I live in San Francisco – earthquake country – and today is the release of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s earthquake thriller, San Andreas. If you haven’t caught the trailer, it’s apocaporn at its best. A moody and melancholy cover of California Dreamin’ plays over wide-angle slow-motion flyovers of collapsing skyscrapers as viewers are asked where will they be when everything falls apart.

I enjoyed Jennifer’s post earlier this week on how Austen lived in times of war whose effects rarely showed up in her novels, which led me to speculate: did Austen lives in times of large-scale natural disasters?

In a world without social media, hundreds of networks, and a 24-hour news cycle, she wasn’t subject to real-time reporting of natural and weather phenomenon, but I still wondered: during her short life, what major disasters occurred on the planet?

A cursory review of Wikipedia yielded a range of natural disasters, the most significant being the 1815 eruption of Mt. Tambora shortly before her death which not only resulted in direct mass casualties but also in global temperature changes which directly contributed to Britain’s failed harvests, the worst famine of the 19th century, and a European typhus epidemic. It spewed enough ash into the sky to darken the sun and may have inspired Byron’s poem, Darkness.

I don’t mean to imply that this natural disaster was a contributing factor to Jane Austen’s death (the definitely cause is still a subject of speculation), but I can’t imagine the environmental effects didn’t exacerbated recovery conditions, regardless of whether she had Addison’s, Lymphoma, or something else as complicated by her own childhood typhus.

In fact, some of the most significant storms, earthquakes, eruptions, and hurricanes in history occurred during her very short life.

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12 Responses to Apocausten

  1. I love stories that a bit of real history in them. If Melanie Schertz doesn’t mind me saying, she is currently posting a story on D&L called Pemberley Quaking. “Blurb: Using a real life event, a 4.7 earthquake which happened on November 18, 1795, in Derbyshire, we set a chain of events.” Its a great start to her next tale and everyone loves that is inspired by a real disaster. Jen Red

  2. Fascinating look at the natural disasters in Jane’s lifetime. I just imagine it would have taken such a long time for England to hear of them, that when they finally did it would have been anti-climatic. Or perhaps I am thinking of us hearing of somethings months after it happened. 🙂 Still, I do think the results of the Mt. Tambora eruption would have exacerbated bad health and not helped poor Jane. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Cecilia, I also really appreciated learning about the major natural disasters that occurred during Jane Austen’s life, and also loved the graph! Thank you!

    And I’m glad to say that I join you and Becky in being a Northern California Austen fan! I live a couple of hours east of S.F. in the Sierra Foothills… I hope to join the Sacramento Jane Austen Society.

    • I love it, our numbers are growing! Sacramento is a bit of a drive for me, but certainly doable from time to time. :):) The Sierra Foothills are absolutely beautiful!

  4. Love the timeline, Cecilia. I’ve always thought the lousy weather of 1815 may have at least ruined her mood. And don’t forget the various famines during this time.

    I also like to think Jane would have been good in a disaster, like Anne Elliot after Louisa Musgrave falls. Anne was a take charge sort of woman and I think the same of Austen.

    • Hmmm, we’ve had Jane Austen monster mashups – maybe someone needs to jump on the Jane Austen apocalypse retelling??? I agree, she would have been great in an emergency. Oooh, I’m totally doing a followup post on which Austen character dies first. YES. Haha. My next post for sure!

  5. I can honestly say that I have never thought about large scale natural disasters in Austen’s time. It would have been a long hard road to recovery then. Very interesting. Love the graph.

    We are practically neighbors. I have always felt like the lonely California Austen fan. You are just a short car ride. Nice to know there are more Northern California fans.

Your thoughts are precious!