Paulette Mahurin’s lovely book, The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap, is about ripples. About the ways in which rumor spreads through a community and affects all its citizens emotionally and physically.
Even though the trial and subsequent conviction of Oscar Wilde on charges of indecency stands out as a significant moment a century later, its contemporary impact is often overlooked. Ms. Mahurin examines the ripples of the Wilde controversy, halfway across the world from its epicenter. She picks up her story in Red River Pass, a small ranching town in Nevada. The news of Wilde’s sentence arrives by telegraph and quickly spreads by word of mouth through the small town. Eventually it reaches Mildred Dunlap, a solitary woman who lives on the outskirts of town with her cousin, Edra. Concerned that Wilde’s story might prompt the residents of Red River Pass to look closer at her own lifestyle, she concocts an elaborate scheme to throw them off the trail. The results ripple throughout the town, changing its conventions and social hierarchy.
In exploring rumor and its effects, Ms. Mahurin touches on a theme that is still very prevalent. As a reader it was refreshing to see the physical toll that rumors can have, the physical consequences of stress are so often overlooked in today’s world. I also thought looking at the Wilde controversy through such a far-reaching scope made a lot of good points about how connected we are across the globe even in a time before phones and the internet.
I was quite impressed with Ms. Mahurin’s first book. It’s a pretty ambitious project that I thought she handled quite well. Not only is it a well researched book, but she clearly cares about her characters and there are some lovely passages that bring them to life. I also appreciated that even though Ms. Mahurin took the time to fully explore some of her characters, there were still some who remained mysterious despite being fully realized presences in the text. The book is certainly a worthwhile read for history fans or anyone in search of a good story.