The Duty of Delight
The Diaries of Dorothy Day
Edited by Robert Ellsberg
Marquette University Press, $42, 700 pp.
In 1846, Søren Kierkegaard wrote, “All religiousness is rooted in being moved, in being shaken, in qualitative pressure on the springs of subjectivity.” Kierkegaard’s observation seems relevant to these diaries of Dorothy Day, most of them previously unpublished, because they offer deeper access to the subjective wellsprings of Day’s compelling religious life.
Day has become ever more widely known to the general public for her founding (with Peter Maurin) of the Catholic Worker movement in 1933, her lifelong commitment to social justice and the poor, and her unwavering pacifism. For many Catholics and others familiar with her life and work, Dorothy Day is also a major religious figure, a source of fascination, inspiration, and sometimes awe. The inevitable quote from David O’Brien’s Commonweal obituary in 1980 still holds: she remains “the most significant, interesting, and influential person in the history of American Catholicism.”
This volume will do nothing to alter or diminish that judgment, and it may well reinforce it, offering as it does fuller access to her most personal thoughts and reflections. True, no one who has read much of Dorothy Day’s published writing, whether her autobiography The Long Loneliness or her Catholic Worker columns and editorials, will be terribly surprised by the spirit and tone of these diary entries, nor by some of their basic...