Lord Byron rented a summer lake house called “Villa Diodati” in the summer of 1816. Clair Clairmont (Mary’s half-sister and Byron’s mistress) invites Mary Wollstonecraft (Who later becomes Mary Shelley a year later) and Percey Shelly to Geneva, Switzerland to meet Lord Byron and his friend John Polidori. Upon arrival at Villa Diodati, what was meant to be a warm and sunny summer turned into periods of heavy rain and lightning storms. The group was therefore forced to remain indoors and sought ways to entertain themselves. They kept warm around the fireplace reading ghost stories from Fantasmagoriana and discussed galvanism by Erasmus Darwin. Lord Byron proceeded to challenge everyone to write the most frightening horror novel. Later that night, Mary Wollstonecraft had a nightmare which led to one of the most popular horror novels ever written: Frankenstein. A year later, Mary Shelley publishes Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus at the young age of 19.
The Haunted VacationEdit
The Summer of 1816 is one of the most (in)famous gathering of writers in English literary history, and it is central to the story of Frankenstein and the history of the Shelleys and their circle. Nearly every Mary Shelley biography and book-length study of Frankenstein mentions this meeting. It has also found its own afterlife in contemporary popular culture including the following three films: Gothic (1986), Haunted Summer (1988), and Remando al Viento (Spanish title) a.k.a. Rowing with the Wind (1988).
The American indie-rock trio Rasputina 's "1816, The Year Without a Summer" is the opening track on the group's sixth album, Oh Perilous World (2007); although the song mentions Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, its inspiration is much broader in scope.
(Geo)Historical Context: Mount Tambora Edit
On April 10, 1815, a massive volcano named Mount Tabora erupted on the island of Sumbawa in the Dutch West Indies (present-day Indonesia). This was the largest volcano eruption since Hatepe in the year 180. "The eruption rated a category 7 on the Volcano Explosivity Index - to put the eruption in perspective, the 1980 Mount St. Helens' eruption rated a category 5, and the VEI scale only goes to 8. Close to 12,000 people, nearly the entire population of the Tambora province, died immediately after the explosion due to lava flows, tsunamis, and rocks sent flying through the sky." (Veronese, Keith). As a result of the eruption, tsunamis and 35 miles of rock, toxic ash, and sulfur covered the horizon affecting numerous surrounding countries including America. Many people died as a result of this, crops were burned, sunlight was blocked due to the heavy ash leading to crop failures, and temperatures plummeted to levels of freezing in the summer months. Without proper sunlight, crops could not be grown properly, leading to an inflation on food up to 8 times their normal price thus contributing to famine. Some resorted to making bread out of sawdust. The United States, Canada, and Europe experienced an unusually cold summer due to the aftermath of a massive volcanic eruption in Asia. Temperatures plummeted on average of 33.8 degrees farenheit.
When on vacation in Switzerland, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Claire Clairmont, Lord Byron, and John Polidori were affected by the eruption of Mount Tabora as it disrupted weather patterns causing it to rain constantly. Instead of going outdoors and enjoying their time in nature, they were forced to stay indoors. For entertainment and to pass the time, the group proposed a challenge of who could write the most frightening story of all time. Frankenstein was created.
Works Cited Edit
Bechtel, Dale. N.p.. Web. 28 Sep 2013
Boulton, Terry. N.p.. Web. 6 May 2013.
Veronese, Kieth. N.p.. Web. 28 Sep 2013.