Between 1812 and 1815 several large volcanoes erupted around the world including Mount Tambora in Indonesia, which was the largest volcanic eruption in a millennium. Ash accumulated in the atmosphere and changed weather patterns worldwide.
1816 became known as the Year Without Summer. The average global temperature dropped by several degrees. Crops failed, many starved, and the normally beautiful Swiss summer was shrouded in gloom and rain. The world was prophesied to end in July.
During this summer, a group of radical young British intellectuals arrived in Geneva and stayed on the shores of Lac Léman. Lord Byron had fled England after his divorce to escape scandal and debtors. He was accompanied by the brilliant but broody young Dr. Polidori, whom he had hired as his personal physician for the duration of the trip. Claire Clairmont followed in pursuit of Byron, determined to renew their affair. She convinced her stepsister Mary Godwin and Mary’s lover Percy Bysshe Shelley to accompany her with the promise that the two poets could meet.
Despite their differences in philosophy and temperament, Shelley and Byron became fast friends. They toured the lake, retracing the footsteps of writers they admired. Members of the group climbed Mont Blanc, practiced free love, and wrote some of their most famous works against the backdrop of the Swiss sublime and impending apocalypse.
“‘We will each write a ghost story,’ said Byron; and his proposition was acceded to.”
— Mary Shelley, from the Preface to Frankenstein