Electric Light and Frankenstein

This timeline includes meteorological events, scientific discoveries, and details specific to Mary Shelley's life and the writing of the novel "Frankenstein."

A Syllabus of a Course of Lectures on Chemistry, delivered at the Royal Institution of Great Britain

Sir Humphry Davy delivers lectures on chemistry, electricity, and light, which Mary Shelley's husband studied, her father attended, and the transcripts of which she read prior to writing Frankenstein. According to Susan J. Wolfson, we can see striking similarities between Davy's lecture and the lecture Victor Frankenstein attends (the one that inspires his newfound life's work). Source: Wolfson, Susan J. "'The is my Lightning' or; Sparks in the Air." SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, vol. 55, no. 4, pp. 751-786.

The year without a summer

This year featured "the coldest, wettest Geneva summer since records began in 1753" (46). Source: Wood, Gillen D'arcy. Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World. Princeton University Press, 2014.

The "mightiest of the storms" at Lake Geneva

On June 13, 1816, Lord Byron recorded witnessing "the mightiest of the storms," which inspired the following lines in "Child Harold's Pilgrimage": The sky is changed—and such a change! Oh night, And storm, and darkness, ye are wondrous strong..." (46). Source: Wood, Gillen D'arcy. Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World. Princeton University Press, 2014.

Mount Tambora Erupts

In "Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World," Gillen D'Arcy Wood argues that this event set off a series of catastrophic weather events spanning the globe (including the bizarre 1816 weather Mary Shelley witnessed in Geneva, when she dreamed up and wrote her famous novel "Frankenstein").

Luke Howard publishes "Essay on the Modifications of Clouds"

Luke Howard publishes an essay establishing classifications for clouds: cirrus, cumulus, stratus and nimbus. This essay was first published as part of the Philosophical Magazine in 1803, and it was the first to suggest that cloud formations were standardized and able to be classified. (Link is to digital format of third edition, published in 1865)

Luke Howard publishes "The Climate of London, Vol. II"

In 1820, Howard published the second of two volumes of "the first professional almanac of British weather conditions, complete with detailed statistical tables and prolific commentary" (55). This marks a shift in understanding meteorology as a "legitimate science" rather than guesswork and superstition and establishes the concept of "climate" as a region's weather over a period of time (55). It also demonstrates how Tambora's eruption impacted weather as far away as London. It also included weather patterns across continental Europe, suggesting that Howard was starting to view weather as "a cross-continental phenomenon and not simply the variation of local conditions" (59). Source: Wood, Gillen D'arcy. Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World. Princeton University Press, 2014.

Benjamin Franklin's "Meteorological Imaginations and Conjectures" read at the Philosophical Society of Manchester

Franklin wrote observations about May 1784 weather patterns and "found time to reflect on the altered climate of 1783-84 that had played such a complicating role in recent events," namely the delay in ratifying the peace accord to end "The War of Independence between Britain and America" (1). Source: D'arcy Wood, Gillen. Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World. Princeton University Press, 2012.

Winter storm described in Plymouth, UK newspaper

"Included in the destruction was a famous tree in Plymouth, the newspaper account of which reads very much like the lightning strike passage in Frankenstein, first published the month of this memorable storm" (59). Source: Wood, Gillen D'arcy. Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World. Princeton University Press, 2014.

Polar seas close after post-Tambora opening

"The polar seas had opened briefly in the Tambora period—just enough for [Captain William Edward] Parry's 1819 expedition to raise the nation's hopes for completion of the fabled northwest passage to the Pacific. But post-1819, with North Atlantic ocean circulation returned to normal, the polar ice abruptly closed once more, like a grave" (146). Source: Wood, Gillen D'arcy. Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World. Princeton University Press, 20

The start of the coldest decade in the historical record

1810-1819. Multiple papers concluded that this was most likely the coldest decade in at least five centuries (39). Source: Wood, Gillen D'arcy. Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World. Princeton University Press, 2014.

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