Title: The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life’s Work at 72
Author: Molly Peacock
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication Date: April 12, 2011
Hardcover: 416 pages
Genre: Non-fiction, Biography and Memoir
An inspirational tour de force that proves it’s never too late to be who you might have been.
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.
The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock is an inspiring biographical work about the life of Mary Delaney, a woman born in the 18th century, who, after being widowed twice, discovers new beauty in her paper crafts at a young age of 72 years. The story is interwoven with Peacock’s own memoir, making this book more of a comparative piece of literature, painting the Peacock’s own life and writings against a backdrop from a life in times long passed. The photographs of the artwork by Delaney’s hand are beautiful and inspiring I would imagine for those knowledgeable in the paper crafts. Indeed, I too found some inspiration in the intricacies of her work. More importantly, Peacock crafts a beautiful biography of a woman who was married off at a young age to an older man, was widowed, remarried later and widowed a second time, and then found her own rhythm in life when many would be reducing their activities. Peacock has clearly taken her own inspiration from the life and work of Mary Delaney and provided a well-crafted memoir that metaphorically links the sensuality implicit to many of the flowers of Peacock’s work to her own life experiences. I would recommend The Paper Garden to anyone who enjoys beautifully woven biographies and memoirs and highly recommend The Paper Garden to book discussion groups as this book is rich with material to discuss.
Molly Peacock is the award-winning author of five 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 is currently the poetry editor of the Literary Review of Canada and the general series editor of The Best Canadian Poetry in English. A transplanted New Yorker, she lives in Toronto.
Further information about author Molly Peacock may be found on her website.
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I received an copy of The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock from TLC Book Tours to be a part of this tour and offer my honest review of the book. Receiving a complimentary copy in no way reflected my review of aforementioned book.