Mary Lou's Reviews > The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life's Work at 72

The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock
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Mar 12, 11

Read in March, 2011

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 “mosaics” and about Peacock’s own perceptions about life and art. Mary Granville was born to an upper class British family in 1700, in her teens married off to an elderly alcoholic, widowed in her twenties, lived independently on reduced means and the kindness of aristocratic friends until her marriage at the age of 43 to an Irish clergyman, then widowed again when she was in her 60’s. She embroidered, painted, played the spinet, designed clothing and gardens and shell grottos, in short all the things women of her class and period did with their time. She was privileged to know people like Handel and Swift. All her life she was a noticer, a woman who observed the world she inhabited and she wrote about it in letters that have been preserved by family members. The sum of all her experiences culminated in the mosaics she began to make during her second widowhood - 985 exquisite collages of closely observed and botanically correct flowers, all of which can be seen still preserved for posterity in the British Museum. Peacock has carefully chosen a dozen or so of these works to illustrate and illuminate her story. She, like Mrs. D., is a noticer and, she reaches the conclusion that observation of one thing can lead to discoveries about another or as she succinctly states, “ Direct examination leads to indirect epiphany.” The poet has observed Mrs. D.’s visual art as carefully and closely as Mrs. D. observed the flowers she so meticulously reproduced in her paper versions. Under Peacock’s emotional and poetically intellectual magnification, each of the flowers chosen reveals a period of Mrs. D’s life and often an aspect of Peacock’s own emotional and human journey. This interweaving of artistic product and the lives of two artists has turned biography into visual poetry.
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message 1: by Alice (new) - added it

Alice Mary Lou, Enjoyed your excellent review of this book and I am considering buying this book as my first audiobook experience. Did you feel that seeing the examples of her artwork added significantly to the book?

By the way, my mother blossomed at 65, leaving a long time position as a secretary, and going to another company where she became Secretary of that corporation. And I, at 73 am about to have my first novel published! I believe we all bloom at different times of our lives.


Mary Lou Alice - good to hear another story about a late bloomer, and congrats on the publication. In answer to your question, I do think seeing Mrs. D.'s art added significantly to the book. I'm sure I would have had trouble visualizing these mosaics without examples to look at - and they are beautiful works of art, and are very carefully reproduced in this book. I'm not sure I'd recommend this book in its audio version for that very reason. Hope you enjoy it in whatever format you've chosen.


message 3: by Alice (new) - added it

Alice Mary Lou wrote: "Alice - good to hear another story about a late bloomer, and congrats on the publication. In answer to your question, I do think seeing Mrs. D.'s art added significantly to the book. I'm sure I w..."

Mary Lou, Yes, you are absolutely right! Of course I would want to see the mosaics she created. I've chosen Zola's 'Therese Raquin,' read by Kate Missett, for my first audio book. It received an excellent review this week in the NY Times. Another technology to battle!


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