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Phyllis Rose

Phyllis Rose’s 1978 biography of Virginia Woolf was in the vanguard of feminist reevaluations of literary figures and the first Woolf biography to examine in equal measure the life and work of the great modernist. In Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages Rose continued to explore the intersection of private life and public work by considering the institution of marriage as practiced by Victorian writers including Charles Dickens and George Eliot.

Rose’s humanist impulse as a writer and reader is suggested in the prologue to Parallel Lives: “we are desperate for information about how other people live,” Rose writes, “because we want to know how to live ourselves.” In a piece about Richard Wilbur, Rose praises the poet for being “as authentic in life as he is in his art,” going on to say “I’ve never glimpsed up close a writer in whom there was less of a gap between public and private. I imagine he is as much the poet when he plays tennis as he is a tennis player when he writes poetry.”

After publication of The Year of Reading Proust: A Memoir in Real Time, Rose began a sabbatical from writing. During this time she largely focused on photography, particularly portraits, including a series inspired by the Renaissance painter Holbein. Recently, motivated by a belief that “as literary critics we wrongly favor the famous and canonical,” Rose has begun work on a new book. The Shelf: An Adventure in Reading will explore what she calls “the actual ground of literature” by reading and reporting on an entire shelf of fiction (LEQ–LES) at the New York Society Library.

Rose lives in New York City and Key West, where she continues to collaborate with her husband, Laurent de Brunhoff, on the popular series of children’s books featuring Babar the Elephant.

Online Resources

‘Citizen Poet’: on Richard Wilbur
Anatole Broyard on ‘Parallel Lives’
‘Dances with Daffodils’: On Wordsworth & Harry Mathews
Rose’s Holbein portrait series

Selected Bibliography

The Year of Reading Proust; A Memoir in Real Time (1997)
Editor, The Norton Book of Women’s Lives (1993)
Jazz Cleopatra: Josephine Baker in Her Time (1989)
Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages (1983)
Woman of Letters: A Life of Virginia Woolf (1978)