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The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life's Work at 72

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The Paper Garden is unlike anything else you have ever read. At once a biography of an extraordinary 18th century gentlewoman and a meditation on late-life creativity, it is a beautifully written tour de force from an acclaimed poet. Mary Granville Pendarves Delany (1700-1788) was the witty, beautiful and talented daughter of a minor branch of a powerful family. Married of The Paper Garden is unlike anything else you have ever read. At once a biography of an extraordinary 18th century gentlewoman and a meditation on late-life creativity, it is a beautifully written tour de force from an acclaimed poet. Mary Granville Pendarves Delany (1700-1788) was the witty, beautiful and talented daughter of a minor branch of a powerful family. Married off at 16 to a 61-year-old drunken squire to improve the family fortunes, she was widowed by 25, and henceforth had a small stipend and a horror of a marriage. She spurned many suitors over the next twenty years, including the powerful Lord Baltimore and the charismatic radical John Wesley. She cultivated a wide circle of friends, including Handel and Jonathan Swift. And she painted, she stitched, she observed, as she swirled in the outskirts of the Georgian court. In mid-life she found love, and married. Upon her husband's death 23 years later, she arose from her grief, picked up a pair of scissors and, at the age of 72, created a new art form, mixed-media collage. Over the next decade, Mrs Delany created an astonishing 985 botanically correct, breathtaking cut-paper flowers, now housed in the British Museum and referred to as the Botanica Delanica. Delicately, Peacock has woven parallels in her own life around the story of Mrs Delany's and, in doing so, has made this biography into a profound and beautiful examination of the nature of creativity and art. Gorgeously designed and featuring 35 full-colour illustrations, this is a sumptuous and lively book full of fashion and friendships, gossip and politics, letters and love. It's to be devoured as voraciously as one of the court dinners it describes.


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The Paper Garden is unlike anything else you have ever read. At once a biography of an extraordinary 18th century gentlewoman and a meditation on late-life creativity, it is a beautifully written tour de force from an acclaimed poet. Mary Granville Pendarves Delany (1700-1788) was the witty, beautiful and talented daughter of a minor branch of a powerful family. Married of The Paper Garden is unlike anything else you have ever read. At once a biography of an extraordinary 18th century gentlewoman and a meditation on late-life creativity, it is a beautifully written tour de force from an acclaimed poet. Mary Granville Pendarves Delany (1700-1788) was the witty, beautiful and talented daughter of a minor branch of a powerful family. Married off at 16 to a 61-year-old drunken squire to improve the family fortunes, she was widowed by 25, and henceforth had a small stipend and a horror of a marriage. She spurned many suitors over the next twenty years, including the powerful Lord Baltimore and the charismatic radical John Wesley. She cultivated a wide circle of friends, including Handel and Jonathan Swift. And she painted, she stitched, she observed, as she swirled in the outskirts of the Georgian court. In mid-life she found love, and married. Upon her husband's death 23 years later, she arose from her grief, picked up a pair of scissors and, at the age of 72, created a new art form, mixed-media collage. Over the next decade, Mrs Delany created an astonishing 985 botanically correct, breathtaking cut-paper flowers, now housed in the British Museum and referred to as the Botanica Delanica. Delicately, Peacock has woven parallels in her own life around the story of Mrs Delany's and, in doing so, has made this biography into a profound and beautiful examination of the nature of creativity and art. Gorgeously designed and featuring 35 full-colour illustrations, this is a sumptuous and lively book full of fashion and friendships, gossip and politics, letters and love. It's to be devoured as voraciously as one of the court dinners it describes.

30 review for The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life's Work at 72

  1. 4 out of 5

    Mary Lou

    With my increasing age I become increasingly interested in people who blossom and find purpose (or re-purpose) late in life so I picked up this book from a table at Chapters because of the sub-title. However, from page one, I was charmed by not one life, but two. Peacock introduces the reader not only to the amazing Mary Granville Pendarves Delany, but to the thoughtful and observant Molly Peacock. She interweaves the story of Mrs. Delany’s life with her own discoveries about Mrs. Delany’s “mosa With my increasing age I become increasingly interested in people who blossom and find purpose (or re-purpose) late in life so I picked up this book from a table at Chapters because of the sub-title. However, from page one, I was charmed by not one life, but two. Peacock introduces the reader not only to the amazing Mary Granville Pendarves Delany, but to the thoughtful and observant Molly Peacock. She interweaves the story of Mrs. Delany’s life with her own discoveries about Mrs. Delany’s “mosaics” and about Peacock’s own perceptions about life and art. Mary Granville was born to an upper class British family in 1700, in her teens married off to an elderly alcoholic, widowed in her twenties, lived independently on reduced means and the kindness of aristocratic friends until her marriage at the age of 43 to an Irish clergyman, then widowed again when she was in her 60’s. She embroidered, painted, played the spinet, designed clothing and gardens and shell grottos, in short all the things women of her class and period did with their time. She was privileged to know people like Handel and Swift. All her life she was a noticer, a woman who observed the world she inhabited and she wrote about it in letters that have been preserved by family members. The sum of all her experiences culminated in the mosaics she began to make during her second widowhood - 985 exquisite collages of closely observed and botanically correct flowers, all of which can be seen still preserved for posterity in the British Museum. Peacock has carefully chosen a dozen or so of these works to illustrate and illuminate her story. She, like Mrs. D., is a noticer and, she reaches the conclusion that observation of one thing can lead to discoveries about another or as she succinctly states, “ Direct examination leads to indirect epiphany.” The poet has observed Mrs. D.’s visual art as carefully and closely as Mrs. D. observed the flowers she so meticulously reproduced in her paper versions. Under Peacock’s emotional and poetically intellectual magnification, each of the flowers chosen reveals a period of Mrs. D’s life and often an aspect of Peacock’s own emotional and human journey. This interweaving of artistic product and the lives of two artists has turned biography into visual poetry.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Pam

    I've gone back and forth on how I like this book as I read it. I loved the concept. I liked the historical 'recreation' of Delany's life. I rolled my eyes at the author's 'drama' and felt she pushed HER metaphors w/ the flowers too much, in order to make them fit her concept. And then I'd calm down and remind myself it WAS HER concept and that's why I was reading the book in the first place! I completely hated the imposition of the author's life into this - but again, that WAS the point of the b I've gone back and forth on how I like this book as I read it. I loved the concept. I liked the historical 'recreation' of Delany's life. I rolled my eyes at the author's 'drama' and felt she pushed HER metaphors w/ the flowers too much, in order to make them fit her concept. And then I'd calm down and remind myself it WAS HER concept and that's why I was reading the book in the first place! I completely hated the imposition of the author's life into this - but again, that WAS the point of the book for I gather than one can go elsewhere to just read about the flowers - so...my summary is glad I read it; hesitate to recommend to friends. Not the cup of tea for most of you, my friends. I was, however, completely taken w/ some of the other reviews, particularly those that related to the poetry of the author's skill. That isn't available to my personality (as a reader) alas but I did appreciate the insight through their reviews.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    I first came across Mary Delany’s intricate paper flowers at an exhibition held at one of London’s great treasure troves, Sir John Soane’s Museum, in early 2010. Though at the time I recognized the flower mosaics as gorgeous miniature works of art, it took reading this biography of Delany (1700-1788) for me to truly appreciate their beauty – especially since they were created by an amateur in the last 16 years of her long life. [Do spend some time browsing some of her amazing works of art on the I first came across Mary Delany’s intricate paper flowers at an exhibition held at one of London’s great treasure troves, Sir John Soane’s Museum, in early 2010. Though at the time I recognized the flower mosaics as gorgeous miniature works of art, it took reading this biography of Delany (1700-1788) for me to truly appreciate their beauty – especially since they were created by an amateur in the last 16 years of her long life. [Do spend some time browsing some of her amazing works of art on the British Museum website.] In this lovely and idiosyncratic book, a beautiful art object in its own right, poet Molly Peacock remembers her various encounters with the eighteenth-century artist – when she first saw the flower mosaics on display, the first time she missed a chance to buy a biography of Delany, the occasion when she passed up a cheap six-volume set of Delany’s correspondence, and so on. The Paper Garden is principally a biography of Delany, but also a story of Peacock’s life with Delany. As such, The Paper Garden reminded me most of Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes (one of my favorite family memoirs): both contain a combination of historical biography and memoir, including a few asides about the process of researching the book itself; in both, an artist’s delight in excellence of craft is evident; and both employ the art objects as metaphors for life. Peacock clearly would have found a traditional chronological biography far too constricting; instead she intersperses biographical narrative with vignettes from her own life, linking everything through the ‘mosaicks’ – through colors, repeated shapes or textures, and imagery of growth or craftsmanship. The book is formed of 13 chapters named after flowers, with a full-color reproduction of that mosaick facing the first page. Peacock states her metaphorical approach thus: the mosaicks make use of one of the main tools of the poet: simile. By comparing one thing to another, a simile leaves the original as it is – say, just a flower – but it also states what that is like, making a threshold into another world. Sometimes her metaphorizing seems forced and stretched; other times it works perfectly, as with the Physalis mosaick, which she calls “a self-portrait of the artist as a single stalk of a plant, showing her at four of life’s stages: the green lantern of childhood; the fully dressed, bright orange one with light hip hoops – young womanhood; the lower lantern with part of the dress removed to show the interior of the plant – increasing maturity; and the last lantern, the heart of the aged woman.” Peacock also has a tendency to occasionally over-sexualize the flowers. For instance, she says of the Passion Flower: “The main flower head...is so intensely pubic that it’s as if you’ve come upon a nude study.” And in her preface she makes this rather shocking generalization: “They all come out of darkness, intense and vaginal, bright on their black backgrounds as if, had she possessed one, she had shined a flashlight on nine hundred and eighty-five flowers’ c--ts.” That latter quote seems to me an unfortunate example of Peacock’s use of slang and North American vernacular, which seems inappropriate in conjunction with Mrs. Delany’s image as a very proper English gentlewoman. Indeed, Peacock longs to discover hidden passions in the repressed Mrs. Delany, such as a possible lesbian relationship with her friend Ann Donnellan. How important is Mary Delany’s life in the scope of this book? Not particularly important, only inasmuch as the frustrations and limitations of her first 70-plus years render more remarkable her late achievements as an artist. Delany (née Granville) was brought up by her aunt and uncle, who had connections in court that raised the prospect of her becoming a lady-in-waiting, but instead she was married off at age 17 to Alexander Pendarves, a sickening (and possibly impotent) drunkard in his sixties. She was widowed after just six years, in rather ironic circumstances. Pendarves fell ill one night and told Mary she was a good wife and he wanted to change his will to leave everything to her. She replied that it could surely wait until the morning, but awoke to find his dead, blackened head on the pillow next to hers. It was a cruel turn of fate that left her with absolutely nothing; she was forced to start life over again from scratch. Mary spent many years traveling, living among women friends and family members and building her other great legacy: the six volumes filled with her thousands of letters, especially her correspondence with her younger sister, Anne. On a trip to Ireland with Ann Donnellan, she met both Jonathan Swift and the clergyman destined to become her second husband, Dean Patrick Delany. Although her chosen spouse was again a fair bit older than Mary, this time it was a love match. When faced with a second widowhood two decades later, this time the bereavement hit her hard and she turned at last to art for solace. It seems Delany was only able to cultivate her artistic skills (painting and dressmaking prepared her for the delicate hand-coloring and cutting required for the mosaicks) because she had no children; she had the time and freedom to nurture her own talents. Although her art has been dismissed by critics in rather patronizing tones (Wilfred Blunt, writing The Art of Botanical Illustration in 1950, called it “‘quaint’ rather than beautiful,” though “admittedly remarkable for a woman of her age”)*, the scale of Delany’s achievement is impressive no matter how you look at it. She completed 985 intricate paper mosaics within about 15 years, using the eyes and fingers of a septuagenarian and octogenarian; during her most productive month, she finished one artwork per day. It is impossible not to develop an appreciation for the dexterity and care evident in each mosaic (for example, 230 individual paper tendrils form the head of the Passion Flower), as well as a rough idea of the tools and techniques used in the eighteenth century (such as paper dyeing, scalpel versus scissors, and flour paste). Peacock turns to Delany as to a role model, especially as the author is now in her sixties herself: both have had two husbands but no children; both find their purpose in art and hope to leave behind something of lasting value. Like Diana Athill’s late-life memoirs (especially Stet and Somewhere Towards the End ) or Sara Wheeler’s paean to middle-aged British lady travelers of the nineteenth century, O My America!, The Paper Garden is primarily a reassurance to dithering readers: it serves as a timely reminder that it’s never too late to pursue creative passions and make something of this precious and fleeting life. [*Quoted in Lisa L. Moore’s interesting article, “Queer Gardens: Mary Delany’s Flowers and Friendships,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 39:1 (Fall 2005), 49-70.] (This review originally appeared at Bookkaholic.)

  4. 5 out of 5

    William Herschel

    A biography combining the author's memoirs sounds intriguing under normal circumstance, about the author's search about the person or their own self-discovery or whatever, especially when the biograph-ee is an artist. This, however, came across as really self-possessed, strange, and confusing. One is bombarded with names and casual relationships, the author's own intrusions, and this really strange sexual interpretation of the artwork from the beginning without context, as if the only inclusion A biography combining the author's memoirs sounds intriguing under normal circumstance, about the author's search about the person or their own self-discovery or whatever, especially when the biograph-ee is an artist. This, however, came across as really self-possessed, strange, and confusing. One is bombarded with names and casual relationships, the author's own intrusions, and this really strange sexual interpretation of the artwork from the beginning without context, as if the only inclusion is to be shocking and jarring. (view spoiler)[Really, why use the word cunt in the beginning pages of your book excepting in dialogue or having an actual reason to? (hide spoiler)] So I will dedicate this space instead to Mary Delany who made really beautiful, original flower representations with tiny pieces of paper. The black background makes them feel otherworldly but otherwise, they are true botanical representations, excepting the missing roots.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Written by poet Molly Peacock, this book is less a biography of Mary Delany than a chronicle of how the 18th century woman, friend to King George III and Queen Charlotte, invented an art form at the age of 72. Delany is known by many for her embroidery designs rather than the paper mosaics. In her own time she was renowned for designing elaborate embroidered motifs for formal dresses and began her career in paper by cutting children's silhouettes. Delany's life was, in part, rather tragic. She w Written by poet Molly Peacock, this book is less a biography of Mary Delany than a chronicle of how the 18th century woman, friend to King George III and Queen Charlotte, invented an art form at the age of 72. Delany is known by many for her embroidery designs rather than the paper mosaics. In her own time she was renowned for designing elaborate embroidered motifs for formal dresses and began her career in paper by cutting children's silhouettes. Delany's life was, in part, rather tragic. She was married off at age 17 to a drunkard in his 60s to improve the family's standing and inherited only a small annual allowance when her husband died because of an existing will that was never changed. In her letters she appropriately refers to her marriage as her own literal sacrifice,The one bright spot in the marriage was the absence of children, leaving Delany a truly free, albeit not wealthy, young woman in her 20s. She eschewed romance and marriage for many years before marrying an Irish clergyman for something-like-love and deep respect. Their successful marriage lasted decades, ending in his death. It was at this time, during a period of deep grieving and an illness that had her laid up in bed, that Delany discovered the possibility of rendering flowers in cut paper. Each of her mosaics, she created nearly 1,000, is comprised of hundreds of tiny pieces of paper. As her skill developed, noted botanists and rare plant collectors began to take notice. She was sent rare, and not so rare, specimens to work from by many admirers, including the royal family. In her last years, King George and Queen Charlotte arranged for her to be established in a cottage on the grounds of their summer palace and gave her an annual allowance to keep a home in London. Peacock tells Delany's story with a light hand, using the appearance of individual flowers as metaphors for stages of Delany's life. It's probably unlikely that Delany would have made such comparisons, but one can't help seeing some significance in her last mosaic: the Winter Cherry. More commonly known as the Husk Cherry or Chinese Lantern this plant grows bright cherry-like fruits inside papery husks. As the fruit hangs on the plant, the lantern husk disintegrates around it, leaving the cherry visible through a fine lace-like cage. Delany depicted the stages of the fruit on the branches, from the new cherry in its tight case to the fully exposed fruit. She even incorporated a piece of the brittle web-like husk in the mosaic, which has remained intact for over 200 years.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Margot

    The story of Mary Delany is true but it reads like a great historical novel. The New York Times said it read like a Jane Austen novel. I'm not sure I agree. Mary Delany was a strong-willed woman who managed to do very well in spite of whatever negatives life may have thrown at her. It's a life to be examined and works of art to be enjoyed. Every word, sentence, and paragraph of The Paper Garden reads like a well-crafted prose or poem. This is Molly Peacock's art form, her craft, and she's very, The story of Mary Delany is true but it reads like a great historical novel. The New York Times said it read like a Jane Austen novel. I'm not sure I agree. Mary Delany was a strong-willed woman who managed to do very well in spite of whatever negatives life may have thrown at her. It's a life to be examined and works of art to be enjoyed. Every word, sentence, and paragraph of The Paper Garden reads like a well-crafted prose or poem. This is Molly Peacock's art form, her craft, and she's very, very good at it. In this book Ms. Peacock talks about the art of Mary Delany but also about the importance of art or craft in one's life that I completely agree with. In The Paper Garden the author tells us in great detail about the life of Mary Delany and a little bit about herself. I liked that. Molly Peacock made this biography personal and linked it to herself and to me. Speaking of personal, there's the fact that Mary Delany's best known work didn't begin until she was in her seventies. You can be sure I saw the parallels to my own life. Who can say that a person in their seventies or eighties or nineties can't do intricate art work? Thank goodness Mary Delany didn't believe that. Every time I open a new book I wonder what kind of new friend I'm going to meet inside. In The Paper Garden I met two new friends that I like equally. I want to spend more time with them. In the book I have lots of passages with sticky notes for re-reading. This book is thought-provoking as well as meditative. I also want to find some prints of Mary Delany's flower collages. And then, I'm going to read more of Molly Peacock's writings. Yes, it was that kind of book for me - a window-opening book. And I want more.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Phoenix

    This was, to be honest (if a little corny), inspirational. I recommend this to anyone who feels they may be a late-bloomer. This book is a celebration of coming into one’s own despite all the fetters of their era, both in public and personal spheres. Mrs. Delany is now one of my heroes. Her life and her life’s work shows one how to persevere on their own terms and create something beautiful and unique from what Molly Peacock mentions in one chapter as “seared experience.” Stunning book. So glad I This was, to be honest (if a little corny), inspirational. I recommend this to anyone who feels they may be a late-bloomer. This book is a celebration of coming into one’s own despite all the fetters of their era, both in public and personal spheres. Mrs. Delany is now one of my heroes. Her life and her life’s work shows one how to persevere on their own terms and create something beautiful and unique from what Molly Peacock mentions in one chapter as “seared experience.” Stunning book. So glad I finally found time to read it.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Gayle Woodsum

    How have I escaped ever knowing about the woman who invented collage? And where was I when the buzz began in 2010 about Molly Peacock’s extraordinary biography of her? I found both artists by accident, browsing through paperbacks piled on a table beside the tiny café inside the Book Worm in downtown Edwards, Colorado. The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life’s Work at 72. It’s been a while since I’ve read a massive biography complete with endnotes and index. But in one of those reminders of th How have I escaped ever knowing about the woman who invented collage? And where was I when the buzz began in 2010 about Molly Peacock’s extraordinary biography of her? I found both artists by accident, browsing through paperbacks piled on a table beside the tiny café inside the Book Worm in downtown Edwards, Colorado. The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life’s Work at 72. It’s been a while since I’ve read a massive biography complete with endnotes and index. But in one of those reminders of the crucial need for the opportunity to browse among actual books with actual covers, the moment I spied The Paper Garden, I had to have it — even while swimming through my ignorance of the subject’s importance. Mary Granville Pendarves Delany lived from 1700 – 1788, which serves as a reminder that core life lessons never really change. The Paper Garden is written by poet Molly Peacock, who jumps into the narrative with sharp, insistent comments like: “Even if you’ve managed major accomplishments throughout your life and don’t really need a model for making a mark, you do need one for enriching an ongoing existence.” And Peacock does even better than that. For one thing, she dares to examine the intense botanic artistry of Delany through the lens of sexuality. Peacock says, “The flowers are portraits of the possibilities of age. They are aged. They can be portraits of sexual intensity — but softened. Softer, and drier, as our sexuality becomes.” And just in case you don’t fully comprehend what she’s trying to say, she goes on from there; deeper and even more graphic. In this tale of history, herstory in its best sense, I’m given what I’m now most desperate for: a scrutiny of life in a long, slow sweep. A view of late life coming to the inevitable close without once pausing to mourn it. A truth of accomplishment as rich if not richer than anything youth or vigor can provide. A truth of life that never stops being passionate, daring, important. The Paper Garden also offers up a broader view of an artistic life, with sweet inserts about Peacock’s own life journey sprinkled throughout. “It’s no news to anyone that we make art out of the substance of our lives,” she writes. Then later on with greater insight, as she guides us through the garden of Mary Delaney’s collages, she plumbs not only the struggles of that extraordinary woman, but taps into her own and suggests a path of examination for all of us. “Is being burnt a requisite for the making of art? Personally, I don’t think it is. But art is poultice for a burn. It is a privilege to have, somewhere within you, a capacity for making something speak from your own seared experience.” The Paper Garden ended up lasting me 17 days, a delicious eternity the way I read these days. It lives up to its promise of offering a role model — for art, for life. And it does so not only through the force of Mary Delany herself, but also through generations of women moved by her and her work. In the end, Molly Peacock is more than Mrs. Delany’s biographer. In Peacock’s hands, Mary Delany becomes so important as a beacon of doing better than just making it through, that I cry with immediate loss at the passage describing an old lady’s death more than 220 years ago. Peacock is a role model herself for negotiating life as an artist, and for offering up the comforting conclusion that “some things take living long enough to do.”

  9. 5 out of 5

    Mmars

    Really 2.5 stars. ‘Tis a dangerous thing for an author to weave their own stories into a biography. Trying to draw parallels between a 20th century middle class poet in a stable marriage with a 1700s gentrified, twice married woman who comes up with her own genre of art in her 70s. For me, it reeked more of fascination and fandom in which the reader is expected to agree with opinion and conjecture, than of a well-studied biography. I felt the book would have been better served with a long introd Really 2.5 stars. ‘Tis a dangerous thing for an author to weave their own stories into a biography. Trying to draw parallels between a 20th century middle class poet in a stable marriage with a 1700s gentrified, twice married woman who comes up with her own genre of art in her 70s. For me, it reeked more of fascination and fandom in which the reader is expected to agree with opinion and conjecture, than of a well-studied biography. I felt the book would have been better served with a long introduction or epilogue by the author. Apparently there is a wealth of primary sources on Mary Granville Pendarves Delaney and much has been written on her. Unfortunately, I’m unaware of it. She most certainly is a fascinating subject. Born in 1700, married of to a corpulent 60-yr-old man when she was in her late teens, widowed, remarried in her forties, widowed again and then in her 70s she became an artist. Not to say she wasn’t educated in the arts and exposed to a wide array of gardens which inspired her late work. But it was then she snipped away and created nearly 1000 intricate and realistic flower collages on black paper. (Google her. Cool, huh!) Each chapter in this book is fronted by one of these works and the chapter attempts to tie it into her life. Sometimes this works better than others. Although I had lots of problems with the book, (including blatant factual errors) I’m still glad I read it for I may never get to another work on Mrs. Delaney and I will ooh and ahhh every time she’s mentioned.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Petra

    If this book had covered only Mrs. Delany's life and art it would have been a solid 5-star read. The artwork in this book is wonderfully represented and the prints are detailed and exceptional in quality. I loved poring over the pictures and relating them to the descriptions (minus Peacock's personal insertions of female genitalia). Mary had an incredible sense of colour and shading and it is seen throughout her work. Mary's life is also fascinating. She was a woman of her time and yet also a bi If this book had covered only Mrs. Delany's life and art it would have been a solid 5-star read. The artwork in this book is wonderfully represented and the prints are detailed and exceptional in quality. I loved poring over the pictures and relating them to the descriptions (minus Peacock's personal insertions of female genitalia). Mary had an incredible sense of colour and shading and it is seen throughout her work. Mary's life is also fascinating. She was a woman of her time and yet also a bit ahead of it, too. She fit into the confines of her world, yet she was also independent and strong and made things happen when she felt strongly about the situation. All the parts about Mary and her work are a pleasure to read. ....then the author puts herself into the book.....oy! So much speculation, assumption, personal details, poetic meanderings.....it truly takes away from everything else. The author is omnipresent in someone else's story & life. It's very distracting and irritating. The author adds excerpts of her life at the end of each chapter. These are okay since they are contained and can be read or not at the reader's discretion. It's the comments of speculation throughout Mary's life narrative that are irritating. They just appear and break up Mary's story. For this, I'm removing 2-stars.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Margery

    The author views the almost 200 paper collages of flowers that Mary Delany created from age 72 on as portraits of her early life. I could not accept that two tulips bending toward each other indicated that Lord X was attracted to her any more than the little bud, partially hidden behind a flower, suggested that Mary had a homosexual attraction to his younger sister. I have made up this example to show how over analysed the book is.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Diane Challenor

    This story was a lovely ramble through the life of Mary Delaney. It isn't a subject that I thought I'd enjoy but I did because it is very well written and narrated and Mary Delaney was extra-ordinary. I listened to it via an audiobook. This story was a lovely ramble through the life of Mary Delaney. It isn't a subject that I thought I'd enjoy but I did because it is very well written and narrated and Mary Delaney was extra-ordinary. I listened to it via an audiobook.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Aubrey

    3.5/5 This was an oddly spliced together confabulation of history/autobiography that I can see appealing to a very specific section of reading demographics that powers a great deal of book purchasing, leastwise in the US. I chalk up my liking of it to getting older myself, leastwise in largely finding it more charming than slogging, self-absorbed kitsch (although certain sections involving gratuitously repetitive prose really tested my patience). Nevertheless, this remains one of the more elegant 3.5/5 This was an oddly spliced together confabulation of history/autobiography that I can see appealing to a very specific section of reading demographics that powers a great deal of book purchasing, leastwise in the US. I chalk up my liking of it to getting older myself, leastwise in largely finding it more charming than slogging, self-absorbed kitsch (although certain sections involving gratuitously repetitive prose really tested my patience). Nevertheless, this remains one of the more elegantly, yet substantially put together editions, especially in paperback form. I suppose so much time spent amidst hardcore literature and theory had largely deprived me of what can prove to be the glory of pictures, and this edition, in my opinion, does not stint on the quality of its images. If ever I find myself on the other side of the Atlantic, I can see myself seeking out the originals in what ways are allowed me, in addition to paying my respects to various authors at their places of rest. This work describes such a delightfully incongruous display of creativity that, much as its existence depended on odious systems of monetary imbalance, it manages to be one of the happier stories to come out of the history of that particular part of the world at that particular time. If you're looking for a straightforward biography, you'd be better off seeking out Mrs. Delany, Her Life and Her Flowers (although there's a brand new 2019 work that looks promising), as this work is authors blog posting at their most presumptuous for good or ill. Peacock was obviously motivated to write this due to her meditations on her own life in conjunction with this well to do, royally connected, 18th c. English woman, but it's one thing to be motivated and quite another to spend pages rambling on about one's own sick husband, long lasting friendships with women, and assume those who came seeking information from a much earlier period will be interested in the far more modern. Honestly, I found the resonance more poignant than not. Still, the mention of Burney near the end revitalized my interest in far more of the context of ye olde pre-Victorian England thin in runnings around Canada and the US on planes and in cars, so I was glad to finish this work before the modern world encroached itself too much on the world of carefully cloaked imperialism and rebellious settler states. As such, I"m looking forward to delving into some of the older works out there, and while Burney is likely not going to come within my sights next year, my new tolerance for a sizable portion of my stored library may be put to good use. There's a lot in Mrs. Delany's life that's hopeful in the sense that goes against the ideologies of youth and first loves and even prime of life middle age in ways that the average person didn't live long enough back then to serve as example of. As someone who got started on most of that rather late and is facing a large transition herself, it's comforting to read a narrative that did indeed find, at nearly twice the age I am, an amount of fulfillment that was strong enough to allow someone to have the courage to carry on once those sources of fulfillment were gone. Obscenely wealthy connections Mrs. Delany might have had, but at least she brought beauty to the world in a fashion that deserves remembrance far more than most of her British cohorts and their marauding and murderous ways. Anyway, it was nice to come to an old resident of my shelves and find enough sweetness to cherish and enough fiber to sustain. I hope to cultivate the same of myself ini the future months and reach out for what I can get.

  14. 4 out of 5

    KC Smelser

    There is nothing more comforting than the idea that it is never too late. This idea, and the fact that female artists who were able to create a body of work before the 19th century, much less female artists with beautiful biographies written about them and their work, are too few and far between make this an anomaly among anomalies. I must confess that I bought this book based on looks alone, with only a cursory glance at the contents to know I had stumbled across something magical. And what a There is nothing more comforting than the idea that it is never too late. This idea, and the fact that female artists who were able to create a body of work before the 19th century, much less female artists with beautiful biographies written about them and their work, are too few and far between make this an anomaly among anomalies. I must confess that I bought this book based on looks alone, with only a cursory glance at the contents to know I had stumbled across something magical. And what a fascinating life to stumble upon - Mrs. Mary Delany had one of the most unique lives. Married off to a drunkard, widowed young, then marrying for love well past middle-age, she didn’t start really revving up until well past the age most of us consider (or will consider) slowing down. Her big hit of inspiration came when she was 72 years old, and she took that inspiration and ran with it until she literally could not see any longer. She seemed to have known almost anyone who was anyone in 18th century England, and was something of a celebrity during her late life. Initially I was incredibly excited to read it - I had no idea what to expect, other than something beautiful, as the book itself is a work of art. A little way in though, I was dismayed - why was I learning about the author Molly Peacock's life? And why the insistence on the sensualizing of the flowers and Mrs. Delany's early life? (A critique others have made as well.) I pressed on though, mainly because I did want to know what happen to Mrs. D (and I had spent 30 bucks on the little book.) I am glad I did. Eventually a rhythm built up, and the stilted feeling of the first few chapters faded as I got to know more about Molly, her practice as an artist and wife, and the comparisons she drew between her own life-arc, and with Mrs. D's. What unfurled was a beautiful and thoughtful meditation on the means, act, instigation, and continuation of the creative process. Here was a long dead artist, who did not consider herself an artist, and her work: inspiring another creator at this very moment. Molly's investigation into Mrs. Delany's life and works broadened the further I read. The direct conversations with a living descendant of Mrs. Delany, and a variety of female curators and experts enriched an understanding of Delany's life, but also of the process of curation, preservation, and research. Inheritance (of ideas, ways of living, and of the created object) and the importance of friendship were also other threads throughout the book the placed Mrs. Delany in her time, while also allowing the reader to know her more deeply as these are issues that most of us deal with now. Overall, this not only an excellently researched book, but it points towards a new way of writing and researching that I find exciting.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    Peacock has written the best biography I’ve ever read in my life - quite possibly the best book I will read this year. As I opened the cover of this volume and began to take in the intoxicating blend of art, biography, memoir, fashion, culture, horticulture, and essay, I felt my mind telling me; “This is an incredibly special book. You’ve not read anything like this.” If this volume was what all creative non-fiction was, that genre would be my favorite and command the most of my time and attention Peacock has written the best biography I’ve ever read in my life - quite possibly the best book I will read this year. As I opened the cover of this volume and began to take in the intoxicating blend of art, biography, memoir, fashion, culture, horticulture, and essay, I felt my mind telling me; “This is an incredibly special book. You’ve not read anything like this.” If this volume was what all creative non-fiction was, that genre would be my favorite and command the most of my time and attention. All creative non-fiction authors should read this tome. I am in love with Delany and her artwork because Peacock makes me feel as if I have met her, sat under one of her shell grottos in one of her planned gardens, sipped tea and gossiped with her about court matters, received one of her exquisitely penned letters, and envied her dress at parties. In all reality, I hold Delany to be a role model when I modestly could be just the serving girl who sat at her feet parsing through the scraps from her water-colored handmade papers comprising - minuscule piece by minuscule piece - her Flora Delanica. Oh to be at the museum and to view all these pieces! Peacock has triumphed and Delany - passing in the late 1700’s 15 flowers short of 1000 - is still very much alive.

  16. 5 out of 5

    shakespeareandspice

    The author attempts to force relatability in her life with Mrs. Delany’s and it results in an awkward and conflated narrative that is 1) unsuitable and 2) …insanely infuriating. I don’t read memoirs very often but a memoir forcibly injected into the story of an incredible women is especially not my cup o’ tea.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sue

    Not your every day art book but a fascinating story of Mrs D, her incredible paper flowers, engagingly written.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Mila

    I wanted to love this book more than I did. It held such promise by the title alone. Art, flowers, gardening, botany. How could it be anything but amazing? Sadly, it wasn't. After a few pages in I got bored and bogged down by the writing, so I skimmed through the book to admire the art and read the first page describing the flower. In this fashion I "completed" the book and and I did enjoy the "Nodding Thistle" that gave a nod (ha ha) to my hero, Carl Linnaeus. Before he got the risque idea of c I wanted to love this book more than I did. It held such promise by the title alone. Art, flowers, gardening, botany. How could it be anything but amazing? Sadly, it wasn't. After a few pages in I got bored and bogged down by the writing, so I skimmed through the book to admire the art and read the first page describing the flower. In this fashion I "completed" the book and and I did enjoy the "Nodding Thistle" that gave a nod (ha ha) to my hero, Carl Linnaeus. Before he got the risque idea of classifying plants according to their sexual organs, various systems for naming had been tried, but none of them was as marvelously effective as concentrating on a flower's reproductive organs rather than its smell, colour, blooming time, or petal patterns. Linnaeus shocked plant lovers by revealing the loose, polygamous habits of flowers, then reassured them by reducing multiple flower names to a simple system of two words: the first one for the type of plant, or genus; the second for the specific plant itself, or species. Perhaps I should look for a book about Carl Linnaeus. More about the thistle... I enjoyed the following: The legend that the Scots survived barefoot Scandinavian invaders because one of the marauders stepped on a thistle and howled, alerting the Scots to defend themselves, is part of the aura of the thistle. At this point in her life Mary protected herself ferociously. And then, here is where the author goes off on a boring tangent. The picture of Passiflora laurifolia caught my eye. The author's opening paragraph is just plain weird: The main flower head is so intensely pubic, that it's as if you've come upon a nude study. She splays out 230 shockingly vulvular purplish pink petals in the bloom, and inside the leaves she places the slenderest of ivory veins, also cut separately from paper, with vine tendrils finer than a girl's hair. It is so fresh that it looks wet and full of desire... It does? Not to me! The saving grace is Winter Cherry Physalis alkekengi aka Chinese Lantern. Picture of Winter Cherry on The British Museum's website A self-portrait of the artist as a single stalk of a plant, showing her at four of life's stages: the green lantern of childhood; the fully dressed, bright orange one with slight hip hoops - young womanhood; the lower lantern with part of the dress removed to show the interior of the plant - increasing maturity; and the last lantern, the heart of the aged woman. The fine ribs of the plant material make the skeleton of the former lantern into something like a rib cage, with the cherry beating inside.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sherry Chandler

    I found it a striking coincidence that, while I was reading Wordsworth's "The Prelude," a work I've avoided for decades, I also happened upon Molly Peacock's The Paper Garden, a poetic biography of Mary Delaney. Both works are about the life influences that formed an artist but the contrast is striking. I realize that it isn't completely fair to compare the two lives. When Wordsworth was born, Mary Delaney was 70 years old and those 7 decades made a difference. Class must also be taken into accou I found it a striking coincidence that, while I was reading Wordsworth's "The Prelude," a work I've avoided for decades, I also happened upon Molly Peacock's The Paper Garden, a poetic biography of Mary Delaney. Both works are about the life influences that formed an artist but the contrast is striking. I realize that it isn't completely fair to compare the two lives. When Wordsworth was born, Mary Delaney was 70 years old and those 7 decades made a difference. Class must also be taken into account. Mrs. Delaney was minor nobility. Wordsworth's family was professional class (lawyers and clergymen etc.) When Mrs. Delaney became Mrs. Delaney by marrying an Irish clergyman (her second marriage), her brother was so miffed he refused to let her attend his deathbed. All that said, I found it striking that while Wordsworth tells us he spent his childhood running free on the mountains of the Lake District, Mrs. Delaney spent hers under strict tutelage, learning the proper way to curtsey and comport herself at court, all independence squelched. At 16 she was sold into marriage to a 60-year-old drunken Lord, and though the whole marriage was a nightmare for her, she made never a peep of protest because that was the way it was for women in her time, in her class. As it happened, Mrs. Delaney's story had what was for her a happy ending. She found her paper flower art at 72 and died the pampered favorite of George III and his queen. Wordsworth, of course, would not have aspired to such, although he did repudiate the French Revolution after it went sour. And while women are much more free now than in either the 18th or the 19th century, I still think there's a significant difference in the way life leads men and women to be poets. Contrast, just for example, Molly Peacock's own life with that of John Ashbery. Molly Peacock's book describes what her research into Mrs. Delaney's life taught her about her own life and art, making the book a fascinating hybrid of biography and autobiography. A couple of passages I highlighted: "poetry exists against time" "You don't get to choose the members of your biological family but . . . [y]our chosen literary family can extend over thousands of years and beyond the borders of empires . . . sharing the mitochondria of imagination." Mrs. Delaney was not a poet but I think Molly Peacock would not dispute that with her, too, she shared the mitochondria of imagination.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    “Some things take living long enough to do.” With this line Molly Peacock evokes the spirit, inspiration and breath of this beautiful book about the artist Mary Delany who created nine hundred eighty-five mosaics, the first completed in her seventy-third year. But to say that this is a book about the art of Mary Delany, her exquisite mosaics of flowers, which this book is, is to understate its power, its aim. The poet Molly Peacock has taken Mary Delany in her sights and locked onto her life to r “Some things take living long enough to do.” With this line Molly Peacock evokes the spirit, inspiration and breath of this beautiful book about the artist Mary Delany who created nine hundred eighty-five mosaics, the first completed in her seventy-third year. But to say that this is a book about the art of Mary Delany, her exquisite mosaics of flowers, which this book is, is to understate its power, its aim. The poet Molly Peacock has taken Mary Delany in her sights and locked onto her life to reveal not only Mary’s story, but Molly’s, and to reveal the breath of life that drives the creative impulse. Her words speak better than mine: “… [Y]ou must have technical skill to accomplish anything, but you also must have passion, which in an odd way is technique forgotten.” “The state of not-knowing … recaptures youth’s novel excitements.” “Mere self expression is not art. Nor is excellent technique on its own. … Both passion and virtuosity are required for this leap.” Peacock writes about the artist’s solitude, the need to say “no,” on “the incivility of the artist at work (what others call selfishness),” on the need for applause and how the encouragement of others increases the productivity of the artist and is not to be underestimated. She informs and inspires as she uncovers the life and work of Mary Delany. And perhaps more profoundly, she cuts to the bone of her own anxieties about life and death and love. Look at this book for its gorgeous reproductions of Mary Delany’s work. Read this book for the intertwined history of Mary Delany’s remarkable life and Molly Peacock’s tender memoir. Keep this book, as I will, for its insight on art and life, on living well and on the gift of “direct observation that leads to indirect epiphany.” I provide a longer discussion of the book on my blog. To read that, go here: http://maryltabor.blogspot.com/2011/0...

  21. 5 out of 5

    Patty

    This is a non-fiction book telling the life story of Mary Granville Pendarves Delany. A young woman of the 18th century, living in London she is basically sold into marriage by her uncle to an old drunk. This man is her uncle's friend and his money will keep Mary's family solvent. After he dies Mary, a young widow comes into her own. But it is not until she reaches the age of 72 that her extraordinary talent truly comes to the fore. Mary invented the paper collage or as she called it the "mosaick This is a non-fiction book telling the life story of Mary Granville Pendarves Delany. A young woman of the 18th century, living in London she is basically sold into marriage by her uncle to an old drunk. This man is her uncle's friend and his money will keep Mary's family solvent. After he dies Mary, a young widow comes into her own. But it is not until she reaches the age of 72 that her extraordinary talent truly comes to the fore. Mary invented the paper collage or as she called it the "mosaick." Using intricately cut pieces of paper she created beautiful works of art using flowers as her motif of choice. The author chooses one of Mary's works to start each chapter using the flower as a metaphor for that stage in Mary's life. The author also weaves her own life story into the tale. This part was a bit odd for me. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Mary and her life but the comparison's to the author's life pulled me out of time and place and were confusing at times. There were no clear breaks from her life to Mary's life at times and it led to some paging back and forth to figure out who was who and what century I was in. That being said, the book is written in a delightfully easy to read style for a non-fiction book. Ms. Peacock weaves her words in a way to make Mary's every day come to dramatic life. The details of 18th century life and the peak into the court of King George III and Queen Charlotte are fascinating as Mary became quite close to both of them. This book sent me off to google Mary's "mosaiks" as my advanced reader's copy had them in black and white. The colored versions are stunning.To think that she started them at 72 years of age and they required her to cut little pieces of paper. Her accuracy is lauded by botanists and her legacy is awe inspiring.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Audra (Unabridged Chick)

    This marvelous book is a mix of biography and memoir, written in a beautiful, inviting style that feels as if the author is having coffee with you and sharing her latest research. Molly Peacock is a poet who conveys Mary Granville Delaney's life in lovely, lyrical detail that is educational and enjoyable. It helps that Mary Delaney's life is captivating: in addition to being a talented artist, she was great friends with many luminaries of her day, and her eighty-eight years encompassed some incr This marvelous book is a mix of biography and memoir, written in a beautiful, inviting style that feels as if the author is having coffee with you and sharing her latest research. Molly Peacock is a poet who conveys Mary Granville Delaney's life in lovely, lyrical detail that is educational and enjoyable. It helps that Mary Delaney's life is captivating: in addition to being a talented artist, she was great friends with many luminaries of her day, and her eighty-eight years encompassed some incredibly exciting historical events. There are some nearly Gothic twists that would have seemed unbelievable were this not based on fact and from the first chapter I was enamored of Mary Delaney. Those who want a 'traditional' style biography (one that doesn't hint at the researcher/writer behind the pages) will probably be shocked by this one: Molly Peacock emerges on the pages to share her own thoughts about her research, about Mrs. Delaney, and snippets of her own life. I found it delicious and seamless; like Ms Peacock, my reading usually says something about where I am in my own life and the challenges I'm working through, and it was inspiring, refreshing, and moving to read about how her research overlapped, influenced, and affected her life. This biography was so compelling, and Mrs Delaney felt so real to me, I teared at the end; I, like Mrs. Delaney's friends, wasn't ready for her to pass away. Finishing was a bittersweet experience! I already miss Mrs. Delaney and Molly Peacock's beautiful observations on life, love, creative endeavors, hope, and finding one's true self.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ruthie

    Mary Delany was an extraordinary woman who lived a fascinating life. Her artwork is in a London Museum. This is not the first book written about her life. She left behind a massive collection of letters written to friends and family. The letters documented her day to day life, and gave great insight into social norms and customs in her social strata, and it was a life worth reading about. This however is not the book for that purpose. The author of this book has chosen to tell the story of Delan Mary Delany was an extraordinary woman who lived a fascinating life. Her artwork is in a London Museum. This is not the first book written about her life. She left behind a massive collection of letters written to friends and family. The letters documented her day to day life, and gave great insight into social norms and customs in her social strata, and it was a life worth reading about. This however is not the book for that purpose. The author of this book has chosen to tell the story of Delany's life focusing on a selection of her famous flower mosaics/collages - an art form Delany is credited with inventing. Peacock has also made the decision to attempt to mirror her own life with that of her subject. For me that interrupted the flow of the story, and I felt the comparisons being made were a stretch. The author is a poet and I found the writing overly done. Some of descriptions were so over-the-top that they were hilarious. Peacock also seemed determined to draw comparisons between Delany's artwork, done when she was in her 70's, to incidents that occurred throughout her lifetime, some even in her childhood. She would compare the positioning of a flower to something that had happened 50 years prior. It was just not working for me and took me out of the telling of this inspiring woman's life story. Perhaps the artist glued down the flower in a particular way because it worked artistically, was esthetically pleasing? Ruth Hayden, a relative of Delany, wrote a book based on the letters the family had held onto for centuries.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Andrea

    "Great technique means that you have to abandon perfectionism. Perfectionism either stops you cold or slows you down too much. Yet paradoxically, it's proficiency that allows a person to make art; you must have technical skill to accomplish anything, but you must also have passion, which is in an odd way technique forgotten." This is only one of the pearls of wisdom and thought put down inside this marvelous book about the creative blooming of the life of Mary Delaney whose work as a true arti "Great technique means that you have to abandon perfectionism. Perfectionism either stops you cold or slows you down too much. Yet paradoxically, it's proficiency that allows a person to make art; you must have technical skill to accomplish anything, but you must also have passion, which is in an odd way technique forgotten." This is only one of the pearls of wisdom and thought put down inside this marvelous book about the creative blooming of the life of Mary Delaney whose work as a true artist began in earnest at an age when most people are considering winding down in their lives. This story is both an inspiration and an entwining of two lives that of Mrs. Delany the artist and Molly Peacock the poet who discovered the extraordinary paper flowers of Mrs. Delany. Creativity as it unfolds and takes us within to examine our souls, thus allowing us the gift of crafting and coming to know ourselves through our creativity. The craft that Mary Delany pursued is amazing and one's eyes are deceived for it is very intricate work and requires close examination. The life we live can be interpreted through our art, our craft, our chosen means and we experience an understanding of how both the artist and the poet came to their chosen forms of expression. Bravo to Molly Peacock for exploring and interpreting both her own and her subject's passion,and perils. Inspiration is a flame that will not be extinguished!

  25. 4 out of 5

    JenniferD

    well...this was not at all what i thought it would be. i was absolutely fascinated and engaged with the life, story and art of mary delany. but i was really not engaged with (or interested in) author molly peacock's memoir-ish insertions of herself into delay's biography. for me, it really detracted from the read and made me not want to pick up the book to continue the read. i found the flow and style of writing in the book bumpy, and also found myself really questioning peacock's suppositions a well...this was not at all what i thought it would be. i was absolutely fascinated and engaged with the life, story and art of mary delany. but i was really not engaged with (or interested in) author molly peacock's memoir-ish insertions of herself into delay's biography. for me, it really detracted from the read and made me not want to pick up the book to continue the read. i found the flow and style of writing in the book bumpy, and also found myself really questioning peacock's suppositions and inferences. i actually ended up setting this book aside, around ¾ of the way through - something i never to. i most always finish the books i start. so, unfortunately, this book lands on my DNF shelf. my rating is based on how much i liked learning about mary delany, the stunning beauty of her art, and the beautiful quality of the hardcover edition of the book i own - it really is a lovely object.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Bookkaholic Magazine

    (See our full review over at Bookkaholic.) In this lovely and idiosyncratic book, a beautiful art object in its own right, poet Peacock remembers her various encounters with the eighteenth-century artist. She intersperses biographical narrative with vignettes from her own life, linking everything through the flower ‘mosaicks’ – through colors, repeated shapes or textures, and imagery of growth or craftsmanship. (See our full review over at Bookkaholic.) In this lovely and idiosyncratic book, a beautiful art object in its own right, poet Peacock remembers her various encounters with the eighteenth-century artist. She intersperses biographical narrative with vignettes from her own life, linking everything through the flower ‘mosaicks’ – through colors, repeated shapes or textures, and imagery of growth or craftsmanship.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Patricia

    Fascinating history. The narrative kept me reading with anticipation. The photography was wonderful. The insertion of the author's own story along with that of Mrs. Delany for me was sheer hubris.For me, Molly Peacock's interpretation of the artist's work was pretty far fetched, but then all art is open to individual interpretation and she certainly has a unique opinion. Which is why I have only given it 3 stars (liked). Fascinating history. The narrative kept me reading with anticipation. The photography was wonderful. The insertion of the author's own story along with that of Mrs. Delany for me was sheer hubris.For me, Molly Peacock's interpretation of the artist's work was pretty far fetched, but then all art is open to individual interpretation and she certainly has a unique opinion. Which is why I have only given it 3 stars (liked).

  28. 5 out of 5

    Madhulika Liddle

    I first came across Mary Delaney while reading Martyn Rix's The Golden Age of Botanical Art . In a book of some of the finest botanical paintings ever, Mrs Delaney's work stood out, not just because it was so bold and beautiful, but because it was so unusual: she did not draw or paint these flowers, she cut them out of hundreds of bits of coloured paper and pasted them together in the form of what she called 'paper mosaicks'. And she began doing them at the age of 72. And, over the next decad I first came across Mary Delaney while reading Martyn Rix's The Golden Age of Botanical Art . In a book of some of the finest botanical paintings ever, Mrs Delaney's work stood out, not just because it was so bold and beautiful, but because it was so unusual: she did not draw or paint these flowers, she cut them out of hundreds of bits of coloured paper and pasted them together in the form of what she called 'paper mosaicks'. And she began doing them at the age of 72. And, over the next decade or so, until her eyesight could not cope any more, she made 985 of these artworks. I was instantly fascinated, and instantly a fan of Mrs Delaney's. So when I heard of Molly Peacock's biography of Mary Granville Delaney, The Paper Garden, I leapt at it. This one, sadly, was a very spotty book. Instead of confining herself to Mrs Delaney and her life and work, Peacock shoe-horns herself and her life into the book as well. She tries to draw parallels between her own life, her first disastrous marriage, and the second very supportive husband who helped her blossom, and Mary Granville's married life: first, as a sixteen year old to the obese, often drunk sixty-year old Pendarves, and later to Dr Delaney, the Irish clergyman whom she married at fort-three. Peacock talks about her own parents, her friends, her first sexual experience, her married life now... none of which interested me, since what I wanted to read here was about Mary Delaney. Equally irritating for me was Peacock’s fondness for trying to marry Mrs Delaney’s creations to emotions, relationships, character traits, etc in the life of Mrs Delaney. Every little bit of a flower and the way it’s depicted is analyzed, from two stems drawing apart (which is supposed to reflect two people drawing apart) to the billowing kimono-like petals of a flower (equated with a kimono-like mantua or outer dress designed by Mrs Delaney). Initially, this was just mildly irritating, but after a while it really began to pall, because every single work of Mrs Delaney that Peacock shows and writes about in this book is only written in this style. A parallel drawn with some period of Mrs Delaney’s life, and every aspect of the flower bulldozed into some aspect of that period. And not dismissed in one sentence either, but long drawn out and tedious. (Oh, and Peacock’s obsession with sex is a little laughable at times. If one went by what she writes, Mrs Delaney had sex on her mind constantly while making her paper mosaicks. The Canada lily petals, for instance, have a bumpy, labial look to them. And the colors are of excited female sexual organs. What redeems The Paper Garden, though, is when Peacock is actually writing about Mrs Delaney, her times and her work. She brings the 1700s vividly alive, and her heroine as alive, as strong-willed and interesting a person as the age she lived in. She writes not just about Mrs Delaney and her many interesting pursuits (from embroidery to dress-design, from shell-craft to paper mosaicks) but about the many famous personalities she was friends with, and who, in different ways, influenced her life. Besides this, the little nuggets of information about daily life in the home of an aristocrat in 18th century England, or how Mrs Delaney might have made her mosaicks, and so on, make for fascinating reading. I wish Molly Peacock had overcome the temptation to force meaning out of every artwork of Mrs Delaney’s, and to force herself into this narrative. Cut those two out, and this is a superb biography.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    I really enjoyed this book. I read it for my Art Book Club, which meets tomorrow, and I am expecting that few will like it as much as I did. It was not at all what I expected. Written by poet Molly Peacock, I was at first thrown by her language, which seemed overblown. However, as I got into the book, I started to enjoy Peacock's language. The book tells the life story of Mary Delany, a well-born Englishwoman who lived from 1700 to 1788. She came up with the idea of making botanical collages from I really enjoyed this book. I read it for my Art Book Club, which meets tomorrow, and I am expecting that few will like it as much as I did. It was not at all what I expected. Written by poet Molly Peacock, I was at first thrown by her language, which seemed overblown. However, as I got into the book, I started to enjoy Peacock's language. The book tells the life story of Mary Delany, a well-born Englishwoman who lived from 1700 to 1788. She came up with the idea of making botanical collages from hand colored paper, starting her life's work at 72. I love historical biographies to begin with. Then, in a very interesting concept, the author takes one piece of her artwork to head up each portion of the book which tells of a phase of Mrs. D.'s life. The author must have searched forever through the 985 pieces of Mrs. D.'s work to find just the right flower to illustrate the specific period of her life. Her interpretation of the symbolism of each plant and how Mrs. D. chose to render it are very deep, seeing, I am sure, much more in them than Mrs D. intended to put into them. To add to the complexity of this book, Ms. Peacock gets autobiographical, comparing her own 20th century life to Mrs. D.'s. She also sketches other people who pass through the book, such as her own mother and her contemporary, a descendant of the artist who wrote a book about her ancestor. A lovely book, and a real surprise..

  30. 4 out of 5

    Juliet Wilson

    Subtitled 'Mrs Delany begins her life's work at 72', this is the biography of Mary Delaney who lived a very creative life but only discovered her true calling at 72 by effectively inventing collage as an art form. I first came across Mary Delaney's collages at the excellent Cut and Paste exhibition (showing at the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art until 27 October). I was therefore delighted to find this book soon afterwards. It is in part a true biography of Mary Delaney, following her early unhapp Subtitled 'Mrs Delany begins her life's work at 72', this is the biography of Mary Delaney who lived a very creative life but only discovered her true calling at 72 by effectively inventing collage as an art form. I first came across Mary Delaney's collages at the excellent Cut and Paste exhibition (showing at the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art until 27 October). I was therefore delighted to find this book soon afterwards. It is in part a true biography of Mary Delaney, following her early unhappy marriage, her life as a well connected, creative woman, a feminist well before that term was even thought of and her late, happy marriage and her blooming into her art form. The book is beautifully illustrated with several of Delaney's collages, which are truly beautiful, exquisitely observed portraits of flowers made from cut out paper and sometimes incorporating parts of the actual plant. I found it annoying though how much Molly Peacock wrote about herself in this book, sure, fair enough to detail the research involved in finding out about Mr Delaney but the sections about Peacock's own life detracted from the concept of biography. I also thought she imposed too much of her own interpretations into the presentation of the collages. However overall I am glad I read the book, Mrs Delaney was a fascinating woman and it's great to read about someone who so successfully reinvented herself at such an advanced age!

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