and journalism were substituted for religion. While these would always constitute essential elements of her life, they proved to be inadequate unless combined with a spiritual component. Her faith was, in time, revived, and a new Dorothy Day was in the making.

Part 2, “Natural Happiness,” appears to be a continuation of part...

(The entire section is 765 words.)

The Long Loneliness Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Published at the height of the Cold War, The Long Loneliness is the spiritual autobiography of a journalist, social activist, and convert who became one of American Catholicism’s most influential leaders without renouncing her radicalism. Dorothy Day took the book’s title from a quotation by seventeenth century English nun Mary Ward. “Long loneliness” refers to Day’s life-long search for community. Discovering that faith grants neither a place in community nor meaning in life automatically, Day, several years after her conversion, resolves these issues by founding the Catholic Worker movement in 1933, a group devoted to hospitality for the poor, nonviolent revolution, and pacifism in the name of the Christian gospel.

The autobiography traces the tensions in Dorothy Day’s life and explains how she resolves them. During her childhood and young adulthood, religious faith and social awareness define her identity. Although Day’s parents are unchurched Protestants, she joins the Episcopal church as a teenager. Precocious in her concern for workers and sensitive to poverty, which her family occasionally experiences, but unfamiliar with social gospel Christianity, Day is attracted to socialism and decries religious hypocrisy. The failure of Christianity to solve social problems seems to Day to violate its central message of loving God through others.

The young adult’s second major struggle involves defining her relationship with her family and asserting her individuality. Eager for independence but...

(The entire section is 631 words.)

The Long Loneliness Context

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The Long Loneliness merges two distinct traditions of women’s autobiography. In the style of Emma Goldman, Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, and Jane Addams, Dorothy Day focuses on social injustice and her work to end it. The conversion story and the spiritual element in Day’s mature social activism situate the autobiography within the spiritual narrative tradition, unlike the writings of liberal and radical women activists. This integration of religious faith and social activism earns for Dorothy Day a special place as an innovator and enables her to shape a gender identity variously influenced by bourgeois ideals, early twentieth century bohemianism, and Catholicism. The scholarship of Margaret Jones, Mary Mason, June O’Connor, and Nancy Roberts restores Dorothy Day’s story to the center of women’s experience with their analyses of her journalism career, her extension of motherhood to social housekeeping, and her gender-neutral radical movement to encourage all Christians to live the gospel.

The Long Loneliness Bibliography

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Jones, Margaret C. Heretics and Hellraisers: Women Contributors to “The Masses,” 1911-1917. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993. Analyzes the writings and art of more than thirty women. Considers their creative works part of the feminist legacy. Day’s later views on feminism are considered ironic. Illustrations, notes, and bibliography.

Klejment, Anne, and Alice Klejment. Dorothy Day and “The Catholic Worker”: A Bibliography and Index. New York: Garland Press, 1986. A tool for further research, the work lists Day’s known publications, indexes the Catholic Worker chronologically and by author, and annotates one hundred books and articles by other authors on a wide range of issues relating to Day and her movement. Author and title indexes are included.

Mason, Mary. “Dorothy Day and Women’s Spiritual Autobiography.” In American Women’s Autobiography: Fea(s)ts of Memory, edited by Margo Culley. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992. A major feminist appraisal of Day’s writings. Argues that Day felt ambivalent about women’s roles. Includes notes and a bibliography.

Miller, William D. Dorothy Day: A Biography. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1982. An important biography of Day with a focus on the period before 1945. Examines Day’s public and private life, including her relationship with her daughter. Based on materials unavailable to other researchers. The author is unfamiliar with feminist theory. No notes or bibliography. Photographs.

Roberts, Nancy L. Dorothy Day and the “Catholic Worker.” Albany: State University of New York Press, 1984. A highly accessible book recommended for the reader who is interested in the history of the movement and in Day’s journalism career. Notes, bibliography, and illustrations. Advances a strong argument for Dorothy Day’s skills as writer, editor, and publisher.