Thursday, 16 June 2016

post-modern prometheus or the year without a summer

The anecdote that without the catastrophic eruption of Mount Tambora was responsible for the birth of the Gothic genre, since—if not for the volcanic winter that spoiled their holiday weather, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (née Godwin), her future husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley and some literati friends would have been able to enjoy the scenic shores of Lake Geneva and wouldn’t have had to resort to telling each other stories around the campfire (so to speak) and finding other indoors diversions.
The story behind the origins of what became Shelly’s famous Frankenstein is fascinating on its own, this summer of discontent marking two centuries since the 1816 delusory and haunted visit to Switzerland, but like the milieu of the Canterbury Tales at another time of crisis, does tend to overshadow the grave consequences of the release of so much ash into the atmosphere which—beyond poor weather and anemic sunshine, perpetrated a global famine, dread and the last one to affect the Western world on that scale. Although the Modern Prometheus is usually interpreted to be about the encroachment of technology and the creation escaping control of his creator (as a cautionary tale for artificial intelligence or genetic-modification) and there’s the feeling that the happy band were far too self-occupied, making the most of a rainy day, to concern themselves the plight of the hoards of weather-refugees coming into the cities after their crops failed. Though there’s a danger in transposing even the timeless to contemporary events, there’s much resonance to be found in the season of today, brilliantly investigated and considered further in this essay from Public Domain Review. Far from disdaining the suffering that was happening just beyond their guesthouse confines like the Lit Crit response to the debates on global-warming or migration politics, Shelley did notice this encroachment too and incorporated it into her novel and it could be read in that bleak light of the sun in that year with no summer, even if that monster was not of our own making.