Authors: David Graham Phillips

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist and journalist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

The Great God Success, 1901

Golden Fleece, 1903

The Master Rogue, 1903

The Social Secretary, 1905

The Fortune Hunter, 1906

Light-Fingered Gentry, 1907

The Second Generation, 1907

Old Wives for New, 1908

The Fashionable Adventures of Joshua Craig, 1909

The Hungry Heart, 1909

The Husband’s Story, 1910

White Magic, 1910

The Grain of Dust, 1911

The Price She Paid, 1912

Susan Lenox: Her Fall and Rise, 1917

Short Fiction:

Degarmo’s Wife, and Other Stories, 1913

Drama:

The Worth of a Woman, pr., pb. 1908

Nonfiction:

The Reign of Gilt, 1905

The Treason of the Senate, 1906 (serial), 1953 (book)

Biography

David Graham Phillips was an important figure in early twentieth century fiction as well as the progressive and reform-minded journalism known as muckraking. Phillips was the son of David Graham Phillips, Sr., a banker, and Margaret Lee. He was born in Madison, Indiana, and grew up in comfortable circumstances. He attended Asbury College (later DePauw University) in Indiana before transferring to Princeton University, from which he graduated at age nineteen in 1887.{$I[A]Phillips, David Graham}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Phillips, David Graham}{$I[tim]1867;Phillips, David Graham}

After graduation, Phillips moved to Cincinnati, where he worked as a reporter and feature writer for the Cincinnati Times-Star and the Commercial Gazette. In 1890 Phillips moved to New York to become a reporter for the nationally known newspaper The New York Sun. He would live in New York for the rest of his life. Phillips began to work for Joseph Pulitzer’s newspaper the New York World in 1893 and continued to work for Pulitzer until 1902, when he resigned to concentrate on writing fiction.

Phillips’s newspaper work provided the background for his magazine writing, his novels, and the muckraking journalism for which he is best remembered today. Although he published his first novel, The Great God Success, in 1901, he continued to write articles for magazines, and in 1905 William Randolph Hearst persuaded him to write the book that became his most famous piece of nonfiction writing. This book is The Treason of the Senate, which first appeared as a series of articles in Hearst’s magazine Cosmopolitan. This series of articles created a national controversy, as Phillips provided an indictment of national leaders and U.S. senators who broke the law. In response to this series of articles, President Theodore Roosevelt first used the term “muckraker” as a label for critical, investigative journalism. This work ensured that Phillips would be remembered because it helped provide the impetus for the eventual passage of the Seventeenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. This amendment provided for the direct election of U.S. senators by the people rather than the election by state legislatures which the Constitution originally mandated.

Phillips is primarily remembered today as a novelist and is the most important novelist of Progressivism, with his emphasis on social Darwinist themes and the role of women in the early twentieth century. His best-known novels today include The Master Rogue, Old Wives for New, The Fashionable Adventures of Joshua Craig, and Susan Lenox. These novels demonstrate Phillips’s strongest qualities as a novelist and illustrate his criticism of the processes of unregulated capitalism and its destructive force on both individuals and the larger society. Phillips believed strongly in progress and in the ability of the individual to lift himself or herself up from difficult circumstances. At the same time, such novels as The Master Rogue and The Fashionable Adventures of Joshua Craig show the effects of greed, selfishness, and dishonesty on the individual.

Phillips’s best-remembered novel is Susan Lenox, published in 1917, six years after his death. He started work on it in 1904 and finished only weeks before his death. Susan Lenox is the story of a woman who survives a forced marriage, sweatshop labor, and prostitution but eventually emerges as a successful actress. In this novel Phillips examines how and why prostitution flourished as well as such topics as tenement life, factory work, and political corruption, all seen through a woman’s viewpoint. Even though this book received mixed reviews when published and some people tried to have it banned for its content, Susan Lenox is Phillips’s most enduring work of fiction and one of the better novels of its era.

David Graham Phillips was murdered by Fitzhugh Coyle Goldsborough, a disturbed young man of Washington society, who had decided (with no evidence) that The Fashionable Adventures of Joshua Craig was aimed at his family. He stalked the author for a number of months before shooting first Phillips and then himself on January 23, 1911. Phillips died the next day.

BibliographyBailey, James R. “David Graham Phillips.” In American Novelists, 1910-1945, edited by James J. Martine. Vol. 9 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale Group, 1981. An examination of Phillips’s career.Filler, Louis. Voice of the Democracy: A Critical Biography of David Graham Phillips, Journalist, Novelist, Progressive. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1978. A comprehensive biography of Phillips. Filler studies his life and works as well as his literary and social context, paying particular attention to the novels and also to important themes in Phillips’s writing and how these themes relate to his biography.Ravitz, Abe C. David Graham Phillips. New York: Twayne, 1966. A good general overview of Phillips’s life and works from Twayne’s United States Authors series.
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