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The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life's Work at 72

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3.83 of 5 stars 3.83  ·  rating details  ·  612 ratings  ·  156 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
Hardcover, 416 pages
Published April 12th 2011 by Bloomsbury USA (first published October 12th 2010)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,145)
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Margot
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
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
Sarah
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
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
Pam
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
Mary
“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
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
Diane Challenor
This story was a lovely ramble through the life of Mary Delaney. It isn't a subject that I thought I'd enjoy but I did because it is very well written and narrated and Mary Delaney was extra-ordinary. I listened to it via an audiobook.
Petra
If this book had covered only Mrs. Delany's life and art it would have been a solid 5-star read.
The artwork in this book is wonderfully represented and the prints are detailed and exceptional in quality. I loved poring over the pictures and relating them to the descriptions (minus Peacock's personal insertions of female genitalia). Mary had an incredible sense of colour and shading and it is seen throughout her work.
Mary's life is also fascinating. She was a woman of her time and yet also a bi
...more
Mmars
Really 2.5 stars.

‘Tis a dangerous thing for an author to weave their own stories into a biography. Trying to draw parallels between a 20th century middle class poet in a stable marriage with a 1700s gentrified, twice married woman who comes up with her own genre of art in her 70s. For me, it reeked more of fascination and fandom in which the reader is expected to agree with opinion and conjecture, than of a well-studied biography. I felt the book would have been better served with a long introd
...more
Andrea

"Great technique means that you have to abandon perfectionism. Perfectionism either stops you cold or slows you down too much. Yet paradoxically, it's proficiency that allows a person to make art; you must have technical skill to accomplish anything, but you must also have passion, which is in an odd way technique forgotten."

This is only one of the pearls of wisdom and thought put down inside this marvelous book about the creative blooming of the life of Mary Delaney whose work as a true arti
...more
Patty
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
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
Jennifer D
well...this was not at all what i thought it would be. i was absolutely fascinated and engaged with the life, story and art of mary delany. but i was really not engaged with (or interested in) author molly peacock's memoir-ish insertions of herself into delay's biography. for me, it really detracted from the read and made me not want to pick up the book to continue the read. i found the flow and style of writing in the book bumpy, and also found myself really questioning peacock's suppositions a ...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.
Margery
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.
Patricia
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).
Katy
My mystery book parcel for April. I actually picked out Mrs Harris to read first because I expected this to be quite dense, and wanted something light as a refresher first. This was actually a remarkably easy read, and one I think would appeal to quite a few people in this group. It's a biography of Mrs Delany, who was born in 1700 and as a child was being trained for a role as a lady in waiting at the royal court. Things didn't go quite to plan - when Queen Anne died without an immediate heir, ...more
Sally
Interesting account of a woman's life and her work in creating paper flower "mosaicks". The author is taken with Mrs. Delany's example of a difficult life blossoming into something beautiful. She also draws parallels between second loves and their unexpected joys. The author followed a pattern in each chapter of describing one of the mosaics, then giving biographical information about the artist, then making philosophical comments about life in general. I found it interesting to read about Mrs. ...more
Ruthie
Mary Delany was an extraordinary woman who lived a fascinating life. Her artwork is in a London Museum. This is not the first book written about her life. She left behind a massive collection of letters written to friends and family. The letters documented her day to day life, and gave great insight into social norms and customs in her social strata, and it was a life worth reading about. This however is not the book for that purpose. The author of this book has chosen to tell the story of Delan ...more
Patricia
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
Cheryl
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
Sarah
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
Diane
I LOVED this book! Have been recommending it to practically everyone I know. I love the rich prose, I love the way each chapter is organized according to one of the flower mosaicks, I love the way Molly Peacock draws out and uses all the metaphors in that image, I love the way she interleaves her own life story with Mrs Delaney's along with the process of how this book came about. Truly excellent read. I may need to acquire my own copy (I read library books) and re-read it!! Makes me REALLY want ...more
Aimee
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
Palawa
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
Lynn Dolan
I desperately wanted to love this book. I've caught the Delanymania fever and was hoping to find some curative bit of insight about the woman behind the elegant 'mosaicks'. Instead, I was treated to one poet's indulgent introspection and her far-fetched speculation that a sort of sexual/emotional turmoil was the driving force behind Mary Delany's botanical work. Yes, I know, flowers are reproductive parts, but the constant employment of vagina imagery, (particularly the "See You Next Tuesday" wo ...more
Charlotte
As a child Mrs Delaney was coached in vain for a Court position. At seventeen she became trapped in a marriage to a sixty-year-old man who repelled her, and as a middle-aged widow she married happily at last only to survive her second husband by nearly twenty years. But never mind all that. Readers come to this book because of 985 exquisite, accurate images of flowers that Mrs Delany began to craft from coloured paper at the age of seventy-two.

Molly Peacock’s triumph is providing a compelling,
...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: Poems

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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?” 4 likes
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