A Veiled Inclusion

Safie as Mary Wollstonecraft in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein


  • Mathew Siegel


Over 200 years after its conception, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein not only remains one of the most influential works of all-time, but researchers are still gaining new insights into the culturally and philosophically significant lessons drawn from its pages. Shelley’s masterpiece takes influences from her life and cohesively stitches them together with politics and social commentary, paying homage to those she reveres as she seeks to establish herself as both an author and the torchbearer of her parents’ legacies. Expectations were high for Shelley considering her pedigree as the child of two successful authors known for their progressive ideologies, Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin. Born Mary Godwin, Shelley’s birth was marked by the untimely death of her mother, leaving her alone to navigate a social landscape that simultaneously held great expectations for her while also oppressing her because of her gender. Wollstonecraft’s absence served as a painful yet substantial influence on Shelley, but it was Wollstonecraft’s controversial status that contributed to Shelley’s choice to shroud her mother’s presence in the work. While Frankenstein quotes various Romantic writers and historically significant figures, such as future husband Percy Shelley and childhood influence Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Shelley’s activist, progressive mother is neither directly quoted nor openly referenced (Robinson 132). Wollstonecraft’s feminist ideologies and death are embedded in the characters of Frankenstein, and the novel’s focus on the martyred feminine, such as Caroline Beaufort and Justine Moritz, is frequently recognized as a reference to Wollstonecraft. Indeed, the overarching theme of the toxic masculine resulting from the absence of the beneficial feminine can be interpreted as an allusion to Wollstonecraft’s absence in Mary’s life. However, examination of the novel’s feminist core features a lone female voice silenced in the midst of a male-dominated narration, that of the Christian Arab Safie, who flees oppression to be with her love interest, Felix De Lacey. While scholarship has identified Wollstonecraft’s philosophies on education and slavery as depicted through Safie, there is further evidence to suggest that Safie’s character is representative of Wollstonecraft herself. Through Safie, Wollstonecraft’s actual experiences from her abusive upbringing, restricted education, and independent travels across Europe are depicted. Via the medium of letter-writing, Safie, like Wollstonecraft, makes the argument for women as independent, rational beings. Furthermore, the presentation of Safie’s letters is stolen by the Creature, symbolically suppressing Safie’s ideas just as Wollstonecraft’s activism was silenced in a male-dominated society. It is through Safie’s subtle inclusion that Shelley is able to disguise her mother’s presence in order to safely navigate and confront the controversies surrounding her mother’s life and make her a quintessential part of the Frankenstein lore.