Nabokov is asked for translation help from a lovestruck Isaiah Berlin. Frances Assa summarizes what happens next:
I’ve been reading Michael Igniatieff’s biography of Isaiah Berlin. At this time (1949) Berlin was a pleasant but sexless Oxford don who suddenly, at age forty, fell violently in love. While teaching at Harvard that year, he was translating Turgenev’s First Love into English and unsure of how to translate the hero’s sudden rush of feeling when the beloved responds to his interest. Ignatieff tells us that Berlin was asking friends if it was correct to say “that your heart ‘turned over’ when your loving glance was first returned? Or should he say that the heart ‘slipped its moorings’?” and totally misses the comedy when he reports what happened when Berlin asked Nabokov for help:
"While at Harvard, Isaiah actually consulted Vladimir Nabokov—then a research fellow in Lepidoptera at the Harvard zoology department—on how to translate this particular passage. Nabokov’s suggestion—‘my heart went pit a pat’—left Isaiah unimpressed. Finally, he settled on ‘my heart leaped within me’."Nabokov quizzes a student, the student flails and provides a wildly erroneous answer, and the following ensues:
Only after the exam did I learn that many of the details I described from the movie were not in the book. Evidently, the director Julien Duvivier had had ideas of his own. Consequently, when Nabokov asked “seat 121” to report to his office after class, I fully expected to be failed, or even thrown out of Dirty Lit.
What I had not taken into account was Nabokov’s theory that great novelists create pictures in the minds of their readers that go far beyond what they describe in the words in their books. In any case, since I was presumably the only one taking the exam to confirm his theory by describing what was not in the book, and since he apparently had no idea of Duvivier’s film, he not only gave me the numerical equivalent of an A, but offered me a one-day-a-week job as an “auxiliary course assistant.” I was to be paid $10 a week.