The Paper Garden
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The Paper Garden

3.84 of 5 stars 3.84  ·  rating details  ·  451 ratings  ·  126 reviews
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 b...more
ebook, 416 pages
Published March 29th 2011 by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (first published October 12th 2010)
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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,...more
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...more
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...more
“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...more
Rebecca Foster
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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
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.
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.
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).
This is a hard book to categorize. It is a memoir of author/poet Molly Peacock braided around a biography of Mary Delaney, an artist who lived the 1700’s in the British Isles. The book could also be labeled a scrapbook for all the high quality photos.

Times were hard for women, even those close to the monarchy in the 1700's Their lives were dictated by the men of her family who could and did die and leave them with little or no support until another family member took them in.

Peacock selected pho...more
Mary Delany was born to Colonel Bernard Granville and Mary Granville. She grew up in a moderate home. She learned several different languages and took a liking to paper cutting. It wasn’t until she was married to Mr. Delany that Mary revisiting her artist side and her paper cutting. At this time Mary was seventy-two years old. The artwork Mary produced gained her lots of praise. Mary would cut out fake flowers or other items out of paper and than recreate beautiful artwork. She called her artwor...more
The story behind this book is pretty incredible: talented, perceptive 18th-century woman rises above the crappy hand she's dealt and invents a new art form. If this book had simply told Mary Delany's life story, it could have been wonderful. Instead, the author chose to fill the pages with the following: oversharing about her own personal life (e.g., cancer scares, relationship with her father, alcoholism, none of which seemed to have any bearing on Mary Delany's story); half-baked, overreaching...more
Anyone interested in living well could learn from the life and work of Mary Delany, but I wouldn't recommend this book unreservedly. It doesn't bother me that it includes both biography and autobiography. Peacock brings Delany vividly to life and writes insightfully about her own family. I'm sympathetic to the project she's undertaken, to share with readers not only the remarkable life of Mrs Delany but also her own experience of learning from Delany as a role model.

Still, I can't help feeling...more
I enjoyed the way the author wrote about her own journey of discovering Mary Delany's life and her paper flower mosaics. Peacock is a published poet and her interpretations of Delany's flowers were always poignant and, at times, risque.
Best of all was Mary's stunning flower representations which must be amazing in reality, because each plate in the book glowed with colour and detail. Mary's life, spanning most of the 18th Century, was incredibly interesting and deservedly so - she was a remarkab...more
3.5 stars - As a person who is more than a little obsessed with paper, I was intrigued by the subject of this book: Mary Delany, an eighteenth century woman from an aristocratic family who was the inventor of collage, creating almost a thousand botanical pictures from paper. She proved to be a fascinating person, with integrity, ambition and independence. She survived a horrible forced marriage with a much older man, defied convention and disapproving family in her widowhood by living on her own...more
Mary Delaney's life in the 1700's was fascinating, and the biologically correct paper flowers she created are exquisite. Still, I was a little disappointed that the author tried to attach her erotic interpretations to the work and also inserted chunks of her own life story. When I read a biography, I want to read about the biographee - not the biographer! I would also have liked to see more than the small selection of her flowers presented. C+
Excellent and creative biography of a very interesting person, the woman who developed the art of collage. Mrs Delany is inspiring for a number of reasons--for what she saw, what she survived, for the grace with which she made a place for herself in the world--but not least of which was her ability to turn the withering power of death into life-affirming creation at the age of 72, after having lost her sister and husband.

Love how Peacock figures as a character in her biography of Mrs Delany. I...more
This was a fabulous book. I have often wondered if it is ever too late to become the artist I want to be? Mrs. Delaney is an 18th century woman who despite the norms for even wealthy women, was able to make a life for herself and become a notable artist with paper, 18th century glue and small sewing scissors. This is not a spoiler. How she gets there and the parralle life of the author is inspiring.
I'm kindof in awe of this woman who at age 72, began a work that would stand the test of time. How, as an art and art history student, did I never hear or learn about Mary Delaney, the woman who basically invented collage??

It took a chapter or two for me to get into it, but Peacock does a great job of not just making this a biography of Delaney, but a historical account of the times, of the important people of that day and age, and of course, studies and advances in 18th century horticulture an...more
Rohan Maitzen
I loved reading this: it's beautiful, thought-provoking, witty, poignant, and occasionally strange and annoying. Mrs Delany becomes so vivid a presence that, even though we're given the date of her death on page 1, it was still startling when it arrived. And the flowers!
What a lovely, lovely book. Both in its content and its design.
Heather Barrett
Given the title, I expected to read about Mary Delany and in part the book supplied the expected information, however, I found the author's personal life was inserted throughout and this was disappointing. Another aspect of the author's technique that did not flow well was the 'cut and paste' feeling I gained in the passages about the flowers. In the larger passages about Mary's life and the significance of the Delanica I was satisfied and well entertained with fluent writing and well placed quo...more
Sandy S.
It’s never too late to become what you might have been...
- George Eliot

I love this quote, and I suspect Mary Delany would have too if she had ever heard it, because it perfectly sums up her life, her experience, and her arrival as an artist in a few short words. Molly Peacock takes a bit more time (and words) to get us there, but it is a fascinating journey for anyone interested in art, or in a story of a second life after middle age.

Mary Delany was born in 1700, in England. Now even those of yo...more
Jill Merrill
This is a marvellous book! Hard to describe, part biography, part botanical information, part cruise through Georgian and Regency England, meeting Handel, Hogarth and dinner with Jonathan Swift. I'm already so interested in the actual paper mosaicks Mrs Delany started to make at 72, I have ordered Ruth Hayden's book, Mrs Delany: Her life and her flowers. Ruth is Mrs Delany's great-great-great-great-great-great-niece. Ruth was asked by the British Museum (where the 985 "mosaicks" are preserved) t...more
Melanie Faith
For readers who enjoy 18th-century England, paper arts, poetry, historical manners and mores, the path women artists take (a la A Room of One's Own), and love triangles, this book has a little something to intrigue everyone. Molly Peacock, a marvelous and marvelously talented poet, interweaves her own life's hits and misses with those of her subject, Mrs. Delany. Peacock's imagistic descriptions of the paper flowers as well as the twists and turns in Delany's life (and in Peacock's own) are beau...more
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Molly Peacock is a widely anthologized poet, biographer, memoirist, and New Yorker transplanted to Toronto, her adopted city.

Her latest work of nonfiction is THE PAPER GARDEN: MRS. DELANY BEGINS HER LIFE'S WORK AT 72, a Canadian bestseller and an Economist Book of the Year, published in the US, UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. Her most recent collection of poems is THE SECOND BLUSH (W.W. N...more
More about Molly Peacock...
Paradise, Piece by Piece How to Read a Poem...: and Start a Poetry Circle Cornucopia: New and Selected Poems The Second Blush: Poems Original Love

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“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.” 9 likes
“But if a role model in her seventies isn't layered with contradictions - as we all come to be - then what good is she? Why bother to cut the silhouette of another's existence and place it against our own if it isn't as incongruous, ambiguous, inconsistent, and paradoxical as our own lives are?” 3 likes
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