Most of the great paintings were centralised around great literature and poetry. I see a stormy sky depicted through words and visualise it, there’s a story and meaning behind each brush mark and placement expanding our thoughts into emotions we never knew could exist. J.M.W. Turner, as we know, used poetry as a basis for many of his later paintings (1) however I want to investigate how weather inspires and can be the fuel for literary masterpieces.
Weather plays a key role in people’s mood, naturally when the weather is calm and warm you are more likely to feel the same, however, so can be said in regards to the opposite. Storms not only bring depressions and destruction, but they also can lead to fresh scenarios and ideas. Artists and writers seize the opportunity to use genres like horror and drama within their work they might not ordinarily do, producing work they ordinarily don’t.
For example, one of the most famous gothic/horror books ever written is ‘Frankenstein’ (1818) by Mary Shelley. A few English travellers in May 1816, including Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, his soon-to-be-wife Mary and her stepsister Claire Clairmont made their way to Switzerland for a summer vacation, but this was not the summer retreat they had hoped for. ‘Black clouds clogged the sky, thunder shuddered the lake’s surface, rain streaked down, lightning forked and flashed around the mountains, and clammy cold grasped the young people’s limbs.’ (2) This allows me to perfectly visualise the abominable weather conditions that Shelley and her acquaintances faced that summer. 15 years later Shelley wrote about her experience in her diary ‘‘it proved a wet, ungenial summer, and incessant rain often confined us for days to the house.’’ (3)
Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ consistently uses weather through pathetic fallacy, mirroring our mood to the weathers, many say this was inspired by the turbulent weather conditions of that in May 1816. Some of which include “Rain pattered dismally” and “the roaring’s of the giant ocean”.
Not only did weather inspire great works such as gothic literature but (as we know from Turner) inspired poets too. ‘The year without summer’ was how the storms and cold of 1815/16 became known, due to the eruption of an Indonesian volcano called Mount Tambora. ‘The volcano had spewed masses of sulphurous fog into the atmosphere, fog which went on to encircle the earth, dimming sunlight, perverting weather patterns and causing frost and ice well into summer.’ (4) Lord Byron, more famously a poet than writer, went on to write ‘Darkness’, inspired by the horrendous conditions of 1816:
‘ I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish’d and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless and pathless and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air …’ (5)
Here we can see the clear resemblance and inspiration from the gloomy atmosphere Byron had experienced the same summer as Shelley.
In my work, I am focusing on how weather has inspired authors and poets which inspire artists such as myself and Turner. In Turners painting from 1815 ‘Chichester Canal’ we can see how the influences of the dust and ash from the volcano may be featured in his work, with gloomy ochres and dark greys. (6)
Reading how Shelley’s iconic book had been inspired by the unusual weather of that year, however, in the 21st century due to climate change, much more dramatic weather events are appearing more frequently. To develop my work further, I will be understanding how important nature and the elements can be for producing work and want to connect to my weather patterns whilst in lockdown too.
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