A Gloomy Summer
How weather affects our writing
I was about to leave work for home the other day and glanced up at the window to check the weather before I set off. The sky was leaden, rain lashing the panes and we had already turned on all the lights in the room. I need to get going before it gets dark, I thought. The weather is closing in. Then I checked myself. It was 3.30 on a June afternoon. There were at least six hours of daylight left. It should be a bright midsummer day. And yet it felt like November.
As I drove home under ominous skies I thought of something I’d read about another such gloomy summer. In 1815, Mount Tambora, in the Dutch East Indies, erupted. The following summer was dull and cold. There was heavy rain and lightning storms. The sun barely made an appearance. Soon 1816 was dubbed ‘the year without a summer.’
That year, Lord Byron rented a summer lake house called the ‘Villa Diodati’ near Lake Geneva in Switzerland. He was joined by Mary Wollstonecraft (who later became Mary Shelley) her lover Percy Shelley and Byron’s friend John Polidori. Forced by the dreadful weather to remain indoors the group sought ways to entertain themselves. They kept warm around the fireplace reading ghost stories and discussing Galvanism, a scientific process thought to bring the dead back to life. Lord Byron then launched a competition as to who could write the most terrifying horror novel. Determined to impress Byron and Shelley, inspired by the strange summer darkness and haunted by a recent nightmare, Mary Wollstonecraft started to write a novel. This resulted in ‘Frankenstein’ one of the most powerful, influential horror stories of the last two hundred years. She was just nineteen at the time.
Who knows whether ‘Frankenstein’ would have been written had it not been for the ‘year without a summer’? Now I’m really hoping the sun will still make an appearance this year, but if not, who knows what strange works of literature it may produce? Perhaps the time is right for another ‘Frankenstein’….