Frankenstein Returns : University of Dundee Hub
By Daniel Cook, Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Dundee
For this spooky special blog post we spoke to Daniel Cook, who shines a light on the Being Human programme at our Dundee hub for 2018. Read on and find out how ‘Frankenstein Returns’ to Dundee.
What inspired you to act as a ‘hub’ for Being Human 2018?
We have participated in the Being Human festival every year since 2015 – it has proven to be the ideal catalyst for new creative projects, or offshoots of ongoing projects, as it brings together colleagues working in completely different disciplines across the University and in different sectors across Dundee. Centring on one core author each year (Mary Shelley, H. G. Wells, and Jonathan Swift) has helped us find new ways to explore the real-world impact of great writers, as well as thrilling new ways to read their works.
How does your programme respond to our ‘Origins and Endings’ theme?
This year’s theme has helped us to think about a novel as familiar as Frankenstein in a completely different light, not merely as one of the first works of science fiction, a strong research and teaching interest of ours. After all, the novel is full of beginnings and endings – the creation of the Creature itself and the destruction of the Creature’s female mate, to name but two. As artists and scientists we realised that Frankenstein doesn’t merely frame various debates in our fields – it also gives birth to new ideas. Creating a new comic (with established artists and local amateurs), curating a graphic exhibition (with practitioners and students), running creative writing workshops (with award-winning writers and the city’s makar, or official poet), co-writing and performing an original play (with a local theatre company), and hosting an interactive evening of Frankenstein-inspired poetry (with a local poetry group), among other things, our programme seeks to bring new life to perhaps the most remediated source material ever written: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
Can you tell us about a few highlights from your programme? What are you most excited about and what can people look forward to?
Each year our events get bigger and more elaborate, though it will take some time to beat Dame Sue Black’s Martian Autopsy (part of the H. G. Wells at 150: Hope and Fear series in 2016). This year we have ten events, all of which are highly inclusive and largely interactive. Our marquee event will be The Frankenstein Phantasmagoria, as designed and hosted by The Magic Lantern Society. This hair-raising, eye-popping visual performance will demonstrate the ingenuity of nineteenth-century projection technology and comes with live musical accompaniment. Immersing ourselves in the wildly popular Gothic shows that might have thrilled Mary Shelley herself, we’ll be able to experience Frankenstein in a whole new way. At the same time, we will also be screening at the local arts cinema, the DCA, one of the most iconic filmic responses to the novel, The Bride of Frankenstein (1935).
If that wasn’t enough, we’ll even be premiering Frankenstein Re-membered, an experimental film produced in Dundee that stiches together two hundred other movies inspired by Shelley’s work. There will also be a chance to handle extraordinary documents in our “Body Parts in the Archives” tour of the University’s Archives, enjoy a themed take-over day at Dundee Science Centre (“Frankenstein’s Medical Marvels”), write your own Frankenstein-inspired poetry (“Frankenstein’s Poetic Progeny”), collaborate with award-winning writers (“We Shall Be Monsters”) and artists (“Frankenstein Returns: The Comic”), and so much more!
Why could your programme only be staged in Dundee? What have you found out about Dundee or Frankenstein that you didn’t know before you started putting the programme together?
This year the whole world has been celebrating the 200th anniversary of the first publication of Frankenstein. In Dundee, Mary Shelley’s home during her teenage years, the celebration has just begun. During the festival we’re going to launch an anniversary edition of the novel, Frankenstein: The Dundee Edition, which, thanks to funding from the University, will be free (in both print and online). It will include an image of Isabella Baxter, Mary’s closest friend in Dundee, which we only recently discovered. And we’ve even found out more about the church frequented by Mary’s host family, the Baxters – that’s where our marquee event, The Frankenstein Phantasmagoria will take place. Perhaps Mary’s ghost will even pay us a visit, if she’s back in the area. Beyond that event, we shall again enjoy collaborating with the celebrated and lesser known artists and writers of Dundee’s thriving creative scene.
What will people in Dundee get out of coming to these events?
As ever, we’re hoping people will enjoy the immense creativity of our participants across a number of fields (comics, theatre, visual art, poetry, film, and the like). We will also encourage everyone to revisit the novel itself, whether for the first or the umpteenth time, in light of our events – we will certainly have plenty of copies of Frankenstein: The Dundee Edition to give away to curious readers. In particular, we hope our local community will learn more about, and be inspired by, the extraordinary legacy of one of our most famous former residents, Mary Shelley. In time, we hope to commemorate her life and work more concretely here, where she says it all began, by the “eerie” banks of the river Tay.
Finally, if you could define your hub programme in a tweet, what would it be?
‘Frankenstein Returns’ celebrates one of Dundee’s most famous residents, the teenage pioneer of modern Gothic, Mary Shelley. Comics, theatre, and films galore!