Dorothy Day review: biography of a radical rebel is the masterpiece she deserves
John Loughery and Blythe Randolph achieve wonders in their life story of one of Francis Is four morally exemplary Americans
An iconoclast with a long, peripatetic life is an ideal subject for a biography. Add in motley enthusiasms and fierce convictions, plus connections to many of the most audacious artists and activists of her time, and you have the makings of a masterpiece.
Of course these elements must fall into the right hands. Biographers must be imaginative researchers, sophisticated thinkers and most importantly fluid writers. If they can illuminate all of the nuances of the eras their subject inhabited, their storytelling can become compelling history.
In the kind of literary alchemy most authors can only dream of, John Loughery and Blythe Randolph have blended all of these elements to produce this masterful biography of Dorothy Day, a great anomaly in American life: an orthodox Catholic and a political radical, a rebel who courted controversy whose life ran from the Spanish-American War to the election of Ronald Reagan.
At a moment when a pandemic is bringing all the failures of unbridled capitalism into stark relief, nothing could be more timely than the biography of a convert to Catholicism who preached that the New Testament called on all believers to fight racism, war and poverty or it meant nothing at all and for whom faith was less about solace than a call to action and disruption. Piety and conformity to social norms had little to do with each other.
In 2015, speaking before Congress, Pope Francis I named Day one of four morally exemplary Americans, along with Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr and Trappist monk Thomas Merton.
Born in New York City in 1897, Day moved when her father, a reporter in love with the race track, got a job with a San Francisco paper. The experiment lasted just three years, ending when the earthquake of 1906 leveled her fathers place of employment. They moved to Chicago.
At 12, Dorothy had a kind of victory when her non-religious parents allowed her to be baptized as an Episcopalian a way station on her path to Catholicism, because her father believed only Irish washerwomen and policemen are Roman Catholic.
In a deep irony the authors barely acknowledge, the future radicals career was launched by a $300 scholarship from the Chicago Examiner, one of the many newspapers owned by the deeply reactionary William Randolph Hearst. At the University of Illinois in Urbana, politics entirely displaced religion as [Days] great preoccupation. She also took up smoking and cursing, habits that would serve her well when she left college long before graduation to move to Greenwich Village.
Snaring a job at The Call, New Yorks only daily socialist paper, with a circulation of 15,000, Day crossed paths with everyone from birth control advocate Margaret Sanger to Edna St Vincent Millay and Eugene ONeill. Her deep but brief friendship with ONeill looked like an affair to friends, although Day insisted it was only affectionate companionship.
The authors portrait of bohemian Greenwich Village at its height is one of the books first and greatest pleasures, including a fine description of the Provincetown Players, an avant garde group of playwrights who relocated in 1915 from Cape Cod to a brownstone at 139 MacDougal Street. Besides ONeill, Days acquaintances there included John Reed, Louise Bryant, Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams.
The Village offered something unconventional and sustaining a spiritual haven a great anomaly in Gods Country, a sort of liberal radical small town filled with political rebels, intellectuals, gay men and lesbians and those who had been misfits among their families, the kind of people Bob Dylan, a denizen of the same milieu 50 years later, would celebrate as every hung up person in the whole wide universe.
For Day, a night of carousing at the Hell Hole on Sixth Avenue, a dive of the shadiest kind, might be followed by a visit the next morning to St Josephs Church not to repent but to see if she could fathom what it was the silent worshipers were feeling, what it meant to pray and seek a communion with a higher power. It was a call, inexplicable at the time even to herself, which led her to be baptized as a Roman Catholic in her late 20s.
In 1920, she had a passionate and abusive affair with a charismatic newsman, Lionel Moise, which ended with a pregnancy and an abortion, a decision she regretted all of her life that was followed by two suicide attempts.
Days Catholicism took on a whole new meaning when she met a French immigrant laborer and idiosyncratic intellectual, Peter Maurin. With him she founded The Catholic Worker (a still-extant monthly) which eventually reached 100,000 readers. It turned out to be the eclectic forum Day had been looking for a periodical that allowed her to travel the country to report personally on labor strikes and corporate abuses, to send her reporters out to document examples of home foreclosures and racial discrimination and, most importantly, to offer a lacerating critique of Americans materialist values, all in a context that invoked Christs teachings, the example of St Francis of Assisi, and papal encyclicals about social issues.
Hi my name is Kareem Maize and welcome to my personal blog. I am 26 year old musician and information technology professional with a passion for learning new aspects of life everyday. On my journey to express myself I began blogging to share my ideas with others. Now I intend to write fun, interesting, and engaging content for my viewers to help them grow spiritually, physically, and mentally . The concept of belief systems and the law of attraction peak my interest!!! I believe blogging about my personal experiences, beliefs, and ideas is the best way to achieve these goals!!!