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.
Molly Peacock is an acclaimed poet, essayist and creative nonfiction writer. Her latest work of nonfiction is The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life’s Work at 72, at once a biography of an extraordinary 18th century artist and a meditation on late-life creativity. Her most recent collection of poems is The Second Blush, love poems from a midlife marriage. As President of the Poetry Society of America, Molly Peacock was one of the creators of New York's Poetry in Motion program; coediting Poetry In Motion: One Hundred Poems From the Subways and Buses. She serves as a Faculty Mentor at the Spalding University Brief Residency MFA Program and is also the Series Editor of The Best Canadian Poetry in English.
“The volume itself is a craft object, sumptuously presented and designed, on fine paper, with colophons and decorations, and full-page colour reproductions. . . . The Paper Garden will be everyone’s favourite Christmas present this year.”
— Victoria Glendinning, The Globe and Mail
“Like collage itself, The Paper Garden is carefully layered—part fascinating biography . . . part gripping memoir, . . . accompanied by dozens of vivid photo reproductions. Beautifully written and rendered.”
Complementing her research, Peacock's prose is a delight. . . . A fascinating, uplifting and beautiful book.”
— Claire Holden Rothman, The Gazette (Montreal)
“Rich and poetic. . . . Teeming with life -- and gorgeous colour illustrations.”
— Winnipeg Free Press
“The perfect gift for the hardcore book lover [The Paper Garden is] more than a beautiful glimpse at Delany’s very interesting life . . . a considered and shared contemplation on art and creativity.”
— January magazine
"A lyrical, meditative rumination on art and the blossoming beauty of self that can be the gift of age and love."
— Kirkus Reviews