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The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life's Work at 72by Molly Peacock
Synopses & Reviews
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 English 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 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 beloved 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, which she called "mosaicks." 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 Flora Delanica.
Peacock, an award-winning poet, has delicately 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-color 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.
"Intelligent and well read, a quintessential member of the British aristocracy but with a mind of her own, Mary Granville Pendarves Delany (1700-1788) was a late bloomer. Born to a noble family of moderate fortune, she was married, first at 17 to a much older, drunken aristocrat, in midlife, more happily, she married a loving Irish clergyman. Widowed, she began at age 72 her remarkable art of cutting and creating the 985 floral 'mosaicks' as she termed them — a precursor to collage. Delany rubbed elbows with Handel, Hogarth, Jonathan Swift, King George III, and Queen Charlotte. But Delany was even more fortunate to come under the wing of a duchess who brought the cutting work to the attention of Sir Joshua Reynolds and Horace Walpole. Poet Peacock's (The Second Blush) hymn to Delany weaves in her own life and discovery of her subject and of course all the viewings of those astonishing orchid 'mosaicks.' 35 color illus. (Apr.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
"Poet Peacock's hymn to Delany weaves in her own life and discovery of her subject." Publishers Weekly
"An intriguing, evocative aesthetic experience. A lyrical, meditative rumination on art and the blossoming beauty of self that can be the gift of age and love." Kirkus
"This book layers Delany's life and work over Peacock's. It is organized by flower — forget-me-not, thistle, poppy, etc., each a metaphor for a different phase in Delany's life. In this way, the book itself is a complicated, delicate and beautiful collage." Los Angeles Times
"Affecting and engaging, Peacock's own candor combines with Delany's wit and honesty to prove that it is never too late to make a life for oneself and to be sustained by art. VERDICT: This marvelous 'mosaick' makes an indelible impression." Library Journal (starred review)
In 1772, upon the death of her second husband, Mary Delany arose from her grief, picked up a pair of scissors, and, at the age of seventy-two, created a new art form: mixed-media collage. Over the next decade, Mrs. Delany produced an astonishing 985 botanically correct, breathtaking cut-paper flowers, now housed in the British Museum and referred to as the Flora Delanica. As she tracks the extraordinary life of Delany—friend of George Frideric Handel and Jonathan Swift—internationally acclaimed poet Molly Peacock weaves in delicate parallels in her own life and, in doing so, creates a profound and beautiful examination of the nature of creativity and art. This gorgeously designed book, featuring thirty-five full-color illustrations, is to be devoured as voraciously as one of the court dinners it describes.
Mary Delany was seventy-two years old when she noticed a petal drop from a geranium. In a flash of inspiration, she picked up her scissors and cut out a paper replica of the petal, inventing the art of collage. It was the summer of 1772, in England. During the next ten years she completed nearly a thousand cut-paper botanicals (which she called mosaicks) so accurate that botanists still refer to them. Poet-biographer Molly Peacock uses close-ups of these brilliant collages in The Paper Garden to track the extraordinary life of Delany, friend of Swift, Handel, Hogarth, and even Queen Charlotte and King George III.
How did this remarkable role model for late blooming manage it? After a disastrous teenage marriage to a drunken sixty-one-year-old squire, she took control of her own life, pursuing creative projects, spurning suitors, and gaining friends. At forty-three, she married Jonathan Swift's friend Dr. Patrick Delany, and lived in Ireland in a true expression of midlife love. But after twenty-five years and a terrible lawsuit, her husband died. Sent into a netherland of mourning, Mrs. Delany was rescued by her friend, the fabulously wealthy Duchess of Portland. The Duchess introduced Delany to the botanical adventurers of the day and a bonanza of exotic plants from Captain Cook's voyage, which became the inspiration for her art.
Peacock herself first saw Mrs. Delany's work more than twenty years before she wrote The Paper Garden, but "like a book you know is too old for you," she put the thought of the old woman away. She went on to marry and cherish the happiness of her own midlife, in a parallel to Mrs. Delany, and by chance rediscovered the mosaicks decades later. This encounter confronted the poet with her own aging and gave her-and her readers-a blueprint for late-life flexibility, creativity, and change.
About the Author
Molly Peacock is the award-winning author of six volumes of poetry, including The Second Blush. Her poems have appeared in the New Yorker, the Paris Review, and the Times Literary Supplement. Among her other works are How to Read a Poem...and Start a Poetry Circle and a memoir, Paradise, Piece by Piece. Peacock, a member of the Spalding University brief residency MFA graduate faculty, is currently the general series editor of The Best Canadian Poetry in English. A transplanted New Yorker, she lives in Toronto.
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