Dear list,


I wonder if anyone knows if VN ever had anything to say about one of his Cornell colleagues, Phyllis Greenacre.  You can read her NY Times obit here:


Greenacre was the most prominent American-born Freudian psychoanalyst of the mid-century period. She was also the author of two books that may have garnered VN’s attention. Her book Trauma, Growth, and Personality (1952) was very influential. It contained a version of her previously published article, “The Prepuberty Trauma in Girls” (Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 1950), which Rachel Devlin has called “the most important analysis of a repressed adolescent Oedipus complex” (Relative Intimacy 35).  These publications overlap with the period when VN was writing Lolita and Pnin, for which he consulted much of this type of literature (ridiculous as he found it).  Even more offensive to VN must have been Greenacre’s trespass into the world of literary criticism. In 1952 she also published Swift and Carroll: A Psychoanalytic Study of Two Lives (International Univ. Press).  This study of two of VN’s favorites is a classic of psychoanalytic criticism, full of sublimely ridiculous speculation and overreading, as for instance when Greenacre posits that Swift displays “confusion of the sexes” by describing several times “low-hung breasts and nipples, which approximate the male genitalia” (94).  (It may, however, be significant that in her discussion of Swift she mentions his senile fascination with mirrors and his “poor old man” remark—both of which may have worked their way into VN’s Pale Fire.)


Anyway, given her professorship at Cornell and her focus on these authors, it seems very likely to me that VN encountered her book, if not Greenacre herself.  Which leads to my final speculation.  In Lolita, one of Dolores’ friends is named Phyllis Chatfield. Dolores goes with her to Camp Q, which Charlotte tells will help her to “grow in many things—health, knowledge, temper. And particularly in a sense of responsibility toward other people” (AnLo 64).  In VN’s Lolita screenplay, Camp Q becomes Climax Lake Camp, which Mrs. Chatfield describes as “the healthiest place in the world. Run by a remarkable woman who believes in natural education. Which, of course, is progressive education combined with nature.” Later in the book, Humbert runs into Mrs. Chatfield, “a short woman in pearl-gray, with a long, gray, slim plume to her small hat,” who wonders if Humbert did to Lolita what Frank LaSalle did to Sally Horner. Humbert regains the upper hand by informing her about how, at Camp Q, “Charlie Holmes debauched there his mother’s little charges” (289-90).


My hypothesis is that Phyllis Chatfield (and her mother) may coyly refer to Phyllis Greenacre. Chatfield should be read as a double pun: chatte-field, where chatte is the French slang (equivalent to “pussy”), as well as chat meaning idle conversation (psychoanalysis was also known as “the talking cure”).  In both cases “field” refers to profession or “field of study.” The Charlie Holmes incident can thus be seen as a veiled reference to “Prepuberty Trauma in Girls,” etc.





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