I am honored that Joyce Stand has allowed me to come here and say a few words, especially on a topic for which I have much passion — two topics actually, creating an entertaining read and Oscar Wilde. The question for me then is how do I entertain you, the reader right here, right now? I hope I succeed.
Who among us would want to be prevented from loving? From intimacy, from the one we love? Then why do so many voices want to enter a discussion that make it impossible for another, to lay with their beloved in safety, unafraid of persecution, or worse, imprisonment or death. Who would dare hold to his/her passion and risk this?
And, yet we read books daily by the millions with stories of these loves — tragic, agonizing, unrequited– and we fixate on the page, imagining this fantasy world out there. We point fingers out there, and yet sit down with a book and in the safety of our imagination go to places beyond our beliefs. This is what books do, they allow us to venture out of our collective boxes and entertain the possible, in the fantasy. We are entertained by our own human desires, hooked by the chemistry words create that set in motion images of what it must be like if only…
As a writer, it is not difficult to understand what entertains, in light of seeing the human condition, and what has drawn us to stories for centuries.
Around the world, there are a multitude of things that entertain us as a society, the celebrity, the infamous, the rich, the utterly destitute, a poignant love story, devastation, the unbelievable, ad nausea. My story, The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap, startedfrom a photo I had seen of two women standing closely together dressed in turn of the twentieth century garb. They jumped off the page as lesbians, which seeded the story of a lesbian couple on the frontier, fearful of being found out.
In researching that time period, I hit pay dirt when I came across the imprisonment of Oscar Wilde in Britain in 1895. Now, I have the sensationalism to thread my story, hold interest, and hopefully entertain.
Here, I will take the liberty of quote from the prologue of my book:
Telegraphs clacked around the world with the breaking news of the conviction of Oscar Wilde. Mr. Wilde, noted celebrity and one of the most successful playwrights, novelists, poets, and short story writers, suffered a stunning defeat when he was sentenced to two years of hard labor in prison after being convicted for “gross indecency.” Wilde’s case, one of the first tried under Britain’s recently passed Criminal Law Amendment Act, criminalized sexual activity between members of the same sex, thus changing people’s attitudes about homosexuality from a mood of pity and tolerance to hatred and abuse.
The unofficial buzz in the tabloids was that Wilde was caught in the act with another male, Lord Douglas, the son of the Marquis of Queensberry, and Victorian London would have none of it. The news of trial and conviction spread fast and furiously to towns large and small around the world, exactly the kind of news story Red River Pass, a small town in Nevada, relished.
Oscar Wilde was the first celebrity tried and convicted under Britain’s recently changed law to make sex between men, indecency, a criminal offense, with a prison sentence of hard labor for two years. Where telegraphs existed in the world in 1895, the news of his imprisonment became known. It was this news that changed views on homosexuality from that of an attitude of observed conservative tolerance to outward hostility and abuse. There was an article in the New York Times, April 1895, that went on about the immorality of Oscar Wilde and homosexuality. Conversations, banned from living rooms around the world, became front and center, Wilde’s imprisonment, the vehicle for intolerance and hatred, was a set-back in the history of human rights.
Oscar Wilde’s importance is not just as one of the most prolific literary figures of our time but as a lightening-rod scape goat for unleashed hatred, that the ignorant can not see lives in their own hearts. I would like to close my wonderful visit here with an excerpt from Oscar Wilde’s De Profoundis, a letter he wrote to his lover while imprisoned. It is what inspired my writing The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap.
When first I was put into prison some people advised me to try and forget who I was. It was ruinous advice. It is only by realizing what I am that I have found comfort of any kind. Now I am advised by others to try on my release to forget that I have ever been in a prison at all. I know that would be equally fatal. It would mean that I would always be haunted by an intolerable sense of disgrace, and that those things that are meant for me as much as for anybody else – the beauty of the sun and moon, the pageant of the seasons, the music of daybreak and the silence of great nights, the rain falling through the leaves, or the dew creeping over the grass and making it silver – would all be tainted for me, and lose their healing power, and their power of communicating joy. To regret one’s own experiences is to arrest one’s own development. To deny one’s own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one’s own life. It is no less than a denial of the soul.
More on Paulette Mahurin
Paulette Mahurin is a Nurse Practitioner (NP), specializing in Women’s Health in a rural clinic in Ojai, CA., where she lives with her husband Terry (a retired NASA attorney) and her two dogs Max & Bella (rescued from kill shelters). She has taught nursing in several college level programs, including preceptorships for UCLA and USC’s NP programs in the emergency room (ER). She worked as an NP in the second busiest ER in Los Angeles County, with the highest census in child abuse. Her current novel, The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap, draws on her work in the ER to connect the reader with an emotional authenticity about prejudice, abuse, violation of body and soul, as well as the loving compassion of friendships and supportive relationships.
When Mahurin isn’t writing, she is an advocate of tolerance, women’s rights, and an animal activist, who spends a great deal of time doing pro bono work for women in her community along with rescuing dogs. The profits from her novel go to SPARC, the first no-kill animal shelter in Ventura County, CA.