A beautifully written tour de force from an internationally acclaimed poet, The Paper Garden is at once a biography
of an extraordinary eighteenth-century woman and a fascinating meditation on late-life creativity.
Mary Granville Pendarves Delany (1700–1788)
was the witty, beautiful, and talented daughter of a minor
branch of a powerful family. Married off at seventeen to a
sixty-one-year-old drunken squire to improve the family
fortunes, then widowed by twenty-five, she would spurn
many suitors over the next twenty years, including the
charismatic Lord Baltimore, and she would also refuse to
retire to a quiet, pensioned existence. Instead, 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 finally found love, and married again.
Upon her second husband’s death twenty-three years
later, she 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
created an astonishing 985 botanically correct, breathtaking
cut-paper flowers, now housed in the British Museum
and referred to as the Flora Delanica.
Delicately, Molly 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 thirty-five 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.