The Volcano That Spawned a Monster: Frankenstein and Climate Change

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The volcanic period of 1816–18 is the most recent and vivid case study we have for worldwide climate catastrophe, evident from archival and geological records of sustained extreme weather, including drought, floods, storms, and crop-killing temperature decline. The signature literary expression of this historic climate crisis occurred in Switzerland, where teenage Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein in the midst of the disastrous “Year without a Summer,” 1816, a season of floods and food riots caused by the eruption of Mount Tambora thousands of miles away. This essay, combining climate science with historical and literary sources, reexamines the literary legend of that direful, stormy summer, which Mary Shelley spent on the shores of Lake Geneva with the poets Percy Shelley and Lord Byron, with a new and original emphasis on its climatic context. The writers huddled indoors and wrote ghost stories, while the cataclysmic weather and humanitarian emergency unfolding around them weaved its way into Mary Shelley’s imagining of a tragic monster brought to life.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)691-703
Number of pages13
JournalHuntington Library Quarterly
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 2020


  • Climate change
  • Frankenstein
  • Lord Byron
  • Mary Shelley
  • Mount Tambora
  • Percy Shelley
  • Year without a summer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Literature and Literary Theory


Dive into the research topics of 'The Volcano That Spawned a Monster: Frankenstein and Climate Change'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this