Tambora and Frankenstein

The summer of 1816 was not like any summer people could remember. Snow fell in New England. Gloomy, cold rains fell throughout Europe. It was cold and stormy and dark - not at all like typical summer weather. Consequently, 1816 became known around the world as the 'Year without Summer'.

This 'Year Without a Summer' had a huge impact in Europe and North America. Crops were killed - either by frost or a lack of sunshine. This caused food to be scarce, which made the food which was grown more valuable, and the price of food climbed.
The gloomy summer weather also inspired some writers. During that summer-less summer in 1816, Lord Byron and his young physician John Polidori were staying at the Villa Diodati near Lake Geneva. They were visited by Mary Godwin (later to become Mary Shelley by her marriage to Percy Shelley in December 1816), the poet Percy Shelley (1792-1822), the poet Lord Byron and Mary’s stepsister Claire Clairmont – a former lover of Lord Byron - were on vacation at Lake Geneva. While trapped indoors for days by incessant rain and gloomy skies during that 'wet, ungenial summer', the writers described the bleak, dark environment of the time in their own ways. Fueled by ghost stories and vast quantities of laudanum, over a three day period in June, the five turned to telling fantastical tales and then writing their own.
Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, a gothic novel set in often stormy environments and gloomy weather conditions ('Yet I did not heed the bleakness of the weather'). Polidori was inspired by a fragmentary story of Byron's, Fragment of a Novel (1816) and produced The Vampyre ('And storm and darkness, ye are wond'rous strong'). Lord Byron wrote the poem Darkness, which starts with
I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish'd, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went—and came, and brought no day,

Mary Shelley also recorded the bleak wintry landscapes in her travel volume History of a Six Weeks’ Tour through a part of France, Switzerland, Germany and Holland (1817): ‘Never was a scene more awefully desolate. The trees in these regions are incredibly large, and stand in scattered clumps over the white wilderness; the vast expanse of snow was chequered only by these gigantic pines, and the poles that marked our road: no river or rock-encircled lawn relieved the eye, by adding the picturesque to the sublime’.

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