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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 373

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Catholic personalism: While she never uses the term "personalism" in her autobiography, Day's Catholic Worker vision (and Peter Maurin's) is animated by Catholic personalism. Catholic personalism, based on a revival of medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas's idea of personhood, gained traction in the early decades of the twentieth century. It was seen as counterweight to fast-growing mass movements, such as communism and fascism, that tended to subordinate the needs of the individual human to the objectives of the "revolution" or the "nation."

In contrast, Catholic personalism stressed the unique personhood of every human as a child of God. In this theology human beings have innate dignity and can not be used as mere "things." Humans are not things because they are part spirit and made in God's image. The proper stance toward other human beings is to treat them with love and respect, as beings both material and spiritual. In Catholic personalism, both body and soul must be attended to.

While Day does not use the word, personalism shows up in the book. For instance, while the Catholic Worker house in New York attracted a large number of prominent visitors, she makes a point of noting a visit from Jacques Maritain, a major proponent of Catholic personalism. Further, the vision Day and Maurin adopted of "work not wages," derives from personalism. While modern capitalism might see humans as entirely material beings and might want to reduce them to productive units earning wages, the "work not wages" movement advocated for attending to the dignity of the whole person, body and spirit. A person would do meaningful work and receive in return the necessities of life, including a community to live in. Day and Maurin's Catholic Worker farms, which she writes about in the autobiography, were an attempt to realize that ideal.

Day's writing style: Influenced by her background as a communist and, especially, her time as a journalist for communist newspapers, Day made a point to write in a plain, accessible style, using ordinary words and images. Her object was always to connect with working people, and, though well-read and educated, she went to pains not to use elite images or allusions. This makes her writing, like George Orwell's, easily accessible to the common reader.

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 765

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 1, but there is a change of focus that makes this section unique. It is a phase of transition. Its highlights are the birth of a daughter, Tamar Teresa, resulting from her common-law marriage to Forster Batterham, an anarchist by conviction and a biologist by profession, and her entry into the Catholic church. In effect, her conversion had occurred prior to the child’s birth. Until then, however, she had tried to have it both ways: practicing Catholicism to the extent possible without being a formal member while living with a man without benefit of clergy. Her determination that her daughter would be reared as a Catholic led her to conclude that she, in conscience, must enter the Church and leave her atheistic lover, who would have no part of a church marriage. One stage of her life was ending, but another had not quite begun. Somehow her life as a Catholic had to be blended with her journalistic talents and service to the poor. A move to New York in search of this synthesis brought her into contact with an itinerant French peasant and philosopher with a dream, Peter Maurin. Part 3, “Love Is the Message,” begins with her meeting with Maurin in 1932 and ends with his death in 1949. Together they founded The Catholic Worker newspaper and the movement of the same name. The synthesis had been effected.

Day’s purpose for writing The Long Loneliness is never stated. Given the work’s conclusion and date of publication, however, Maurin’s death was probably influential. She looked upon him as her teacher, and he had set her life on the course it was to follow thereafter. With his passing, another era in her life had passed.

Nevertheless, the book, or one like it, would probably have been written: She, like the critics, found From Union Square to Rome inadequate—but for a different reason. She had omitted the negative aspects of her life, concentrating on those things that had led her to God. In retrospect, she realized that what was meant to edify would discourage rather than encourage emulation. Joy without sorrow and good without evil do not correspond to the human condition. Thus, just as she gave herself to others in her daily life, she gave her story without reservation to her readers in The Long Loneliness. She wrote as she was “impelled to write”; for her, this meant that “you write about yourself because in the long run all man’s problems are the same, his human needs of sustenance and love.” Nevertheless, she noted, given the importance of the individual in the eyes of God, it is vital to seek an understanding of the meaning of life and the destiny of man. This added dimension makes the book something more than an autobiography.

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 631

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 devoted to her mother, sister, and youngest brother, Day leaves her family to attend college, where she becomes a socialist. After quitting school, she briefly rejoins her family, but her desire to be a newspaper reporter leads to a showdown between herself and her conservative father, who cannot accept his eldest daughter’s determination to have a career. She works for several radical publications during the World War I era. Working for the rights of political prisoners and militant women suffragists, she is arrested for the first time.

Wartime censorship destroys the radical press, and Day searches for other meaningful work. The autobiography is vague about her life from the end of the war through the early 1920’s. She confesses, however, that her next struggle involves sexuality. Day rejects conventional marriage and enters into a domestic partnership with a fellow radical. The birth of their daughter draws the joyful mother into the Catholic church. The conversion precipitates still another conflict, this time between Day and her partner, who cannot accept her religiosity, and their union comes to an end.

A second stage in the conversion process occurs in 1932. Day meets Peter Maurin, who admires her accounts of radical protests in the Catholic press and whose ideas on radical Catholicism influence her. The Catholic Worker movement takes shape around their shared vision. Dedicated to relief for the poor, social revolution, and absolute pacifism, the community of volunteers and guests is the answer to Day’s long loneliness. As leader of the movement, she integrates her identity: mother, journalist, Catholic convert, caregiver, advocate of the oppressed, and social revolutionary.

The autobiography is formally divided into three major parts, although Day devotes equal time to her preconversion and postconversion life. Preceding the first part is a short section entitled “Confession,” in which Day discusses the writing of autobiography. “Searching” relates Day’s lengthy struggle for religious faith while remaining true to the cause of social revolution. “Natural Happiness” covers her domestic partnership, the birth of her daughter, her conversion, and her initial inability to find a place for herself within the church. “Love Is the Measure” begins with Peter Maurin’s tutelage of Day in Catholic social thought and his encouragement of her efforts to launch a radical paper, the Catholic Worker, and the movement of the same name. A brief postscript highlights love for others as the root of community and of faith.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 158

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.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 279

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.