1816: a year without summer

Two centuries ago, Britons had to endure biting cold and driving rain from April to August. They blamed everyone from Napoleon to Benjamin Franklin for the filthy weather but, says Robert Hume, the real culprit was far more remote...

An illustration showing a house and a woman with an umbrella

Lake Geneva, 1 June 1816. An “almost perpetual rain” confined the small group of writers to the house. The night was stormy. In the mountains lightning flashed from peak to peak. In a letter to her half sister, Mary Shelley wrote: “The lake was lit up, the pines on Jura made visible, and all the scene illuminated for an instant, when a pitchy blackness succeeded, and the thunder came in frightful bursts over our heads amid the darkness.”

Shelley was not the only famous writer to complain about the weather in the summer of 1816. “Oh! It rains again,” lamented Jane Austen from her home in Chawton, Hampshire on 9 July. “Such weather gives one little temptation to be out. It is really too bad, & has been for a long time, much worse than anybody can bear, & I begin to think it will never be fine again.”

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