Storms, Tempests, and ‘visions of romance’: Jane Austen and the weather

In the late spring and early summer of 1816, Jane Austen was at work revising the manuscript of ‘Susan’ (which would become Northanger Abbey). She was also writing her final completed novel Persuasion, completed on 6 August of that year.  In that extraordinary year without a summer (so-called because of the peculiar climactic conditions that caused heavy rains and average global temperatures to plummet, resulting in failed harvests across Europe and severe famine in parts of Ireland), Jane Austen was therefore working on two novels in which weather plays a central and key part. While this historical correspondence may be no more than coincidental, in this paper I would like to consider the ways in which Austen uses key scenes of stormy weather to structure both novels. Beginning with the storm scenes in Northanger Abbey, which Austen deploys to illuminate her heroine’s metaphorical coming of age, as she moves from viewing the world through the prism of Gothic melodrama to a more sober and empirically-determined understanding of human beings, I will then turn to the topic of rain in Persuasion in order to demonstrate the extent to which rainy weather regularly dictates crucial plot developments in that novel.

Katie Halsey, University of Stirling


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