personalist (personalist) wrote,


In 1918, when she was 20 years old, Dorothy Day fell in love with Lionel Moise, a newspaperman, nine years older than she, who was working temporarily as an orderly in Kings County Hospital, in Brooklyn where Dorothy was in training in a nursing program. He impregnated her and then bullied her into getting an abortion, an act which she bitterly regretted for the rest of her life. In his biography of Dorothy, Bill Miller devotes a chapter, called The Abyss, to this relationship, including a reminiscence of Moise by Ernest Hemingway. In his autobiography the poet Kenneth Rexroth tells what he had heard of the Moise legend:

"...there was a group of girls who were almost all prostitutes who had drifted in off North Clark Street, lonely for coffee and company, as whores always are. In the course of time they became the mistresses of various newspaper men, IWW, Anarchist, and Socialist leaders who hung around the place {The Dill Pickle}. One was the girl of Lionel Moise, pronounced Mo-ees, the man who is supposed to have taught Ernest Hemingway how to write. At least she was one of what whores call his wives-in-law, and shared him with a newspaper woman, a sculptress, and the daughter of a millionaire judge. Saturday nights, when the girls got drunk on Bugs Moran's gin, the battles over the beautiful, beloved body of Lionel Moise were epical---deserving, as they say, the pen of a Creasy. None of these people was a fool or a hoodlum. All the girls were beautiful; even the one who went by the name of Sloppy Liz was fairly good-looking, and they all made devoted mistresses, wives, and nurses for husbands, who were always being put in jail or beaten up for alcoholism or Revolution, or both. Lionel Moise had sound ideas about good writing, ideas of which Hemingway's Marquis of Queensbury esthetics are only a caricature."

The following letter was written to a certain Llewellyn Jones who was, I believe, an Englishman who was the literary editor of the CHICAGO EVENING POST at the time when Dorothy published her autobiographical novel "The Eleventh Virgin." The letter mentions Lionel Moise, her lover at the time. It was probably written in 1923.

40 Seventh Ave.

Dear Llewellyn Jones,
As Mary has probably told you, The Eleventh Virgin will be out October 10, and I am very much thrilled. Lieber wants to know if you will contribute a line or two of praise to be used in catalogues and on the jacket. I have Eugene O'Neill, Mary Heaton Vorse and Floyd Dell, and I wonder if you wouldn't add your little comment too. If you could telegraph it, or night letter it, I should say, I'd appreciate it very much, because their catalogue goes to press the first of the week.

What is even more exciting to me is the fact that I've finished the second book (it isn't named yet) and it will probably be out in January. I've worked like a fiend since I came back to New York, and I have cramps in both arms from typing so much. But I must sublimate my emotions, don't you know, and that's the only way I get any writing done.

Lionel in a fit of pique, left town with another woman a few weeks after I left, but he wrote me a letter in which he said he had gotten rid of his incubus and was going to be sober and alone all summer. That's what I came to New York for,---to get him sober and to get some writing done.

I'll be seeing you soon at afternoon tea, one of these days,---probably in the fall.

Sincerely, Dorothy Day

P.S. You're a darling if you do this for me.

Note: According to Joan Givner in her biography of Katherine Anne Porter: "Dorothy Day had already published a novel, THE ELEVENTH VIRGIN, and was at work on another which she provisionally called 'No Continuing City'...The novel never appeared, but Katherine Anne Porter used its title in the epigraph to part III of SHIP OF FOOLS."

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