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The First Two Stories
Edward Weeks, the editor who brought Nabokov into the magazine, left a vivid portrait of the writer in his memoirs. In the early 1940s Nabokov was lecturing at Wellesley College and also working on the butterfly collection at Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology. Introduced by Edmund Wilson, Weeks and Nabokov would have lunch together at the Ritz.
"Vladimir was an Elegant," Weeks recalled, "in baggy flannels and a worn tweed jacket. When I think of him I remember first his beautiful hazel eyes, which so perfectly mirrored every mood, his mirth, his serious concern, or wry amusement." The first two stories Nabokov submitted to the magazine had to be translated from the Russian, and Weeks recounted how Nabokov would labor over the literal English rendering, "inserting his magic figures of speech, similes like, 'the asphalt shining like the back of a seal' or 'a whitish moth had dashed in and was kissing its shadow all over the ceiling.'"
The second of these stories, "The Aurelian," is one of Nabokov's best known. It concerns Herr Pilgram, a butterfly collector and shopkeeper in Berlin, who dreams of having the means to embark on a worldwide collecting trip; the means do indeed become available, but Nabokov has a more ironic destination in mind for Herr Pilgram.
"The Aurelian" was the last work of fiction that Nabokov composed in Russian. He bade farewell to the Russian language in a poem published in The Atlantic in December of 1941:
But now thou too must go; just here we part,
softest of tongues, my true one, all my own....
And I am left to grope for heart and art
and start anew with clumsy tools of stone."