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.