Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Romeo and Juliet in Pennsylvania

The theme of forbidden love has been used to advantage by many writers, from ancient times to the present.

Consider Abelard and Heloise. Launcelot and the Lady of Shalott. And, of course, Romeo and Juliet. A thousand other examples might be suggested. There are many reasons for love being forbidden. The most common include social distinctions such as class, religion or ethnicity.

Probably no one has used the theme to better advantage than Will Shakespeare—most notably in Romeo and Juliet, but also in a number of other classic plays and poems.

I don’t intend comparing myself to Shakespeare, but I’ve used the theme in my novel Watch The Hour and don’t feel it would be out of line to say it might be seen as another variation on Romeo and Juliet.

Fleeing famine and brutal oppression, more than a million Irish refugees flocked to the United States between 1846-1855 in search of opportunity and a better life. They worked whatever jobs they could find and were routinely exploited. Many found their way to Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal region where they encountered some of the worst exploitation and hatred.

In the 1870s, mine owners and their employees, particularly the Irish immigrants, were in conflict over working conditions. Private police forces commissioned by the state but paid by the coal companies were sworn to protect property of the mine owners. The miners knew their real purpose was to spy upon targeted agitators and intimidate and break up strikers.

My Romeo is Benjamin Franklin Yeager, a coal company police officer. He does his best to follow orders while trying to be fair to the workers whose lot he sees as little different from his own. Despite his efforts at fairness, Yeager’s job makes him the enemy of the Irish.

And that’s the crux of his troubles. For Ben is in love with an Irish girl, Jennie Teague. You’ll have to read the book to see how their love plays out.

Watch The Hour is available in print and electronic forms from the publisher at https://www.whiskeycreekpress.com/store/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=725


  1. John - Thanks for this "snapshot" of Watch the Hour. It sounds like an intriguing story. I really enjoy novels that give one a sense of history as well as the plot of the novel. The story of the Irish in America is one of the major threads of our national history, so I'm glad you integrate it into your novel.

  2. I know this is an excellent read. I love the
    "crossed lovers" theme too.

  3. I've spent many years in law enforcement and some of my best partners were of Irish descent. Third and fourth generation and deeply proud of it.

    Your story sounds like a winner.