January 16, 2024 | Samantha Henman

Gloom And Doom: The Year Without A Summer

In the depths of winter, summer can feel like a distant memory, though we all know that inevitably it’ll come again—but what if it didn’t? Well, that’s kind of what happened in 1816, which came to be known as the “Year Without a Summer”.

Welcome To Volcanic Winter

One year before, in 1815, a volcano called Mount Tambora erupted in what is now Indonesia. It was one of the biggest eruptions in at least 1,300 years, and the effects were calamitous and long-lasting. The volcanic winter that it created is believed to be the major cause behind the Year Without a Summer, which saw record-breaking cold temperatures in the summer of 1816 and catastrophic crop failures. 

The effects were felt all over the world—North America was blanketed in a thick fog; floods and frost covered fields in China; and crop failures in Europe led to famine, which led to riots, outbreaks of disease, and, infamously, some of the Western canon’s darkest art in both theme and form. 


Sign up to our newsletter.

History’s most fascinating stories and darkest secrets, delivered to your inbox daily. Making distraction rewarding since 2017.

Thank you!
Error, please try again.

Gloom And Doom

Caspar David Friedrich: Two Men by the SeaAlte Nationalgalerie, Wikimedia CommonsCaspar David Friedrich, "Two Men by the Sea"

Looking at Caspar David Friedrich’s 1817 painting “Two Men by the Sea,” one could imagine what it was like to live through such a natural disaster. The sunset was streaked red for years afterward, and immediately following the eruption in many areas, brown or red snow fell throughout the year.

That summer, a group consisting of Mary Shelley, her soon-to-be husband Percy, and her pregnant stepsister Claire Clairmont tracked down Lord Byron, the father of Claire’s child, to the Villa Diodati in Switzerland. They were joined by Byron’s physician, John Polidori. 

“A Wet, Ungenial Summer”

Driven indoors by the heavy rain, gloomy skies, and cold temperatures, they set about with an infamous challenge: to see who among them could write the scariest story. The contest ultimately produced a number of poems and stories by Lord Byron, one of which later inspired John Polidori’s The Vampyr, and, most notably, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. 

plate found on page 7 of Frankenstein, captioned Mary Shelley, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commonsplate found on page 7 of Frankenstein, captioned In the novel, the influence of nature on mood is a persistent theme. After a particularly miserable winter, the monster finally feels his spirit lighten as spring begins—something that, for Shelley and her friends in the Year Without a Summer, likely felt like an unattainable dream.  

More from Factinate

Featured Article

My mom never told me how her best friend died. Years later, I was using her phone when I made an utterly chilling discovery.

Featured Article

Madame de Pompadour was the alluring chief mistress of King Louis XV, but few people know her dark history—or the chilling secret shared by her and Louis.

More from Factinate

Featured Article

I tried to get my ex-wife served with divorce papers. I knew that she was going to take it badly, but I had no idea about the insane lengths she would go to just to get revenge and mess with my life.

Featured Article

Catherine of Aragon is now infamous as King Henry VIII’s rejected queen—but few people know her even darker history.

Dear reader,

Want to tell us to write facts on a topic? We’re always looking for your input! Please reach out to us to let us know what you’re interested in reading. Your suggestions can be as general or specific as you like, from “Life” to “Compact Cars and Trucks” to “A Subspecies of Capybara Called Hydrochoerus Isthmius.” We’ll get our writers on it because we want to create articles on the topics you’re interested in. Please submit feedback to contribute@factinate.com. Thanks for your time!

Do you question the accuracy of a fact you just read? At Factinate, we’re dedicated to getting things right. Our credibility is the turbo-charged engine of our success. We want our readers to trust us. Our editors are instructed to fact check thoroughly, including finding at least three references for each fact. However, despite our best efforts, we sometimes miss the mark. When we do, we depend on our loyal, helpful readers to point out how we can do better. Please let us know if a fact we’ve published is inaccurate (or even if you just suspect it’s inaccurate) by reaching out to us at contribute@factinate.com. Thanks for your help!

Warmest regards,

The Factinate team

Want to learn something new every day?

Join thousands of others and start your morning with our Fact Of The Day newsletter.

Thank you!

Error, please try again.