Top critical review
Dorothy Day in Her Own Words--Warts and All
on May 23, 2014
This massive collection from Day's diaries reveals many facets of Day not usually exposed. For those who wish to study Day's life, this is the edition to acquire. The 2011 paperback Abridged Edition is on cheaper paper and not as sturdy. Indeed, the color rubbed off the paperback's back cover in places--cheap, cheap. It also omits useful information found in the original.
This 2008 hardcover's January 4, 1958 entry has an editorial error that identifies St. Teresa of Avila as the the author of "The Ascent of Mount Carmel." Teresa's fellow Carmelite St. John of the Cross is the correct author. "The Ascent of Mount Carmel" does not appear in the paperback. Also omitted in the paperback are the entries in which Day writes of her move from her crowded, noisy, and poorly heated Catholic Worker (CW) apartment to a room in a local woman's apartment in March 1964 for a while to be warm without layers of clothing and to have some peace and quiet in which to write (pp. 346-347)
"The Duty of Delight" reveals the problems with sexual immorality at the Tivoli CW farm, and Dorothy's inability to deal with the issue. On the one hand, she faced the complaints of coworkers Stanley Vishnewski and Deane Mowrer, who resided at Tivoli. On the other hand, there were the young people (including Day's grandchildren) and Day's daughter, Tamar, and Rita Corbin, CW artist and wife of editor Marty Corbin, who believed in "permissiveness." Day was aware of the problem for almost ten years before the Tivoli farm was finally sold, about a year before she died. Here are some pertinent entries:
November 14, 1968: "Nip things in the bud at once," says Stanley. "If we did not have so big a place," I say, "people would not move in on us." "We should never have bought it," S says. . . .
"A mistake ever to have gotten this place," Stanley says....
But I have no power to control smoking of pot, for instance, or sexual promiscuity, or solitary sins." (pp. 430-431)
June 26, 1971: "For some weeks now my problem is this: What to do about the open immorality (and of course I mean sexual morality) in our midst. It is like the last times--there is nothing hidden that shall not be revealed. . . . We have with us now a beautiful woman with children whose husband has taken up with a seventeen-year-old, is divorcing her and starting on a new marriage. She comes to us as to a refuge where by working for others in our community of fifty or more, she can forget once in a while her human misery. We have another case of a young married woman whose husband thinks it is his duty to befriend young girls (the latest only fourteen)....
We have one young [prostitute], drunken, promiscuous, pretty as a picture, college educated, mischievous, able to talk her way out of any situation--so far. She comes to us when she is drunk and beaten and hungry and cold and when she is taken in, she is liable to crawl into the bed of any man on the place. We do not know how many she has slept with on the farm. What to do? What to do?" (pp. 492-493)
January 15, 1976: "Got nothing done. Visitors--Mary Lathrop, Bob Ellsberg, Bob Steed. Missed Mass. Between Bob S. and Stanley and Deane running down the farm and its immoralities I felt quite sunk. Jane and I agreed on prayers for healing." (p. 555)
Jan 22 1976: "From now on I will settle in N.Y." (p. 555)
One final point: A reviewer has protested another reviewer's calling "The Catholic Worker" a "Socialist newspaper." The protestor claims Day's "personalism" is "the diametric opposite of socialism." This opens a can of worms. While Day encouraged young families to move to and purchase rural land and farms, she also strongly supported communal farming, even when it was involuntary as in Red China and Cuba. Day went beyond socialism with her boast in the CW that it was an "honor" to be an invited "observer" at the 1956 Annual Convention of the Communist Party USA. Indeed, Day frequently wrote in favor of the coming "revolution" so beloved by Marxists--which pacifist Day naively "hoped" would not be "violent." Here are some entries on wealth and property from Day's CW columns:
"To labor is to pray -- that is the central point of the Christian doctrine of work. Hence, it is that while both Communism and Christianity are moved by 'compassion for the multitude,' the object of communism is to make the poor richer but the object of Christianity is to make the rich poor and the poor holy." ("The Church and Work," September 1946)
"'The more property becomes common--the more it becomes holy.' . . But to do away with private property is a mortal sin in our system. . . .
Fortunately, the Papal States were wrested from the Church in the last century, but there is still the problem of investment of papal funds. It is always a cheering thought to me that if we have good will and are still unable to find remedies for the economic abuses of our time, in our family, our parish, and the mighty church as a whole, God will take matters in hand and do the job for us.
When I saw the Garibaldi mountains in British Columbia . . . I said a prayer for his soul and blessed him for being the instrument of so mighty a work of God. May God use us!" ("Hutterite Communities," July-August 1969)
"How many thousands, tens of thousands, are in for petty theft, while the 'robber barons' of our day get away with murder. Literally murder, accessories to murder. "Property is Theft" [wrote French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in his 1840 book 'What is Property?'].
Proudhon wrote--The coat that hangs in your closet belongs to the poor. The early Fathers [of the Church] wrote--The house you don't live in, your empty buildings (novitiates, seminaries) belong to the poor. Property is Theft." ("On Pilgrimage," December 1971)
More information on these topics is available in Dr. Carol Byrne's 2010 book, "The Catholic Worker Movement (1933-1980): A Critical Analysis," and at the blog "Dorothy Day Another Way."