'The Long Loneliness' at 50

Dorothy Day's enduring autobiography

Dorothy Day was a material girl." My seminar students laughed when I said that in the middle of a discussion of The Long Loneliness, but I wasn’t trying to be clever. Fifty years after its first publication, two generations past its initial historical moment, and a generation or so into a cottage industry of reverence, activism, and scholarship on Day, her autobiography can still speak to us, and the most engaging language in which it converses is that of sacrament, with dialects both personal and political.

Not that The Long Loneliness is the most reliable or illuminating source on Day or the Catholic Worker movement. Day omits some especially unpleasant or unflattering episodes from her radical days in Greenwich Village: her abortion (fictionally camouflaged in an early novel, The Eleventh Virgin) and her drinking bouts with fellow bohemians. (In Exile’s Return, Malcolm Cowley recounted how Day once literally drank Eugene O’Neill under the table.) While she’s bravely unapologetic about her radical politics, she does write elliptically about her opposition to American entry into World War II-a concession, wise but still misleading, to America’s postwar euphoria. Her other books are more informative about different aspects of her vocation. Loaves and Fishes (1962), for instance, contains more vivid vignettes of the New York "house of hospitality." On Pilgrimage: The Sixties (1973) chronicles her reactions to...

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About the Author

Eugene McCarraher is associate professor of humanities and history at Villanova University. He is completing The Enchantments of Mammon: Corporate Capitalism and the American Moral Imagination.