May 12, 2016

The Year Without a Summer

On April 10 and 11, 1815, Mount Tambora, the volcano on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa, began thundering loudly from within its crevice, unleasing one of the deadliest eruptions ever recorded in history. Fire rose from the cone-shaped crater, while lava flowed toward the surrounding villages. Pumice stones flew out of its depths, followed by a funnel of thick ash, which ominously rose up into the stratosphere and mingled with the water particles found therein. ...
      But Indonesia was not the only place that experienced the misery of Tambora. As the tiny ash particles traveled into the stratosphere, they were carried away by the west wind. Also the cloud of gas that had formed continued to rise to higher altitudes and merged with the vapor found there, forming sulfuric acid. As the wind blew this across across the lands, it carried a faint sheen, a sort of thin most that covered the lands. In later months, peculiar climate changes began to plague the entire planet, followed by the unusually rainy and cold summer of 1816, what became known as the Year Without a Summer. 
     As far away as the northernmost regions of Canada as well as in New England, frost persisted well into the summer, quickly destroying the entire season's crop for many farmers. In China the weather was blamed for destroying trees and rice fields and killing farm animals used for transport and provisions. The rains there caused the country's rivers and lakes to swell up, overflowing into villages and encampments and carrying with them cholera and diptheria.  Europe fared no better:  Italy saw a particular yellow-tinted snow fall on its many villages and cities; potato fields died in Ireland, wheat in Germany, corn in France. Across the continent, prices rose with the riverbanks, as did riots, looting, anger and violence. ...
      Aside from the many traumatic deaths, climate changes, and economic impacts Tambora also triggered a strange effect on peoples' psyches.  The long days of incessant rains, whipping winds, and shadowy evenings, as well as the gray ashy snows, were not only alarming but also downright debilitating. For the members of Shelley's household, whose mental constitutions were already a bit weak, the foreboding weather only added to their woes.

from The Lady and her Monsters, by Roseanne Montillo

As much as I'm looking forward to reading Frankenstein {for the first time} with Frances and friends next month, I admit that I'm looking forward even more to reading about it. Partly because of the glimpses I've already had of the Byron-Shelley circle, and partly because of the connection to a place that I've grown very fond of.  And now there's this...something I'd never heard about, until I peeked into a library book on the way home. {This one, subtitled A Tale of Dissections, Real-Life Dr. Frankensteins, and the Creation of Mary Shelley's Masterpiece, was very hard to resist.}  Can't you feel the stage being set? 

{The painting, mentioned here, is Weymouth Bayby John Constable, painted in 1816.}


lyn said...

You might like this episode of BBC Radio's In Our Time on the year without a summer,

They talk about the effect of the weather on the Romantic poets as well as the vulconology etc.

Audrey said...

Thanks, Lyn!