Nabokov entered the U.S. in 1940. He was given a leave of absence from Cornell so that he could accept a visiting appointment at Harvard in the Spring semester of the academic year 1951-1952 (3c years before writing Lolita). Harry Levin taught a well-known course at Harvard on the novel. Nabokov took his place and they both agreed to cover Don Quixote. He delivered six lectures that were captured in book form in 1983, edited by Fredson Bowers, distinguished American bibliographer.
Many cervantistas will recall that Vladimir Nabokov famously objected to Don Quixote because of its “hideous cruelty —with or without the author's intent— which riddles the whole book and befouls its humor”. A more contemporary look at “hideous cruelty,” intentional or otherwise, may be in order here. While Don Quixote's inability to see the “real” Dulcinea does no harm to Aldonza Lorenzo, Humbert's disregard of the “real” Dolores enslaves a vulnerable and lonely pre-pubescent child and befouls the humor of Nabokov's Lolita. That Humbert's actions destroy Lolita psychologically is evidenced by his parenthetical recollection of her “sobs in the night —every night— the moment I feigned sleep”. Lolita sobs for good reason: Humbert himself admits that, to Lolita, he is “not a boy friend, not a glamour man, not a pal, not even a person at all, but just two eyes and a foot of engorged brawn”. Lolita's attempts to escape from those eyes and brawn only increase Humbert's rapacity: “thrusting my fatherly fingers into Lo's hair from behind, and then gently but firmly clasping them around the nape of her neck, I would then lead my reluctant pet to our small home for a quick connection before dinner”. Nabokov fans have tended to regard this rape of a resistant child as cavalierly as does his hero. The time has come to rethink the label of “hideous cruelty,” which is radically qualified by Nabokov's use, and abuse, of Cervantes.