To a Candid World consists of two side by side texts. On the
odd numbered pages is an abbreviated version of the Vitebsk story,
from which some think Mary Shelley drew to create her famous novel.
Facing each page of the story text is an advertisement introducing
a variety of information and observations about Frankenstein, the
Vitebsk story, and related topics.
[Origin of the Vitebsk Story]
[Vitebsk Story Sample]
[Link to Advertisement Index]
[To Purchase TCW]
Origin of the Vitebsk Story
Under Barclay’s command, Russian forces refused to engage
Napoleon’s invading army of 453,000, which had been marching
toward the heart of Russia since the latter part of June of 1812.
By the time Napoleon reached Vitebsk, although few of his forces
had seen a Russian soldier, a third had been defeated by famine,
epidemic, and heat. About that time a wax box was confiscated,
which aroused considerable suspicion on first examination. It
contained many papers, which seemed to relate to a project under-
taken by an Englishman aboard a Russian ship and some agreement
that had been reached with a party of French royalists.
Once they had been delivered to Napoleon, the notion that there
was some military significance to the papers seems to have been
quickly dispelled. Most were letters almost fifteen years old.
Never the less, the Emperor became rather curious in their regard,
summoning four officers, who read English, from four units. The
four, in rotation, separately read and translated the letters for
Napoleon, each without knowledge of the others.
From the outset, the letters stirred such memories of the Emperor’s
youth and provoked such excited response with respect to certain
insights offered that the translators were frequently interrupted by
Napoleon’s own reflections and perorations. Several times the
Emperor is reported to have praised the wisdom of Providence for
having placed the letters in his hands. At the time, the letters seemed
to provide Napoleon with a much needed diversion from the
frustrations of the campaign his own impatience would soon doom
to failure. On the tenth evening at Vitebsk, however, with less than
half of the letters translated, the Emperor summoned the four together
and ordered them to destroy all of the contents of the box. This he did
with such contemptuous utterance that the four became uneasy about
their association with the letters.
The Emperor withdrew from the wax box the first of the letters to
be burned and handed them to the officer who had translated the first
letter and two others. Then, while washing his hands, as though to
remove some contagious agent he knew the papers to harbor, he gave
instructions. No sheet of paper was to be laid on the coals until the
preceding sheet hand been entirely burned and its ashes had been
broken with the poker. They were not to leave the place for any
reason, but were to await his return. Should they finish their work
before then, they were to wash their hands as thoroughly as they
now observed he was washing his own hands. The Emperor
expressed his appreciation for their service, acknowledged the
unusual nature of the situation, but emphasized that he had given
them no order that was not absolutely necessary. Adding that he
was leaving to their discretion any procedural matters he had not
covered, he left them.
Within minutes after Napoleon had departed, the first translator
suspected that something was amiss. Either the letters were not in
their proper order, or the first letter was missing. After some dis-
cussion, the four decided to inventory the letters, as they were
burning them, and to inform the Emperor of the absence of any of the
contents of the box they discovered. Not knowing what had caused
Napoleon’s change of attitude toward the letters, it seemed possible
that he might later regret having had them destroyed. The unbearably
hot Russian summer would be drawing to a close before long, and the
four expected, as many others did, that Napoleon would spend the
winter at Vitebsk, where he would decide whether to move on
Moscow or St. Petersburg in the spring. The four conceived of a plan
that would accommodate the Emperor’s change of mind, while
avoiding use of the apparently missing material as apretext for
satisfying their own curiosity with respect to the story. As the four
continued to search for the missing letter, they read the remaining
letters, as the Emperor had previously arranged, none of them
reading any letters sequentially. Thus divided, it would be the
Emperor’s prerogative to reassemble the tale, if he later so chose.
The only letter that was described in any detail by one translator
to the others was the first letter, which was indeed missing.
The Emperor returned while the four were washing their hands.
As they reported to him the difficulty they had encountered and the
solution they had devised, he seemed pleased, but more concerned
that they washed their hands carefully than that they had not found
the first letter. Then, speaking of the campaign and the glory to come,
he ordered them to return immediately to their units.
Two days later, the Emperor decided to move on Moscow at once,
rather than waiting until spring. General Kutuzov gave the Emperor’s
forces a fight at last at Borodino, where the second translator was
mortally wounded. Napoleon took Moscow, but the great prize suddenly
ignited and forced him into a terrible winter of retreat. Less than three
years later, the Emperor, prevented from escaping to America, was
confined to Saint Helena, where he learned to read English.
Nothing of the story Napoleon heard at Vitebsk would have
survived, were it not for a book published anonymously in 1818.
The three remaining translators recognized the story they had read
years earlier as being the basis of the novel, Frankenstein or The
Modern Prometheus. Meeting in December of 1820 for the first time
since Vitebsk, the three began the difficult task of reconstructing the
story. They met again the following April, at which time they
discussed ways of bridging the gaps left by the death of the second
translator. Napoleon died, to their great sorrow, less than two weeks
later. The dedication of the translators was rewarded in December of
1824, when one of them located another related letter mentioned at
least twice in the Vitebsk letters. This significant discovery gave
shape to the oral tradition, particularly with respect to the way it
would relate to Frankenstein, which by then had been adapted to
It was not until 1992 that Shelley’s famous novel and the Vitebsk
oral tradition were connected in print. It was the appearance of
Things As They Are and The English Lieutenant, which followed
two years later, that prompted the effort that produced this volume.
This abbreviated version of the Vitebsk story, edited by one of the
leading oral tradition authorities, in partnership with one of the
youngest, avoids the gross distortions of the two earlier books.
Opposite each page of the text is an advertisement, providing a
range of information and observations concerning Shelley’s novel
and the Vitebsk story. In instances where information in an advertise-
ment may be helpful to understanding the text, bold type, as well as
type of the same size as that of the text, allows quick reference of
such material, with minimal distraction. Mention of contributors in
advertisements does not constitute endorsement of any ideas here
presented on their part, unless otherwise indicated. Indeed, some of
those who have participated in discussions important to the develop-
ment of the advertisements think that the origin of the Vitebsk story
outlined here is an invention of Mary Shelley or some of her readers.
[To a Candid World Menu] 4
This sample of the Vitebsk story comes from the
middle of the third chapter. Story editors are Ester
Kekel & Nicola Klingaman. Copyright 1998,
“I first met the Frankenthaler years ago, one summer
afternoon, while returning home with goat’s milk for my
daughter. Zenobia was but one month old then, and I
was in the habit of procuring her goat’s milk while she
slept. Her mother, Armina, died a week after giving
birth, and the care of our daughter rested entirely on me.
Nearing home, by the brook I spied a man sitting on a
rock reading. His presence, so near our carefully hidden
home, concerned me. Although I was anxious to return
before Zenobia awoke, I watched the man, hoping he
would move on. Much to my alarm, I recognized the
book he was reading. It belonged to me. I was
frightened, for this meant that the man had been in our
home. Approaching quietly from behind, I seized him by
the arms. He held fast the book in one hand, as he
yelled, ‘Help! Robbery!’
“‘Be still,’ I said in his ear as calmly as I could. ‘It is
you who have stolen from me. The book in your hand is
mine. You have invaded my home, and this distresses
“‘I am no thief,’ said the man. ‘If I were, I might
have taken more than this book and would have been far
from here by now. I am a student of ancient languages at
Ingolstadt and will pay you well for the book. As for
your home, be assured it is as secure as when I found it.
Only the cry of an infant led me to it. See for yourself.
Your child safe, sleeping in your secure home. I have
been passing the time until your return with this book.
Release me, for I am harmless to you.’
“‘That remains to be seen,’ I answered him. ‘You
have not seen me. My appearance has never won me
anything but abhorrence. I doubt that your considerate
manner toward me will be sustained when you are free.’
“‘But what you say cannot be entirely true, if you are
the child’s father. What of the child’s mother? She must
not find you so unpleasing to look at,’ the man argued.
“‘By God’s grace, she was blind, which obviously
you are not,’ I said, still holding him fast.
“‘But I will tightly shut my eyes, friend. Trust me.
Our interests are not in conflict. I would purchase your
book for a generous price.’
“‘I do not wish to sell the book,’ I answered.
“‘But, can you read it?’ he asked.
“‘For the most part, no, but, in time, I hope to learn
“‘This book,’ he said, ‘is written almost entirely in an
ancient language, which you are, without benefit of an
education at a college of ancient languages, unlikely to
ever be capable of reading. The book is of no use to you.
Why not sell it to me?’
“‘Perhaps it is as you say. Yet, my daughter, will not
have the difficulty with society that I have had. It was
her mother’s hope that our daughter would learn the
language and would some day be able to tell us whatever
story the book contains. Her mother loved my reading to
her, and looked forward to the day our daughter could
do the same. Our daughter was named for a woman
mentioned in the book, in the part of it that I am able to
read. If you prove worthy of my trust, I will allow you to
read the book, but only here and provided that you
translate it for me,’ I said to him.
“This was agreeable to the student of ancient
languages, who began that day to read and translate the
book for me. This I enjoyed very much, as did the
student, who accustomed himself quickly to averting his
eyes from me.
“‘Where did you find this treasure?’ he asked.
“‘I found five books, while collecting stone for
constructing walls for my home. There is much good
stone at a ruin not far from here,’ I told him.
“The student asked to see the place where I had
found them, which I did. Although disappointed at not
finding any more books, he did unearth a carved stone,
which pleased him greatly.
“‘See how the figure is depicted as rising from the
block of stone,’ he said. ‘This carving commemorates
the birth of Mithra.’
“‘Then the Magi built this place,’ I said.
“‘Yes,’ said the student, ‘and they continued to use it
long after the suppression of their religion. The books
you found here are copies of earlier works. My surmise
is that the most recent of them is not more than three
“The student of ancient languages was not only
pleased by the discoveries, but also appreciated my
interest in their historical significance. Often, during his
subsequent visits, he would favorably compare my
observations with those of his fellow students. His
second visit began as the first had, except that it was
early morning and the book the student was reading was
one of his own.
“‘I thought you might enjoy having this book in your
library,’ he said averting his eyes. ‘I have also brought
paper and hope that you will permit me to copy the book
you found. I will, of course, continue to read and
translate it for you,’ he added.
“Of course, I consented to his request. He spent the
morning at his copy work, and we had our reading and
translation in the afternoon. The book that the student
gifted to my ‘library’ was Die Leiden Des Jungen
Werthers (The Sufferings of Young Werther) by Johann
Wolfgang von Goethe. Not long before the student’s
third visit, and just as I was about to read Werther’s
story for the fifth time, I began to worry that the student
might find his task of copying the book too difficult.
Toward the close of his second visit, he had mentioned
his father’s illness as possibly necessitating his having to
manage his father’s business for a while. Although he
had not spoken of it, I realized that his return to
Ingolstadt might also have to be postponed, which I
knew would be a disappointment to him. If he were able
to return to Ingolstadt as planned, I wanted him to be
able to take along the book that so interested him. After
some pondering, I thought I would try my hand at
copying some of the book for him. Showing him the
result of my effort, I asked if it was adequate.
“‘Yes. Yes. Yes,’ he said with increasing pleasure.
Then he read aloud in the ancient tongue what I had
copied, translating afterward. We were both thrilled.
After calling me his good friend and thanking me many
times, he asked if he might do him another kindness.
Would I allow him to take a small strip of a page of the
book so that he might examine it in Frankenthal. There
he might compare it under a lens with other papers of
known ages and thus be more certain of the antiquity of
my discovery. The idea pleased me, and I told him that,
when the copying work was finished, the original was to
be his. His joy at hearing this increased my own, and
soon we were immersed in conversation more leisurely
than any we had had before, the press of time now
relieved by his not having to use his time for the work of
copying. We spoke of Die Leiden Des Jungen Werthers,
and of singing and dancing away ill humor. He wanted
to hear about my happy days with Armina, and, having
done so, expressed his hope that some day I would enjoy
the companionship of another woman who enjoyed
being read to as much as Armina had. He would be on
the lookout for a suitable blind woman, he assured me.
“My friend’s fifth visit ought to have been something
of a celebration, as I had finished copying the book of the
magi. Yet, I could see that something dampened his
spirits, and I asked if his father’s health had declined. It
was then that he told me the story that his father had only
recently told to him.
[To a Candid World Menu] 53
To a Candid World
Full title: The Vitebsk Story & Advertisements Connecting
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein To a Candid World
167 pages, including index
Each copy of the Standard Pilot Edition of To a Candid World is
built by the publisher, following a process developed with affordablity
and durability equally in mind. Appearance and other considerations,
although continually of interest, have necessarily come behind these.
Readers with Napoleon’s habits are apt to find this book disappointing.
While it is possible to read it on horseback, its bound-to-last construction
requires that it be held open. For this two hands are better than one. The
ribbon bookmark will be helpful to the reader surprised that the book has
suddenly snapped shut. Those readers who would prefer not to have the
ribbon bookmark may request a copy without one. The large type edition,
available at a somewhat greater cost ($16.83) may be the better choice for
some readers, including those who like to tear read pages from the book and
toss them to the troops.
Next available July 20, 2002
The price of the Standard Pilot Edition is $12.39 per copy plus tax.
The price includes packaging and postage. Purchase by readers outside
the U. S. must be arranged via e-mail at ToMMLI@netscape.net
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