Phyllis Davidoff spent her childhood on the south shore of Long Island, NY. She graduated summa cum laude from Radcliffe College in 1964 and spent the following year studying English literature at Yale University, where she earned a master's degree. She returned to Harvard to complete her graduate studies, specializing in 19th-century English literature and receiving a Ph.D. in 1970 with a dissertation on Charles Dickens that became the basis for her classic book, Parallel Lives.
She writes under the surname of her first husband, Mark Rose, with whom she had one son. Phyllis Rose began teaching in 1969 as an assistant professor of English at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, where she spent her entire career, becoming a full professor in 1976 and retiring in 2005. Her first published work was a biography of Virginia Woolf called Woman of Letters (1978). A finalist for the National Book Award, it was in the forefront of feminist re-evaluations of literary figures and contributed to the surge of interest in Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group in the late 1970s.
In 1983, she published Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages, which -- taking as its model Lytton Strachey's famous Eminent Victorians -- considered the institution of marriage through portraits of individual marriages. In 1990, she married Laurent de Brunhoff, author and illustrator of the Babar the Elephant books. Since 1985, Ms. Rose has worked with him on the series.