Presenter Cathy MacDonald on Dundee's famous Frankensteins steps

The making of a monster

By Published On: 9th June 20222.1 min readCategories: Arts and Culture

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It is one of the most influential novels of the past 200 years, now a new BBC ALBA documentary explores how the roots of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein - and its monster - can be traced to Scotland.

Sàr-sgeòil: Frankenstein, produced by Caledonia TV for BBC ALBA’s literary series, explores the origins of Shelley’s iconic book.

First published anonymously in 1818, Frankenstein is believed to have been heavily influenced by Shelley’s time in Dundee and includes a journey to Orkney.

While the connection to the Northern Isles is undeniable, as Victor Frankenstein creates a new monster on a remote, isolated island in an attempt to right the wrongs of his first creature; the ties to the City of Discovery are more cryptic.

Photo above - Presenter Cathy MacDonald on Dundee's famous Frankensteins steps

Cathy MacDonald overlooking Dundee - Discover Scotland Magazine

Cathy MacDonald overlooking Dundee

Broadcaster Cathy MacDonald travelled to Dundee to meet local experts on, and fans of, Shelley’s finest work - believed to be one of the earliest examples of science fiction, written at a time when science was advancing at a rapid rate.

The young Shelley spent some of her formative years living with one of country’s wealthiest 19th century Jute barons, The Baxter family, in Dundee at a time when the city was a growing industrial settlement.

In the introduction to the 1831 edition, the author wrote: “I lived principally in the country as a girl, and passed a considerable time in Scotland.

Comic representation. of Shelley's creation by Norrie Millar - Discover Scotland Magazine

Comic representation. of Shelley's creation by Norrie Millar

“I made occasional visits to the more picturesque parts; but my habitual residence was on the blank and dreary northern shores of the Tay near Dundee.

“It was beneath the trees of the grounds belonging to our house or on the bleak sides of the woodless mountains near that my true compositions, the airy flights of my imagination were born and fostered.”

An updated depiction of the Frankenstein story by Norrie Millar - Discover Scotland Magazine

An updated depiction of the Frankenstein story by Norrie Millar

It wasn’t just the industry of Dundee that had an impact on Mary, but the morbid, darker side of the city, too. Arriving in Dundee shortly after plague and the Battle of Culloden had scarred a generation, Shelley would have heard plenty of stories of witch-burning and grave-robbing to fuel her imagination. 

Sàr-sgeòil: Frankenstein (Classic Tales: Frankenstein) airs on BBC ALBA on Thursday 9 June at 9pm and is available on BBC iPlayer for 30 days afterwards.