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The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life's Work at 72

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  962 ratings  ·  227 reviews
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 of ...more
Hardcover, 416 pages
Published October 12th 2010 by McClelland & Stewart
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3.85  · 
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 ·  962 ratings  ·  227 reviews

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Mary Lou
Mar 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 24, 2011 rated it liked it
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
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
May 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
May 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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,
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
Sep 19, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
Sep 28, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, art
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
Gayle Woodsum
Feb 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 31, 2011 rated it did not like it
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.
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.
KC Smelser
There is nothing more comforting than the idea that it is never too late. This idea, and the fact that female artists who were able to create a body of work before the 19th century, much less female artists with beautiful biographies written about them and their work, are too few and far between make this an anomaly among anomalies.

I must confess that I bought this book based on looks alone, with only a cursory glance at the contents to know I had stumbled across something magical. And what a
The author attempts to force relatability in her life with Mrs. Delany’s and it results in an awkward and conflated narrative that is 1) unsuitable and 2) …insanely infuriating. I don’t read memoirs very often but a memoir forcibly injected into the story of an incredible women is especially not my cup o’ tea.
Sep 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Not your every day art book but a fascinating story of Mrs D, her incredible paper flowers, engagingly written.
Nov 21, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to love this book more than I did. It held such promise by the title alone. Art, flowers, gardening, botany. How could it be anything but amazing? Sadly, it wasn't. After a few pages in I got bored and bogged down by the writing, so I skimmed through the book to admire the art and read the first page describing the flower. In this fashion I "completed" the book and and I did enjoy the "Nodding Thistle" that gave a nod (ha ha) to my hero, Carl Linnaeus.
Before he got the risque idea of c
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
May 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
“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
May 10, 2011 rated it liked it
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
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
Sep 17, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
Aug 20, 2014 rated it really liked it

"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
Oct 01, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
Sep 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, memoir
(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.
Mar 15, 2011 rated it liked it
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).
Whew! I finally finished this book. I was so tempted to set it aside, but I really did want to learn more about Mrs. Delany. I developed a skim-skip-read reading style. There is too much unnecessary clutter throughout the text. For example, Peacock should have skipped comparing her life with Mrs. Delany's. And, there was far too much name-dropping -- was I really supposed to keep track of all these people? I also could have done without the comparisons of the plant mosaics to what was going on i ...more
I really enjoyed this book. I read it for my Art Book Club, which meets tomorrow, and I am expecting that few will like it as much as I did. It was not at all what I expected.

Written by poet Molly Peacock, I was at first thrown by her language, which seemed overblown. However, as I got into the book, I started to enjoy Peacock's language. The book tells the life story of Mary Delany, a well-born Englishwoman who lived from 1700 to 1788. She came up with the idea of making botanical collages from
Stephanie Baker Opperman
Mar 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Beautiful combination of art history, biography and poetry that is wholly original.
This is an incredible book about a most amazing woman! Molly Peacock, the author, sees Mrs. Delany as one of her heros and role models, now I do too! Mary Granville Pendavres Delany did indeed begin her lifes work at age 72 in 1772. She began it on a whim...a chance event, as she was coming out of her grieving at the loss of her younger sister Anne and of her husband the Dean in 1768. She was visiting a lifelong friend at her estate, when she saw a geranium blossom petal fall to the floor. It wa ...more
RH Walters
Feb 18, 2017 rated it liked it
Just when you think you’re about to read a gentile and quaint biography of a botanical paper artist, you read a line on page 6, “They all come out of darkness, intense and vaginal, bright on their black backgrounds as if, had she possessed one, she had shined a flashlight on nine hundred and eighty-five flowers’ cunts.” Molly Peacock, biographer of Mary Granville Pendarves Delany, has a steady compulsion to mention pubic hair, nipples showing through chemises, pissing into gravy boats held by se ...more
Jun 17, 2018 added it
Shelves: dropped-it
started out well, but lost interest shortly thereafter. not going to finish it.
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Molly Peacock is a widely anthologized poet, biographer, memoirist, and New Yorker transplanted to Toronto, her adopted city.

Her newest book of poems is THE ANALYST (W.W. Norton & Company) where she takes up a unique task: telling the story of her psychotherapist who survived a stroke by reconnecting with her girlhood talent for painting. Peacock’s latest work of nonfiction is THE PAPER GARDEN
“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.” 12 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?” 6 likes
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