The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap is a heart-wrenching novel that explores the effects of prejudice and the cruelty of gossip in a small town. The story centres around Mildred, a wealthy and generous women who is often mocked behind her back for not being stereotypically beautiful or feminine – it seems her generosity and good nature are frequently forgotten by those who are shallow and narrow-minded. As well as this, she happens to harbour a deep secret from the wrath of the little town; she is in a loving relationship with her female cousin Edra. Based around the same time as the persecution of Oscar Wilde for acts of indecency with another man, Mildred’s anxieties about her own relationship run high as the gossip mongers preach their disgust at a same sex relationship. Most of this gossip is fuelled by the heartless Josie. Anyone and everyone could be a victim of her bullying; anyone who does not fit her idea of perfection, which throughout the book appears to change and evolve with her moods!
The novel follows Mildred and Edra’s battle to keep their secret under wraps, whilst also delving into the lives of other towns folk who also suffer of succumb to the bullying ways of Josie. Discrimination is presented on many levels in this novel. With a constant reminder of Oscar’s Wilde’s persecution, this novel presents the emotional and physical upset that can be caused by prejudice and how individuals with heart can shine through and defeat bullies with friendship, love and support.
From the opening page I was gripped to this story. I could feel the importance and intensity of keeping Mildred’s relationship with Edra a secret. The build up of tension created by the gossiping characters was so intense that I could not put the book down and in fact I read it all in one sitting!
One of the things that I enjoyed the most about the novel was the Oscar Wilde quotes that titled each chapter. My favourite one was from the very beginning:
‘For one moment our lives met, our souls touched.’ – Oscar Wilde
I think that it is purely beautiful! All of the selected quotes in the book are thought-provoking and I jotted quite a few down as they were interesting and yet honest. As well as the Oscar Wilde quotes, I also commend the mentioning of his persecution and how it paralleled with Mildred’s life and her anxieties of being in a same sex relationship, but in a different country. I think that this shows that people everywhere, no matter who they are, face discrimination and bullying, which is always worth remembering. I think that this Plato quote sums up how we should behave:
‘Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle’ – Plato
What makes this book so good though is the characters. I particularly enjoyed the bond and relationship between Edra and Mildred. Both very different characters; Mildred so strong, generous and caring to those she loves and Edra, so fragile and yet so fiery and protective when it comes to the person she loves the most – Mildred. In my opinion, their misfortunes made their relationship stronger and tested their faith and love in each other. I also admired the strength of character Charley, his loyalty and kindness to Mildred was admirable and it made me warm to him throughout the novel. Gus too was a great character, his philosophical wonderings and thoughts made me think and he made a trustworthy companion for Charley. And finally, I cannot miss Josie out. Yes she was the devil of the town, but she was such a great character to include in the story! She was truly nasty and caused so much devestation and tension throughout the novel with no hint of remorse that it made the goodness of the other characters shine through even more. She was definitely the wicked witch of the story!
Overall, I found the novel very interesting and I really enjoyed reading it. I encourage you to have a read too.