The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap by Paulette Mahurin
Oscar Wilde would have been proud.
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.
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.
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!