As a reader and now writer of historical fiction, I’m always interested when an author tells a story that not only realistically captures an interesting place and time but also carries a story with themes so relevant to today. Paulette Mahurin does both in The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap.
Set in the 1880s, The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap tells the story of a lesbian couple living on a Nevada ranch when Britain changes its laws to make homosexual sex a criminal act. The news of Oscar Wilde‘s imprisonment burns up the telegraph wires and throws the Nevada town into turmoil.
Though they’ve lived their lives quietly and carefully, Mildred Dunlap and her partner fear the news will focus attention, suspicion and perhaps worse on them. They take extensive measures to appear “normal,” including Mildred’s plan to show interest in a widower who, she is certain, will not be interested in her. A viper-tongued town gossip makes everyone else’s business her business, goading others to interfere with consequences that are tragic, but not for those she hoped to bring down. The couple finds friendship and support from unexpected sources.
Mahurin tells a story of hatred and prejudice that shows how love and friendship can heal. The end is surprising and a trifle troubling. Without giving anything away (I hope), we find that even the people who have been most open minded throughout the novel can have their own prejudices and are willing to act on them. Perhaps like all of us?
Mahurin adds quotes from Oscar Wilde throughout the book, which adds an interesting and unexpected commentary on the action.
I found the characters will drawn, the story well conceived and executed, and the result thought provoking. Well worth the read.
I interviewed Mahurin in October 2012.