English, Department of


Date of this Version



Pierson, Katherine Thomsen. I Dreamed in Terms of Novels: Dorothy Day and the Ethics of Nineteenth-Century Literature. MA Thesis, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2016.


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Arts, Major: English, Under the Supervision of Professor Peter Capuano. Lincoln, Nebraska: July 2016

Copyright (c) 2016 Katherine Thomsen Pierson


To the extent that she is known, Dorothy Day, a twentieth-century American Catholic journalist and social reformer currently under consideration for sainthood by the Vatican, is recognized for her religious influences. Pope Francis, in his 2015 speech before the American Congress, said she was inspired by “the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.” Yet throughout her life Day was a consistent reader of secular texts and even said she “lived by” the vision of some of her favorite writers. This thesis examines Day’s secular influences—in particular Dickens’s David Copperfield and Little Dorrit—and begins to trace their effect on both Day’s writing style and her work as an activist. This thesis considers Day’s life and example using the work of ethical theorists Martha Nussbaum and Charles Taylor and argues that it is essential to consider Day’s secular influences—particularly nineteenth-century literature—because Day’s story should be more well-known, in both the field of ethical theory and, more publicly, as an argument for the relevance of literature to political equality, human capability, and the advancement of social justice.

Advisor: Peter J. Capuano