Ray Boisvert talks about the legend of Frankenstein during a presentation at the Auburn Public Library Tuesday night. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

AUBURN — How much do you know about Mary Shelley’s timeless novel “Frankenstein?”

Did you know the Frankenstein doesn’t refer at all to the novel’s ubiquitous monster, but the scientist who brings him to life? 

How about this: Frankenstein’s monster first comes to life on a rainy, dreary night in November — an eve eeriely similar to Tuesday night, when a small group gathered at the Auburn library to hear retired Siena College philosophy professor and Lewiston native Ray Boisvert present a lecture about the timeless themes and questions raised by the novel.

The novel celebrated its bicentennial on Jan. 1 of this year.

Boisvert said although he only read the book cover to cover a year ago, the idea for these talks had been incubating for two years.

“I’m a sucker for celebrations,” said Boisvert. “I saw in 2016 articles for this bicentennial, and I decided to do something for the college to get people excited,” said Boisvert.

“I thought this would create some intellectual excitement,” said Boisvert. 

During his lecture to a small but involved crowd, Boisvert spoke about the lasting societal impact of Shelley’s work, and stated the need to distance the novel from the iconic 1931 film.

We all know the scene — the mad scientist screams, “It’s alive!” as the bolt-headed monster twitches, strapped to a table. 

“The story is more complicated,” said Boisvert. “In the film, it’s a story about a wacko scientist,” he said. “In the book, Victor does get carried away, and push boundaries that he shouldn’t, but he’s not in any way a crazy guy,” said Boisvert.

Boisvert also informed the crowd about Mary Shelley’s personal life — her marriage to famous poet Percy Shelley that ended with his untimely drowning death at 29, the death of her three children, and the fact that Shelley’s own mother, famous feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, died giving birth to her.

“If you go back and re-read Frankenstein, pay attention to how many mothers die,” said Boisvert. 

Boisvert stated the novel pivoted around two central themes, the relationship between life and death, and grief and love.

“Let’s say you want to split these up,” said Boisvert. “Let’s say you want life without death, and to eliminate grief. You want life and a grief-free world. There are only a few strategies to get there,” he said. 

“There’s a way to get rid of grief, and that is to get rid of death,” said Boisvert. “That’s what Victor wants to do, and what fans of Elvis want to think,” he said as he showed PowerPoint clips of newspaper articles exposing the conspiracy theory that Elvis remains alive.

“Victor wants to slap together all these body parts  and bring a body back to life,” said Boisvert. He then informed the crowd of transhumanism, a school of thought that supposes someday humans will become technologically advanced enough to become immortal. 

“Some people think we’re entering another transitional period, we’re about to move beyond disease and death, overcoming dying, and at the same time overcoming grief,” said Boisvert.

Boisvert linked the widespread technological advances in our current age to themes presented in the novel: Medical advancements may allow us to overcome death with nanoscience, and developments in robotics may allow humans of flesh and blood to become one with silicone machines, or at least upload their consciousness into one, said Boisvert.

And although robots and nanoscience are a far cry from the world in which the 200-year-old novel is set, the questions the book raises are timeless. 

“I read ‘Frankenstein’ in my teens,” said Deb Bissonette. “It’s timeless, it’s a classic and those things live on.” 


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