Mary Shelley's Journal
Below are images found when searching for 'Safie' in google images.
Safie, one of the Three Ladies of Bagdad, by William Wontner (1900) Source Art.com
Interesting Fact: Sidney Colvin wrote in 1917 that John Keats (1795-1821) "eighteen he wrote an Eastern tale in verse in the Byronic manner, Safie, of which Byron acknowledged the presentation copy in a kind and careful letter several pages long ." Source
Safie, a minor character who appears in only three short chapters of Frankenstein, is nevertheless an essential character. She is a flat, static character whose function in the story is twofold: education of the Creature, and observing her relationship with Felix, caused the Creature to desire a mate. While both function to teach the Creature, it is important to separate the two. The first one is book knowledge; the other is more a personal awareness that he, the Creature, is alone. Moreover, A footnote in the text says that Safie is meant to be a play on “’Sophie,’ the simple, obedient wife idealized in Rousseau’s Émile” and “acidly critiqued by Wollstonecraft in Rights of Women” (Shelley, 88).
The same footnote also says the name Safie “derives from the Greek word for ‘learning’” (Shelley, 88). According to The Oxford English Dictionary Online (OED), the word safie orignated in North Africa and it means “a charm,” (Oxford University Press). Charm in the plural form typically refers to” female beauty” and means “quality, attribute, trait, feature, etc., which exerts a fascinating or attractive influence, exciting love or admiration” (OED). The character Safie in Frankenstein fits this definition. From moment the Creature saw her, he was fascinated with her beauty; he was drawn to her. The Creature in relating the first time he saw he describes her as having “angelic beauty and expression,” “shining raven black” hair, “dark,” yet “gentle,” “animated eyes,” “features of a regular proportion,” and “a wondrously” fair complexion, complete with pink tinged checks (Shelley, 87). There is a certain irony in an uneducated, social outcast like the Creature being able to recognize her particular physical traits, including fair skin, as ideal beauty. She is referred to as the Arabian, whereas her father is referred to as a Turk negative racial characterization. Further, the Creature was educated as Felix taught Safie.
Prior to her arrival, the Creature was able to acquire some language skills by observing and listening to the De Laceys. After her arrival, the Creature is educated along with Safie. Upon her arrival, Safie did not speak French, the language of the De Lacey family, so Felix undertook to teach her. Along with language, the Creature learned “the science of letters, as it was taught” to Safie (Shelley, 89). He was able to learn faster and more than Safie did, much the way a child is able to learn a language faster than an adult is. The important thing to note is Safie was pivotal in his education. Without her, the Creature would not have learned so much of “science of letters,” so fast (Ibid.). An education he continued by reading books he later finds in the woods.
Her importance goes beyond book education for the Creature; it brings him to an existential crisis of sorts as well. Observing the relationship between Felix, Safie and the rest of the De Lacey family caused him realize he was alone. His education allows him to realize he does not know his creator, or his father, or family, or friends, or anyone like himself, but he recognizes he is different from men (Shelley, 91). This grieves him and hi is brought to an existential crisis. He knows he is alone, hideous, and despised by all who see him, even his creator abandoned him. Additionally, the education also allows him to read the papers he took from Victor’s lab coat. These described “disgusting circumstances” of the Creature’s “accursed origin” (Shelley, 98-99). The details of which “sickened” the Creature as he read them (Ibid.). These things combined, are behind the Creature’s demand that Victor create a female creature for him.
Another important detail is Safie’s letters. While away from Felix, Safie wrote to him by having someone transcribe her words into French. The Creature finds copies of these letters and carries them until he offers them to Victor as proof of his story about the De Laceys (Shelley, 93). Victor also carries them until he offers them to Walden as proof of his tale. In essence, her letters are the only proof Victor has, that he is willing to provide, that any part of his tale is true. Walden then offers them to his sister to prove his story to her, making Safie’s letters important to the tale.
Oxford University Press. “The Oxford English Dictionary Online (OED).” 14 March 2008 http://www.oed.com/libaccess.sjlibrary.org/.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus. Ed. Susan J. Wolfson. Second. New York: Pearson Longman, 2007. Online 1818 edition text from http://www.english.upenn.edu/Projects/knarf/1818v1/ftitle.html