I bought this book, a discard from the local public library, for a dollar a year or so ago. I don't know how long it might have been before I read it had I not left it in my office and turned to it one day a couple of months ago when I needed to go out for lunch and didn't have anything else handy to read. At page two I laughed out loud, and continued to do so now and then as I ate lunch, and whenever I picked up the book thereafter.
It's a play, the only one Spark ever wrote for the stage (she also wrote several radio plays). While I take it to be a very sharp satire of women in and around academia, the first commentary I found when I searched the web for it calls it "a fascinating article of early second-wave feminism." I'm not sufficiently informed about the history of feminism to know exactly what the early second wave was all about, but between that view and my own, I'll stick with my own.
The plot revolves around a married couple, Charlie and Catherine, and Catherine's cousin, Leonora, who lives with them, or at least is staying with them at the time in which the action of the play occurs. All three are Ph.Ds. Catherine has given up her university career for marriage and motherhood (one daughter, Daphne), while Leonora is single and teaching at a university (which I don't recall being named). To say, as the site I linked to above does, that "the two [female] scholars debate the choices they have made with their lives" is not exactly untrue, but is like saying that Macbeth and the witches discuss political strategy: it hardly gives the real flavor of the thing.
Catherine and Leonora are in fact envious of each other--Catherine of Leonora's career, and Leonora of Catherine's family--and it comes out in ways which I'll forebear describing because doing so would spoil some of the fun. Charlie, an economist by profession, and obsessed with the way the women in his life are constantly putting him "out of pocket," is determinedly unimaginative and might remain oblivious to the female tensions swirling around him, if he weren't forced to pay attention by developments which make that impossible.
There is a housekeeper, Mrs. S., who is the voice sometimes of down-to-earth dullness, sometimes of common sense, and sometimes of actual philosophy; there is more than a hint that she's the only one who knows what's really going on ("S" for "Spark"?). There are two more Charlies: Young Charlie, who is Daphne's boyfriend, and Charlie Brown, usually referred to as Charlie B., who is introduced in this way:
CATHERINE: I'll tell you where I made the mistake. Marriage--yes. But I shouldn't have married into the academic world. Can you imagine what it has felt like, as a scholar, to be the mere chattel of another scholar for all these years?
LEONORA: You exaggerate. Charlie doesn't treat you like a chattel. You've had a very pleasant life.
CATHERINE: I shouldn't have married Charlie. In some ways it was unfair to Charlie. I should have married a stockbroker. I should have married a bank manager, or a butcher or a baker. I had to have my sex, and my child, but I should have married someone who wouldn't eat up my brain, my mind. I should have married an electrician, a plumber. I should have married a hulking great LORRY DRIVER.
Enter DAPHNE followed by CHARLIE BROWN, hulking great lorry driver.
It's true that the dilemma of the woman who wants both a career and marriage and family (and it is a genuine dilemma), and for that matter the situation of woman in general, especially the intellectual woman, is the central device of the play, but to see it as a treatise on that subject is to miss the point, or most of it. I'm not sure what the point is, exactly, if there is a single one to be isolated, but there is a great deal more here than gender studies. Call it human studies, maybe. But definitely call it funny. Here's Mrs. S., asked if Charlie and Catherine know of an incident soon to embarrass them:
MRS. S: Certainly not. They are deep thinkers, my dear, not common detectives. Doctors of philosophy, not medicine. Must a happened at Oxford.