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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

1816: The Year Without A Summer, Part II

An unusual confluence of geological and astronomical factors precipitated the Year Without A Summer. The inciting event was the earth-shaking eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia from April 5-15, 1815. This explosion was immense, the largest volcanic eruption in the world since the Hatepe eruption in c.180 AD in New Zealand. People in Sumatra, 1200 miles away, heard the blast, and heavy volcanic ash falls were observed as far away as Borneo, Sulawesi, Java and Maluku islands.

The enormous amount of dust the volcano spewed into the atmosphere blocked the sun’s rays and lowered global temperature. But Tambora's eruption alone may not have caused 1816's disastrous weather. Other volcanic eruptions in the immediately preceding years (1812--La Soufrière on Saint Vincent in the Caribbean, and Awu on Sangihe Islands, Indonesia: 1813--Suwanosejima on Ryukyu Islands, Japan: 1814--Mayon in the Philippines) had set the stage by already darkening the skies and depressing temperatures around the world. In addition, all these eruptions took place during a Dalton Minimum, a period of unusually low solar activity.

Although most of the effects of The Year Without A Summer were disastrous (see my previous post), some were positive.

The large amounts of dust in the air produced spectacular sunsets worldwide, and most likely inspired J.M.W. Turner's paintings (Chichester Canal pictured).

The weather also inspired Lord Byron’s 1816 poem, Darkness:

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

In Switzerland, the atrocious weather forced Mary Shelley and John William Polidori, on holiday with their friends, to stay indoors. Mary Shelley used the time to write Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, and John William Polidori penned The Vampyre, two novels which influence us to this day.

And Pumpkinnapper, my Regency Halloween comedy, is set in the English countryside in the autumn of 1816.

Thank you all,


Eleanor Sullo said...

Fascinating stuff, Linda. Funny, even as an English Lit major I had never heard about the volcanoes, and especially not about these eruptions affecting such as Lord Byron, Mary Shelley, and others.So our times are nto unique. These "hidden" stories in history make wonderful background for great books. I'd love to read yours.
My best.

catslady said...

Really interesting. This may be the beginning of another catastrophic time for eruptions and disasters. It so, I hope at least we get some more good books out of it lol.

Heather Snow said...

So interesting, and a great reminder that things go in cycles. I'm going back to check out your other post...

Linda Banche said...

Thanks, Ellie. I had never known the weather was responsible for Frankenstein and vampires. The weather is also a major factor in PUMPKINNAPPER.

Catslady and Heather, history does repeat itself. All those volcanoes have their own schedule, and maybe they're all coming due now. Thanks for coming over.

Mary Ricksen said...

Not a pleasant time to be around huh?
I heard about the great sunsets, sure influenced people in their art or writing.
Hi Linda!

Linda Banche said...

Hi Mary, yes, definitely not a pleasant time. Winters are cold enough now, without having them last all year. Thanks for coming over.