Review from Guiltless Reading: Oscar Wilde would have been proud how this book’s message of tolerance was inspired by his life.

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16.2.13

The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap by Paulette Mahurin

 The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap by Paulette Mahurin

Oscar Wilde would have been proud.

The book in one sentence: What small town gossiping can result in — nothing good.

Synopsis: The year 1895 was filled with memorable historical events: the Dreyfus Affair divided France; Booker T. Washington gave his Atlanta address; Richard Olney, United States Secretary of State, expanded the effects of the Monroe Doctrine in settling a boundary dispute between the United Kingdom and Venezuela; and Oscar Wilde was tried and convicted for gross indecency under Britain’s recently passed law that made sex between males a criminal offense. When news of Wilde’s conviction went out over telegraphs worldwide, it threw a small Nevada town into chaos. This is the story of what happened when the lives of its citizens were impacted by the news of Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment. It is a chronicle of hatred and prejudice with all its unintended and devastating consequences, and how love and friendship bring strength and healing.
 
My two cents: This book is not about Oscar Wilde, but he would have been proud how this book’s message of tolerance was inspired by his life. News about his conviction was also the impetus for the string of rather unfortunate events that play itself out in this small Nevada town.


Mildred Dunlap hails from a moneyed family, but is known by many to be kind-hearted and generous with her wealth. But she suffers because of her rather manly looks. She lives quietly with her cousin Edra minding their own business.

When the news of Oscar Wilde’s conviction for gross indecency breaks, it serves as fodder for this Red Pass. Conservatives in the community denounce the act and past events of how men suspected of being homosexual were driven away from their very community becomes news once more.

This strikes fear in Mildred’s own heart. She has witnessed how intolerance has bred contempt and hatred in her community, the very reason why she has spent a life covering up her love for her cousin Edra. She knows how things will go if people find out the truth about them. Contrary to Edra’s gut feel, Mildred decides to take matters into her own hands and concocts an elaborate plan to plant “anti-gossip” among the gossipmongers.

As things are set in motion, she comes head to head with Josie Purdue, who has an axe to grind with Mildred. Josie fights back with her own counterplan. What follows is a tragedy, bringing to fore the evilness of ignorance, close-mindedness and intolerance.

What I liked: This book is extremely insightful about people and the crowd mentality. I hail from a small town where everyone knows everybody and everybody’s business (whether or not they should) – and there is the good, the bad, and the ugly to it. I am familiar with how gossip gets twisted and can take on a life of its own. Really, how do these things get so out of hand?

Paulette Mahurin is a master at her characters. While it seems that the protagonists and antagonists are clear in the beginning, they are actually depicted as being neither good not bad, but merely as human. The message of tolerance really comes across as we are given a peek into Josie’s wretched life, of Edra’s painful past, of storekeeper Gus’s dark secret, of Charley’s ignorance and simple-mindedness. Their stories shape their lives, their relationships, and their actions. It is their realism that will draw you into this story.

Verdict: An insightful story about how people deal with and live with bigotry. While a simple story at the core, the life lessons one draws out of it will hit you hard, provoke you, challenge you. Would you stand up in face of a crowd demanding that being prejudiced is right? A highly recommended read!

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About The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap

The year 1895 was filled with memorable historical events: the Dreyfus Affair divided France; Booker T. Washington gave his Atlanta address; Richard Olney, United States Secretary of State, expanded the effects of the Monroe Doctrine in settling a boundary dispute between the United Kingdom and Venezuela; and Oscar Wilde was tried and convicted for "gross indecency" under Britian's recently passed law that made sex between males a criminal offense. When the news of Wilde's conviction went out over telegraphs worldwide, it threw a small Nevada town into chaos. This is the story of what happened when the lives of its citizens were impacted by the news of Oscar Wildes' imprisonment. It is chronicle of hatred and prejudice with all its unintended and devastating consequences, and how love and friendship bring strength and healing. Paulette Mahurin, the author, is a Nurse Practitioner who lives in Ojai, California with her husband Terry and their two dogs--- Max and Bella. She practices women's health in a rural clinic and writes in her spare time. All profits from her book are going to animal rescue, Santa Paula Animal Shelter, the first and only no-kill shelter in Ventura County, CA, where she lives. (see links below on Ventura County Star Article & Shelter) To find out more please go the The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap on facebook or Amazon or e-mail us at the gavatar addresses. Thank you. (photos: of Paulette, her family, and a reading at The Ojai Art Center, July 2012)
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6 Responses to Review from Guiltless Reading: Oscar Wilde would have been proud how this book’s message of tolerance was inspired by his life.

  1. Denise Hisey says:

    Paulette, I finished your book today. Well done, my friend, well done!

    You have a marvelous way of weaving several twists into the story that kept me intrigued!
    I truly enjoyed your writing and am so impressed with your own story of how this book came to be.

    What an inspiration you are, Paulette!

    • Wow, Denise, that was fast. I’m really happy you enjoyed and came here to let me know. Means a lot to me to share with friends. And, yes, the story behind the story was something else – so many aspects to that also (Tazzie my dog, Lyme disease, working with someone in the closet who was traumatized, the writing unfolding and learning about intolerance historically-Oscar Wilde’s court case, etc – and helping me heal in my own life…thank you for mentioning that). And, I could say back to you that you too are an inspiration for me, on that bike with the wind in your face, free as a bird. I admire that. Maybe some day I’ll face some of my inside things and have that kind of courage. Big cyber hug to you. Paulette

  2. Hi. I have a few questions about Oscar Wilde. I have never read his works but have seen two films based on them: “The Portrait of Dorian Gray,” starring Angela Lansbury (sp?), and “The Importance of Being Ernest,” starring Colin Firth.

    First, are the films true to Oscar Wilde’s stories or are the films loosely based on his works?

    Second, why did Oscar Wilde create such opposite stories? “The Importance of Being Ernest” is light and funny. “The Portrait of Dorian Gray” is dark and scary. It’s hard to believe that the same person wrote both stories. He must have been a very complex individual.

    • Those are great questions, Sheryl. I can’t speak with great accuracy to make a comparison of the movies to the books but I can say this that he was indeed a very complex individual who came to a deep self reflective introspection while in prison and wrote about it in a letter to his lover in, “De Profundis.” He lived at a time when Britain had just changed its laws on homosexuality to make it a criminal offense, punishable by two years in a hard labor prison. He finished “The Importance of Being Ernest” around the same time his problems with his lover’s father were escalating and it is well known in Wilde historical circles that he banned the man from seeing the play when it opened. He was brought to trial by this man and therefore began the debacle which landed him in prison for two years (that’s a whole other story as he won the suit then manifesting hubris counter sued and lost). That time in his life, late 1894 through 1895 until he was tried and convicted was a more mature time for him, and also a time of his battle with external constraints of which he lost. When he wrote “The Portrait of Dorian Gray” there was backlash to his innuendo to homosexualty in the writing. One then is left to wonder about preference oppression at that time and the impact it had as it escalated in his life. He refused to compromise who he was but he became more overt about it when sued which he admits openly in his letter, “De Profundis,” which he claims was his own undoing and hubris. I really recommend having a look at that writing to answer your question as to his nature, for in it he does that, and does it with integrity, sincerity and what resonates as leaving nothing unsaid. Thank you for stopping by and this with you.

  3. Oh! I didn’t know about the innuendo to homosexuality in “The Portrait of Dorian Gray.” It’s been a long time since i’ve seen the movie. I don’t think the film suggested homosexuality, but I could be wrong. I was so young when I saw the film. Either Hollywood omitted the references to homosexuality, or I was too young and innocent to pick up on it.

    I love “The Importance of Being Ernest.” I’ve seen it 3 or 4 times. I’d like to see “The Portrait of Dorian Gray” again too, but I’m not sure I can handle the ending–the unveiling of the portrait. It still frightens me to think about it.

    My favorite Victorian romance writer is Augusta Evans Wilson (1835-1909). Her novel “St. Elmo” was an immense success. I found a passage in her biography by William Fiddler that surprised me. It reads, “One notable visitor in Mobile [AL] whom Mrs. Wilson would not receive was Oscar Wilde . . . . Thomas DeLeon had a business interest in the lecture tour of the sensational Englishman, and DeLeon was eager to present Wilde at Ashland [Augusta Evans Wilson's home]. Mrs. Wilson refused bluntly, informing her friend that Wilde’s life ‘defamed his art.'”

    I don’t know what Augusta actually knew about his life. No doubt, much of what she had heard was gossip. Anyway, it’s sad that the two authors never met and talked about literature.

    Thanks for posting. I’d like to google Oscar Wilde to learn more about him. His works intrigue me.

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