28 December 2009

The Seasons: The Year Without a Summer

By Erastes

One of my Regency novellas is set around the last official Frost Fair in 1814, and people have been saying how much they'd like a sequel to it. I'm not normally swayed by being asked for sequels but a couple of years after the Frost Fair, in 1816, there came another unusual event: The Year Without a Summer, and I think that I might do a sequel with the same characters set there.

These days, with geological evidence and satellite and all sorts of gadgets, the meteorologists tend to know what causes blips in the weather after the event (even if they still can't forecast it very successfully), but back then when something like the summer of 1816 happened, people must have been pretty concerned. I believe that sunspots were blamed for the unseasonable weather at the time, no-one thought for one moment that it was a volcanic eruption that had taken place the year before.

In fact, 1812-1817 were hugely active for volcanoes around the world, causing temperatures to drop all over the place but it was the volcano of Tambora that did the damage, all the way over in Indonesia.

Tambora killed 10,000 people from the explosion and another 82,000 people from related causes such as starvation and disease world-wide. To date, Tambora is the world's worst volcano disaster in recorded history. The dust from the massive explosion reached 10km high, entering into the stratosphere. Two other volcanoes had erupted previously, Saint Vincent (1812) and Mayon in the Philippines (1814), but this third explosion added more dust to the atmosphere and changing the weather throughout much of the world.

Median temperatures of around 13 degrees meant that, in England, crops failed and famine ensued. Snow was seen in June in many places, such as in New England and northwestern Europe. The lack of light contributed to the failing crops as photosynthesis struggled to take place.

Turner painted this in 1816, and even though Turner's skyscapes were often odd-coloured, this gives a real flavour as to what people were seeing that year, with the brown dust colouring the sky.

One thing related to writing did take place however. In a secluded house in Switzerland during that dark dank summer, a group of writers gathered together and with the gloomy atmosphere to inspire them, challenged each other to write ghost stories. And thus Frankenstein was born.