Or…”What do you do when the weather hijacks your story?”
by Kadee McDonald
Now that summer has ended for those of us here in the northern hemisphere, I thought it might be a good time to look back at the year 1816, which has been called “The Year without a Summer.”
Chapter One of my traditional Regency romance, Marisa’s Choice, begins in October 1815 and in Chapter Two, the story jumps ahead to March 1816 and that year’s social season, when proud (or desperate) mothers from England’s upper-class society thrust their debutante daughters into the London Marriage Mart, in the hopes of finding them eligible (and rich) husbands.
The time frame wasn’t an arbitrary choice on my part. The story’s hero, William Wycliffe, took up his commission in the army in 1812 and was present at the Battle of Waterloo in June of 1815. I reasoned that once Napoleon was exiled to Saint Helena later that same summer, Will would have felt his duty done, sold out his commission and come home with all due haste to resume his life at his family’s country estate in Dorsetshire.
Once I discovered this fact, the scenes where Marisa rides through Hyde Park, goes shopping, or strolls through the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, enjoying clear skies and warm summer days and nights, flew out the window, so to speak. She still enjoyed these activities, but she was a sensible girl and she participated in them wearing warmer clothing. Fortunately, since England is notoriously rainy, anyway, I had already included several scenes with stormy skies and a mention of heavy rains back home in Dorset.
It was likely at the time that no one knew why the weather was so different that year. How could they when one of the main causes of the atmospheric changes were events that occurred thousands of miles away? But when the crops failed to come in and food riots broke out over much of Europe and even as far away as the New England states of the United States, few people probably even cared what was causing the misery. They all just wanted it to end.
Today, almost 200 years later, scientists have put forward some very creditable theories about the disastrous weather that year. According to an article by meteorologist Lee Foster:
…climate data obtained from trees, ice cores, marine sediment and historical documents indicate 1816 was part of a mini ice age that lasted from 1400 to around 1860. During this time lower solar output produced harsh winters, shorter growing seasons and drier climates which were blamed for a host of human suffering and crop failures such as the Irish Potato Famine. Another possible cause was the eruption of the Tambora volcano on the island of Soembawa in Indonesia on April 15th 1815. The eruption lasted one week and rumbled for 3 months. The mountain elevation dropped from 14,000 feet to 9,000 feet, killed close to 10,000 people on the island and another 80,000 people would eventually die from starvation and diseases related to the eruption. Tambora was one of the largest recorded eruptions with estimates of 1.7 million tons of dust put into the air equaling 6 million atomic bombs. The theory is that the dust reached the Northern Hemisphere during 1816 reducing solar output.
Whatever the cause, the next year saw the first general migration from the (U.S.) Northeast to the Midwest and 1816 also became known as the ‘Poverty Year.’
The following verse from poet Eileen Marguet summed up the year:
It didn't matter whether your farm was large or small.
It didn't matter if you had a farm at all.
Cause everyone was affected when water didn't run.
The snow and frost continued without the warming sun.
One day in June it got real hot and leaves began to show.
But after that it snowed again and wind and cold did blow.
The cows and horses had no grass, no grain to feed the chicks.
No hay to put aside that time, just dry and shriveled sticks.
The sheep were cold and hungry and many starved to death,
Still waiting for the warming sun to save their labored breath.
The kids were disappointed, no swimming, such a shame.
It was in 1816 that summer never came.
The “wet, ungenial summer” of 1816 did produce an interesting literary side note when writers Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, and John William Polidori were forced to stay indoors for most of their Swiss holiday, leading to a contest to see who could write the scariest story. Shelley created Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, while Lord Byron wrote “A Fragment,” which Polidori later used as inspiration for The Vampyre, a precursor to Dracula.
A determined young Regency lady...three eligible suitors...one true love.
To read an excerpt from Marisa's Choice, please click HERE.
In the coldest days of February, can St. Valentine create enough heat to melt two hearts into one?
To read an excerpt from An Arranged Valentine, please click HERE.
Kadee McDonald is a student of history and the author of the traditional Regency romances, Marisa’s Choice and An Arranged Valentine, from Aurora Regency. Kadee frequently hosts other romance authors on her site and enjoys meeting and chatting with readers.
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