Over a seasonably chilling weekend in September 2018, a hardy band of Frankenthusiasts led by the University of Dundee's Curator of Museum Services, Matthew Jarron, enjoyed a bus tour with a thrilling twist: at each stop we took turns in reading passages from the 1818 text of Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. By the end of Sunday, the entire novel had been brought back to life across a wide array of sites, indoors and out in the open, as we traced the lost footsteps of the author herself. A rain-sodden beach, a ship, a lecture theater and more: each doubled up suggestively with a corresponding passage in the book.
Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (hereafter Shelley) lived on the outskirts of Dundee on and off between 1812 and 1814. Shelley's records for the period are scant. But, later, in the introduction to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein, she wrote fondly of her time in the Baxter family's cottage overlooking the River Tay. Comfortable and idyllically placed, the home was within walking distance of the mound where women were burned as witches, a medieval plague pit (long disused), and fairy-tale woodland (now lost). Local gothic stories abound in areas like those. Perhaps Shelley devised tales of terror with the Baxter children—she kept up correspondences with Isabella for many years. No doubt the children [End Page 230]shared with her grisly accounts of recent maritime disasters. The Alictumsank in the Tay on its voyage to Ireland on May 7, 1812, barely weeks before the aspiring author arrived. The Eliza, travelling from Dundee to Shelley's native London, was driven ashore at Harwich later that year.
At the outset of Saturday our tour began onboard one of Dundee's greatest treasures, Captain Scott's RRS Discovery(now a museum). First launched in 1901, the ship long postdates Shelley's life by the Tay. But reading out loud Robert Walton's letters on the ship, with snippets of stories about the real-life disasters in our minds, gave a chastening new perspective to the book's framing narrative. After a short walk to the university, we found ourselves in one of the campus's last un-renovated lecture theater—atmospheric, certainly, for the first two chapters proper, which recount Victor Frankenstein's studies. Another short walk and we were in the mortuary located in the Medical Science Institute. Here we brought the creature vividly to life through the galvanism of collective reading! Next, in the Scrymgeour building (now home to the Law School) we dealt with the death of William Frankenstein and, in a mock courtroom, witnessed the trial of Justine Moritz. After lunch we took our first bus ride: to Balkello Woods, barely twenty minutes to the north of the main campus. At the bottom of the hill we mimicked the travels to the mountains (Volume 2, Chapter 1). At the top, we confronted the creature (Chapter 2). In the nearby wood, we heard the creature's story (Chapters 3–5).
Sunday took us over the water to Fife, specifically Balmerino Abbey, now largely in ruins, where we heard the rest of the creature's story (Chapters 6–8). Then, quite sharpish, we were back on the bus, this time to Tentsmuir Forest. Here we watched as our next reader dramatized Victor's agreement to make a mate for the creature before heading on his travels. A short walk through the woods to the beach (doubling up for one of the Orkney Islands) coincided with a sharp but short bout of rain—and my turn to read. There's nothing quite like shouting out words from sopping wet pages for thinking anew about one of the most iconic scenes in the book: Victor's tortured creation—and destruction—of the female creature. Back on the bus after a lunchbreak, we travelled to Dundee's Botanic Garden. The Scottish poet Heather Yeung brought to life the Irish scenes (Volume 3, Chapter 4), and the novelist Andrew Murray Scott the marriage and Elizabeth's death (Chapter 5).
Then, the culminating event: a...