The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap

Written by Paulette Mahurin
Review by Liz Bryan

Nevada, 1885, the news that Oscar Wilde has been imprisoned for acts of homosexuality has spread worldwide, and gossip and condemnation is rife. The story is akin to Brokeback Mountain, but from a female perspective, explores the dangerous human nature pastime of spiteful gossip that can lead to hatred, prejudice and various unsavoury consequences. Edra and Mildred live together; on the outside they are innocent spinsters, but their actual relationship is that of lesbian lovers.

I am uncertain whether I liked these two women or not, but their struggle to survive and conceal their sexuality, in a time when people who were ‘different’ were regarded as outright sinners, was a thought-provoking read that brought home just how harmful these sort of prejudices can be. I did become slightly confused by the number of characters, and wonder if they were all necessary? Maybe a slight edit would eliminate some of the repetition (the repeated description of Mildred, for instance, became a little tedious.)

My concerns are the anachronisms which rather spoilt the read as a few were somewhat jolting (‘freaking out’ and ‘babysitter’ being quite glaring). A pity, because otherwise the tale was absorbing and well-written for a first novel. Modern language can so easily destroy the feel of being engrossed in a certain period. Possibly the psychology of the story is also misplaced time-wise, as the feel of the story is modern, whereas the time-setting was very different to the way we think now. Had this been in the 1950s for instance, I think the setting would have been more realistic.

However, for the pleasure of reading a story as a story, not as an historically detailed novel, this is an interesting read, providing your own prejudices do not overspill into the subject matter.