The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap:
Author: Paulette Mahurin
When the world allows people to live as they please maybe we might have chance to stop all the hatred, prejudice and injustices that are inflicted upon those that some feel are different or do not conform to the mores of their society. Same sex marriage is not something new to us today and same sex relationships are not just a thing of the preset. The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap begins with the arrest and imprisonment of a noted writer and playwright Oscar Wilde. Noted for writing The Picture of Dorian Gray, essays, short fiction and comedies this outstanding writer’s work was negated when he met Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas the third son of the Marquis of Queensbury. Wilde’s novel the Picture of Dorian Gray was one that he was acquainted. Becoming lovers and totally enamored with each other they were together all the time until Wilde was arrested four years later for “gross indecency.” Attitudes back then in 1891 and even now have not changed in many respects. In April of 1895, Oscar sued Bosie’s father for libel as the Marquis had accused him of being homosexual and homosexuality. His arrest and conviction as our story relates included two years of hard labor. But, that was just the beginning as his wife too his children to Switzerland and as you might say disowned him by going back to her maiden name, Holland. This is where our story begins as we our main characters Mildred and Edra. The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap brings this issue to light and many more. Character assassinations by many of the townspeople, criticism and critical analysis of what they think a person’s life should be and how they should mold it to their way of thinking enables the reader to know just how narrow and close-minded the people of Red River Pass, Nevada are.
As we meet both Mildred and Edra we learn that they too have a close relationship that would be more than just frowned upon by people like Josie Perdue and the ladies Mildred encounters when she goes into town for medicine for a sick horse. Life is hard enough during this time period but to be forced to fit in and conform to what others think you should do makes it even harder for both Mildred and Edra to deal with life. Her masculine appearance, her strange demeanor and lack of femininity seemed to turn people off.
The author allows the reader to hear the thoughts of Josie first hand which she readily expresses to anyone that will stop and listen as well as doing her own appraisal of Mildred’s appearance and Mildred. But, the prejudice spreads as far as the sheriff’s office and even though Mildred is a kind woman he appearance turns off many and the words spoken, if she heard them, would definitely do more than just hurt her feelings. Status, class, sexual preferences, even how many live their lives and observe their religions are just some of the issues brought to light in this novel.
Gus Spivey’s story is the hub of information where notices and telegrams are posted keeping people informed. As Mildred places her order she hears voices rising and realizes that Josie is announcing to everyone that Homosexuality has been declared illegal. When people decide what you are allowed or not allowed to do that infringes on the meaning of democracy and freedom. But, while riding home Mildred formulates a plan in her mind that has yet to be revealed to the reader.
Meet Charley Spivey and Emma his wife was gravely ill. As Charley watched Emma slip away Mildred decided to try and ally all thoughts about her and pretend to be interested in this disheveled and ungroomed man. As the story moves on we learn more about the relationship between Edra and Mildred, what happened to Edra as a child the bond and love that formed between them at an early age. With the guidance and understanding of her father, Max, Mildred’s secret would stay hidden.
The characters blend in a very unique way, as Mildred’s plan seems to be working creating the illusion she hopes it will to take the heat off of her relationship with Edra. Added in we still here the gossip of so many of the townspeople regarding Oscar Wilde and his arrest. What I really love are the quotes at the start of each chapter. Oscar Wilde’s words are so profound and set the tone for each chapter that the reader knows what to expect from the characters by reading his words and his thoughts. Annalee proves that right when she continues her diatribe about Oscar Wilde and expands on her opinion. Next, she expounds on the relationship between Charley and Mildred letting you know that she is not only prejudice, narrow minded and just plain rude. So, why not voice her thoughts to the town’s biggest gossip, Josie and join forces. Why is it that the outer covering of a person is all anyone sees and the fact that Mildred helps so many in so many selfless ways, does not really count to any of these snobby and although rich, classless women. When Josie blames Emma, Charley’s late wife for bringing so many others misery causing the town to come down and help Charley, why does she resent it and why make the coldhearted comment she does on page 64 which you will have to read the book for yourself to find out just what she says and more.
But, Edra is upset when Mildred goes out with Charley and her reaction is quite telling and the end result eye opening. Loyal, trustworthy and kind Ben Thorndike keeps their secret and delivers the news about what others are saying about Mildred. When the women do their own assassination attack in words about Mildred, just why does Charley come to her defense? Why does he see the inner beauty in her and others do not?
This book deals with so many issues not just prevalent in 1895 but in the present too. Although Oscar Wilde went on trial and was convicted, Mildred Dunlap faced her own persecution and trial everyday just trying to deal with life, the words and gossip of others, the critical analysis because of her appearance and imagine if the truth came out, what kind of swords or daggers would they send flying at her?
The characters in this novel are vividly described and so well defined you can almost picture them in your mind and create a mental image of how they look, act and speak. Gus, the owner of the general store tries to mediate, is honest and tries not to take sides to be biased. Josie Perdue is single minded, hurtful, highly critical of others and totally opinionated valuing only hers alone. She is truly mean, coldhearted and yet she manages to have an audience to listen to her rants and raves. Vying for attention and having to be the focal point of every conversation she manipulates her friends, wants to control their lives and never really cares about how her words affect others. Edra our other main character, lives on the farm, prefers as we learn Mildred’s company alone, and vies to live her life just with her. Mildred might have a masculine outer appearance but her every word, and kindness negates her physical appearance. She might not be what most would say feminine, or ladylike but her heart and kind ways make up for it.
As Gus and Charley have dinner more about the community is brought to light as we learn about hate for Negroes, their feelings about Jews and the religious that feel everyone is beneath them. But, Gus has a secret that I will not share with you but when you learn it you will understand why he does not attend Church and much more. The prejudice that rears its head in this book is widespread not only there but also around the world.
As Josie has made it her vocation in life to destroy Mildred two friends make sure that she just might learn her lesson and more. What happens at the end and how all of this turns out you will have to learn for yourself. But, when one woman’s rumors, lies and statements cause a tragic ending in one family, then the action taken will surprise the reader and the end result will teach two women the meaning of trust, loyalty, friendship and understanding. When the truth behind Josie’s hate for Mildred is revealed the reasons lie deep within her stemming from the past. Will she ever learn her lesson? Will anyone finally stop her from speaking? Wait until you read the dramatic ending!
An ending that will bring tears to your eyes and maybe even some hope to the people that remain in Red River Pass, Nevada. Never judge a person or book by its outer cover before you read the pages in between. You just might like what you find out. Author Paulette Mahurin’s characters and story remind us of why there is so much hate in the world and why so many need the lessons taught within the pages of this outstanding book. Friendships are formed when you least expect them to be. Let’s give this book: FIVE CHARLIES
Fran Lewis: reviewer