Doctors of Philosophy: A Play

Doctors of Philosophy: A Play

by Muriel Spark

The only play by famed Scottish author Muriel Spark takes on the dilemmas of two intellectually ambitious women in 1960s England

In a home overlooking London’s Regent’s Canal in the 1960s, two scholars debate the choices they have made with their lives. Catherine Delfont was one of the most promising minds of her generation,…  See more details below


The only play by famed Scottish author Muriel Spark takes on the dilemmas of two intellectually ambitious women in 1960s England

In a home overlooking London’s Regent’s Canal in the 1960s, two scholars debate the choices they have made with their lives. Catherine Delfont was one of the most promising minds of her generation, but after earning her PhD she gave up her research to marry a well-regarded economist and raise a family. Her cousin Leonora stayed in academia and became a successful classicist, able to observe both the breadth of history and the lives of others with brilliant, cool detachment. Together, they face the sacrifices they have made as women and intellectuals.
First performed in London in 1962 and later in Scandinavia, where it was produced by Ingmar Bergman, Doctors of Philosophy is a fascinating artifact of early second-wave feminism.
This ebook features an illustrated biography of Muriel Spark including rare photos and never-before-seen documents from the author’s archive at the National Library of Scotland.

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Doctors of Philosophy

A Play

By Muriel Spark


Copyright © 1963 Copyright Administration Limited
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4532-4510-1




It is a summer night.

The DELFONTS live in a house overlooking the Regent's Canal, and the whole play takes place in the living-room and on the adjoining terrace.

CHARLIE is writing at a desk.

CATHERINE enters from the terrace, through the French windows.

CATHERINE. Where's Leonora? ...

CHARLIE. She's gone to bed.

CATHERINE. I wanted her to come and look at the canal.

CHARLIE. Well, she's gone to bed.

CATHERINE. I thought she might like to look at the water as it isn't term-time. I quite see that during term a thing like the Regent's Canal would be an idea to Leonora, it would be a geographical and historical and sociological idea, but during vacation I do think Leonora ought to take a look at reality. Are you listening, Charlie?

CHARLIE. Yes, Catherine.

CATHERINE. What was I saying?

CHARLIE. Leonora ought to take a look at reality.

CATHERINE. During the vacation.

CHARLIE. In the vacation.

CATHERINE. That's all I ask. I quite see that when she's in college she can't go and look at a thing without feeling compelled to go and look it up, and consequently she doesn't look at things at all. But in the holidays I feel she ought to take more interest in life.

CHARLIE. The leopard can't change its spots.

CATHERINE. But Leonora isn't a leopard, that's my point. Human beings can change their spots, that's my point. Do you realise, Charlie, that all last term I didn't have a minute to look at the stars. Off to school in the morning, back in the afternoon to see what was going on in the house, homework in the evening, coaching the special boys on Saturdays, honestly I haven't looked at the stars.

CHARLIE. You can look at the stars in the holidays and in the term as well from now on.

CATHERINE. I'm not going to give up my job.

CHARLIE. I'm out of pocket with your job. I've always been out of pocket with your jobs. Extra help in the house, extra cigarettes, extra drinks to cheer you up, taxi-fares on the days when you have a row with the Head, extra clothes to maintain your authority over the boys. Extra ...

CATHERINE. Extra ink in my fountain pen. Shoe-leather, you've forgotten shoe-leather.

CHARLIE. Extra shoe-leather. I'm out of pocket.

CATHERINE. If you get your new appointment you'll be able to afford my luxurious job in a grammar school. I have a mind as well as you and Leonora, Charlie.

CHARLIE. You can give free lectures to the Mothers' Union, it would be cheaper in the long run. I can't count on any new appointment.

CATHERINE. When will you know?

CHARLIE. Within a week or two. It's very doubtful. Don't start buying anything, just go on looking at the stars and the canal, I pay for them with the rates.

CATHERINE. Were you thinking of coming to bed or is your time too expensive?

CHARLIE. As to that, perhaps not on the whole. But I've got to finish this tonight, so clear off.

The scene fades out.

It is later in the same evening, CHARLIE is still at his place. LEONORA, wearing a dressing-gown, enters by the door and stands behind CHARLIE, who does not look up from his work until she speaks. CHARLIE. What's the matter?

LEONORA. It isn't Catherine.

CHARLIE. Oh, it's you, Leonora. What's—LEONORA. Charlie, give me a child.


LEONORA. A child, I want a child.

CHARLIE. Which child, what—?

LEONORA. I wish to conceive a child.

CHARLIE. Leonora, are you feeling all right?

LEONORA. No, because I want a child. Before it's too late. I want—

CHARLIE. Leonora. You've been overworking.

The scene fades out.

It is the next morning, and now one sees the room from a different angle, and out, beyond the tenace, to the canal. CHARLES andCATHERINE are in the room.

CATHERINE. It is you, Charlie, who've been overworking. I know what it is, you sit there at night and—

CHARLIE. I'm not the imaginative type, Catherine. You are always saying so. Look—I sat here. She stood there—

CATHERINE. Why didn't you call me then, why didn't you wake me up? You're always waking me up to discuss something or other. Why didn't—

CHARLIE. I was stunned. I was embarrassed. I just lay awake and thought about it.

CATHERINE. I think it was a dream. I mean to say, when you think of Leonora, when you just think of Leonora, I mean to say, Charlie. I can't think of Leonora standing here in her nightdress and saying—

CHARLIE. Her dressing-gown. Be perfectly fair.

CATHERINE. After all, if I don't know my own cousin, I mean, Charlie, we grew up together. Leonora's not that type. She's a born virgin. I ought to know. One always had to be very careful what one said to Leonora.

CHARLIE. That's the dangerous type.

CATHERINE. You've never thought her dangerous before.

CHARLIE. That makes her more dangerous now.

CATHERINE. No-one would believe that a university teacher like Leonora

CHARLIE. That makes her more dangerous than ever. Remember Sarah Desmond.


CHARLIE. Senior lecturer in comparative religions. The author of The Life Force. Life. Force. She was discovered in the bath with a wine waiter in a Folkestone hotel. It was hushed up, but she had to resign. What's more they were both naked.

CATHERINE. Leonora doesn't teach the Life Force. Greek is a very different thing from the Life Force, Greek is an old sound subject.

CHARLIE. It comes to the same thing in a woman scholar. Once they break out, they break out.

CATHERINE. I've got as good a degree as Leonora has, and I don't go round inviting men to give me a child.

CHARLIE. You've got a daughter of sorts and you've got a good husband. When will Leonora be back from her walk?

MRS. S. comes in with a carton from which she lifts various garments as CHARLIE, at the same time, places various papers in his brief-case.

CATHERINE. She's usually back by half past ten. Where are you going? You mustn't leave me alone with her.

MRS. S. What you want to throw this away for?

CATHERINE. I've finished with it, Mrs. S. You can keep it if you like.

MRS. S. And what you want to throw this away for?

CHARLIE. I couldn't face her.

CATHERINE. Well, Charlie, neither can I, in a way.

CHARLIE. I'm glad to hear it.

CATHERINE. Although, of course, it's incredible.

MRS. S. A good vest, what's wrong with it?

CATHERINE. It got shrunk in the laundry.

MRS. S. It would come in for Daphne. She's filling out.

CATHERINE. She doesn't wear vests. Charlie, you're a rat.

CHARLIE is putting more things in his brief-case.

MRS. S. Yes she does. She wears a vest in the winter when she isn't going out with a boy.

CATHERINE. Not her father's vests. Charlie, you aren't going to your club, are you?

CHARLIE. Yes I am, I'm getting out of this till you've sorted things out.

MRS. S. It'll do nicely for my niece's husband that is to be. It's his build, but of course he's young. But on the other hand, of course, he's fussy, so he might decline. She says he can't have children, I said how does he know if he hasn't had a bash at it? He must have done. She says the doctors can tell. Well you're damn lucky then, I said, in one sense, but you watch out for him in the psychological sense.

CATHERINE. It was going to be my birthday today, Charlie.

CHARLIE. It was your birthday last week.

MRS. S. Charlie was out of pocket over it, unless my ears deceived me.

CATHERINE. A rat. I was saving up my birthday for Daphne.

CHARLIE. I'll ring you after lunch. Ask her if she's ever walked in her sleep before.

MRS. S. If they walk in their sleep they don't talk in their sleep. She walked and she talked as far as I've made it my business to gather. It's nerve-wracking, Mrs. D., as between one scholar and another scholar. Charlie's not cut out for it.

CHARLIE goes out.

She sits down and points to another chair.

Take a seat. Rest yourself.

CATHERINE. Mrs. S., can you put all those things somewhere out of the way? Daphne will be home before lunch and Mrs. Wood will be here after lunch.

MRS. S. Oh, Annie Wood's coming, is she? You didn't tell me Annie was coming. Well that puts a different complexion on things, doesn't it? That just about puts the tin hat on it, doesn't it? What you want to invite Annie for?

CATHERINE. She rang and invited herself last night. Mrs. S., would you mind clearing away?

MRS. S. Well, you'll have to keep your eye on Charlie. Need I elaborate on the subject?

CATHERINE. I'm not in a sociable mood this morning, Mrs. S., if you don't mind.

MRS. S. Have a fag.

She helps herself to a cigarette.

Annie hasn't got her Ph.D. like you and Leonora, has she?

CATHERINE (examines a parcel which lies on a table). What's this parcel?

MRS. S. Annie hasn't got her Ph.D. and that's enough for me. Charlie wants watching with women that haven't got their Ph.D's. They go to his head.

CATHERINE. What's this parcel? It's got 'For Catherine' written on it.

MRS. S. Go on, open it. It's Leonora's birthday present. You made a mistake, Mrs. D., getting your Ph.D. as a girl and then getting married to another Ph.D. Go on, open it. It's like what they do unnatural among families, the appropriate term escapes me.


Puts the parcel on top of high book-shelf.

MRS. S. Yes, shocking. And to put the lid on it you send young Daphne away to get done.

LEONORA comes in.

With a house full of them, you better watch out for Charlie when Annie comes. He never feels out of pocket with Annie.

LEONORA. Good morning, Catherine.

CATHERINE. Good morning, Leonora.

LEONORA. Good morning, Mrs. S.

MRS. S. To continue the subject. I wouldn't trust an eleven-plus never mind a Ph.D. Good morning, Leonora. Go and get some coffee while I finish settling the throw- outs with Mrs. D. It's warming up on the stove.

LEONORA goes out.

CATHERINE. Well, let's have a look, Mrs. S. Let's just take our time.

MRS. S. Perhaps as you say we're in a bit of a hurry this morning. I'll leave it for now and go and see what she's doing with the coffee. She might bring it to a boil. Fatal.

CATHERINE. No, stay here. Don't go.

MRS. S. takes the parcel down from the book-case and puts it back on the table.

MRS. S. You don't want to hurt Leonora's feelings. Go on, open it.

CATHERINE. No, I'm too busy just now.

MRS. S. I suppose it's a bed-jacket. It doesn't look like a book, I say it doesn't feel like a book, Mrs. D., it feels like a frilly ladies' bed-jacket, or a nightdress. It might be a quilted nylon—

LEONORA returns with the coffee on a tray.

MRS. S. There was iced coffee if you wanted it, but you didn't say. Go on, Mrs. D., open it.

CATHERINE. I'm too busy just now. I'll open it this afternoon when I have my birthday. Did you sleep well, Leonora?

LEONORA. Yes, what's the matter?

LEONORA puts the parcel back on the book-case.

MRS. S. I'll take this lot out of the way.

CATHERINE. No, Mrs. S., I always like to make time for you during the holidays and show consideration. Leonora, Mrs. S. and I have been having a deep chat. Daphne will be here before lunch. Annie's coming today, did I tell you Annie was coming, Leonora? Charlie had to rush off for some reason. Mrs. S. has discovered a delightful vest amongst these old clothes.

MRS. S. places the carton aside.

MRS. S. Oh no, Mrs. D., oh no. If you're going to come to a climax, this is no place for me. After six years going on seven in an academic household I've learned to preserve my detachment and scholarly calm on the other side of the door.

She goes out.

LEONORA. Want some?

CATHERINE. Yes, if it's hot.

LEONORA gives CATHERINE her coffee and opens the newspaper.

Of course, Leonora, the news is vitally absorbing today. I've only had time to look at the headlines myself, but they look too exciting for words—'Three Turkish Leaders Arrested', 'I Withdraw Ban, says Bishop', 'Car Crash Death Toll', 'Warning to West'. Whatever shall we be hearing next?

LEONORA. What's wrong?

CATHERINE. Nothing. I feel a bit intense because it's my birthday. Shifting it from last week to this was a great mistake. LEONORA. There's a little something from me in that parcel up there.

CATHERINE. I'm going to open it later, Leonora, when I've more time to enjoy the surprise. I thought it would be nice when Daphne comes and we can cut the cake. Annie's coming too. Did you know Annie was coming?

LEONORA. Yes, I took the telephone call last night.

CATHERINE. So you did. We'll be quite a family, Leonora. Did you happen to hear a noise in the night by any chance?

LEONORA. No, why? Have you been burgled?

CATHERINE. Oh, I forgot actually to thank you for your present, Leonora. I mean, of course I intend to thank you properly when I open it. But thank you now, in advance. Thank you very much indeed, it's sweet of you to remember. Charlie had to rush off, what a pity.

LEONORA. Pull yourself together, Catherine.

CATHERINE. I think I'm more together than you are. Were you disturbed by anything at ten past one this morning? Did you get up for any reason?


CATHERINE. Charlie fell asleep at his work. He had a peculiar dream, a dream.

LEONORA. What makes you think I would be disturbed by Charlie's dreams? Did he call out?

CATHERINE. No, he didn't. That's what I can't make out, because you entered into his dream.

LEONORA. I'm not responsible for Charlie's dreams.

CATHERINE. He was accosted. I thought perhaps it might not have been a dream. But I see now that it was a dream. I apologise.

LEONORA. I accept your apology.

CATHERINE. It seems odd that you should accept an apology for an offence of which you don't know the nature or the details.

LEONORA. I can imagine the nature and the details.

CATHERINE. It must console you in the absence of the reality.

LEONORA. Catherine, do you think I've never had an opportunity to sleep with a man?

CATHERINE. Not for a long time.

LEONORA. Why do you think so?

CATHERINE. Because of your manner and expression.

LEONORA. You're in no position to judge on that point. Obviously, my manner and expression would be very different if I were about to sleep with a man from what they are sitting here drinking warmed-up coffee with you.

CATHERINE. A woman of opportunities wears a certain manner and expression all the time, Leonora. I don't say you look your age, it's just the manner and—

LEONORA. I'm not yet old enough to look my age. I could still bear a child.


LEONORA. If I should wish to do so.

CATHERINE. You need more than the wish.

LEONORA. I'm speaking theoretically.

CATHERINE. So am I, because you would need the man. Or a test-tube if you didn't want to change your manner and expression.

LEONORA. I think you're absolutely vile.

MRS. S. comes in to remove the tray.

MRS. S. Flowers for Annie. How long's Annie going to stop for? My feet won't stand it. I hope this is the last lot that comes to the door.

CATHERINE. A fortnight I expect.

MRS. S. She'll be out on the canal with Charlie, wait and see. Dressed in her clothes. He'll linger out there with her all afternoon, showing a bad example.

CATHERINE. He can linger all night with her if he likes.

MRS. S. How long's Leonora going to stop for?

LEONORA. I'm leaving right away, Mrs. S.

CATHERINE. No, Leonora, you are not leaving right away. I'm upset.

MRS. S. Let me know when you've worked it out because of the lunch.

Goes out.

CATHERINE. You mustn't leave, Leonora. I apologise.

LEONORA. I reject your apology.

CATHERINE. Did you come down here in the night and ask Charlie to give you a child?


CATHERINE. He says you did.

LEONORA. He must have had a dream. It's very sensational. I crave to hear more.

CATHERINE. Leonora, sometimes you bring out the very worst in me.

LEONORA. I think you must be right.

CATHERINE. Charlie is convinced that it happened. He thinks you must be suffering from a nervous disorder. It was embarrassing for Charlie.

LEONORA. It's embarrassing for me.

MRS. S. puts her head round the door.

MRS. S. Daphne's boy friend on the 'phone. Coming this afternoon.

CATHERINE. Did he want to speak to me?

MRS. S. No, he wanted not to speak to you.



Excerpted from Doctors of Philosophy by Muriel Spark. Copyright © 1963 Copyright Administration Limited. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Muriel Spark (1918–2006) was a prolific Scottish novelist, short story writer, and poet whose darkly comedic voice made her one of the most distinctive writers of the twentieth century. Spark grew up in Edinburgh and worked as a department store secretary, writer for trade magazines, and literary editor before publishing her first novel in 1957. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961), considered her masterpiece, was made into a stage play, a TV series, and a film. Spark became a Dame of the British Empire in 1993. 

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