In the center of Frankenstein, as the Creature is relating his life, we encounter another story within the De Lacey family. A young girl, Safie, whose father is Muslim and mother is Christian, has fled her native Turkey, where her father wants her to marry a Muslim, and have her live in a strictly religious way, severely limiting her freedom and options as a woman. She escapes to find refuge with Felix De Lacey. She doesn’t know his language, and although they cannot speak to each other, Felix and Safie are in love. The Creature learns language as Felix teaches Safie how to speak and read. The power of love, language, and theme of freedom and acceptance are on display.
It is an odd story to have at the center of this book, but one that speaks to a feminist movement that was a part of Shelley’s world. During the early 19th century, marriage was virtually the only option for women, and upon marriage, a woman and whatever children she bore, became the property of her husband. Females could not own property, nor manage their own assets. Safie’s life with Felix would be freer than her life in Turkey, but she would still effectively be his property.
For the Creature, however, no level of eloquence or intellect would prevent his being hated – even in the progressive world of Switzerland in Shelley’s time. During this time, moral objections to the enslavement of African people were rising. Frankenstein was first published in 1818 as the Abolition movement gained power. Slavery was abolished in England in 1833, shortly after the second publication of the novel.
In America, Thomas Jefferson, among others, argued that Africans could never be the intellectual or moral equals of Caucasians. But he called slavery “a moral and political depravity” and wrote in a letter to Jean Nicolas Demeunier, “What a stupendous, what an incomprehensible machine is man! who can endure toil, famine, stripes, imprisonment or death itself in vindication of his own liberty, and the next moment….inflict on his fellow men a bondage, one hour of which is fraught with more misery than ages of that which he rose in rebellion to oppose.”17
Perhaps the machines we create will be more humane.