Public Event Schedule
9:30 AM
Ransom Fellowship Hall
DOMINIC SMITH: The Year without a Summer: On the Uses of Weather and Atmosphere in Fiction

Historically, 1816 was known as the year without a summer. A volcanic eruption in Indonesia affected the global climate and also had widespread cultural impact. It spawned the intense, chromatic sunsets captured by the young British landscape painter J.M.W. Turner and it kept Mary Wollstonecraft and her party indoors during their rainy, cold season in Switzerland. The English tourists turned to ghost stories to pass the time and, not long after, Frankenstein was born, rife with motifs of cold, wet, unyielding weather. Lord Byron also wrote his poem “Darkness” as a direct result of the unusual weather.

Weather is often taken for granted in fiction, or it’s treated as a simplistic, overly-determined extension of our characters’ moods. As our own climate changes, it’s worth re-examining the role of

weather in our storytelling.

In this lecture I hope to examine the legacy of weather as it’s been passed down from Gothic and Victorian literatures, moving beyond “the pathetic fallacy.” We will look specifically at uses of weather in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Hardy’s Tess of the D’urbervilles before moving onto contemporary examples in Rick Bass’s “The Hermit’s Story” and Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping. Familiarity with these texts would be useful, though not required.


10:45 AM
Ransom Fellowship Hall

Poems exist not so much to give us the news as to allow us to experience viscerally how it feels to get the news; people who read Keats’s ode “To Autumn” again and again don’t do so because they

need to be reminded that in the temperate zones of the northern hemisphere leaves begin to turn colors and fall off the trees in September. This lecture will look at poems by Stevens, Frost, Shakespeare, and Bishop; that it will also discuss passages of prose by Hemingway and Joyce suggests that what it means by lyric knowledge—the thrilling rediscovery of what we already know—is not something acquired necessarily from poems. Poems exist to foreground the event of the their language over the event they happen to narrate or describe, but any good piece of writing might, through the rigorous work of its syntax, create a temporal experience that feels infinitely repeatable on the page, asking us

to return again and again for what we already know. Another word for that experience is structure, which is the opposite of a static thing.

Handouts provided. Texts will include: Stevens’s “No Possum, No Sop, No Taters” and “The Auroras of Autumn”; Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”; Shakespeare’s 94th sonnet; Bishop’s “At the Fishhouses”; passages of prose from Hemingway’s In Our Time and Joyce’s Ulysses.

(Full audio for all residency lectures will be available in the MFA Store in February:


Then join us at 8:15pm in Ransom Fellowship Hall for a reading featuring faculty members:

Ellen Bryant Voigt

Jeremy Gavron

Alan Williamson

Megan Staffel

For more information, including a full schedule of public events, please visit the program website at

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