A beautifully written tour de force from an internationally acclaimed poet, The Paper Garden is at once a biography of an extraordinary eighteenth-century woman and a fascinating meditation on late-life creativity.
Mary Granville Pendarves Delany (1700–1788) was the witty, beautiful, and talented daughter of a minor branch of a powerful family. Married off at seventeen to a sixty-one-year-old drunken squire to improve the family fortunes, then widowed by twenty-five, she would spurn many suitors over the next twenty years, including the charismatic Lord Baltimore, and she would also refuse to retire to a quiet, pensioned existence. Instead, 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 finally found love, and married again.
Upon her second husband’s death twenty-three years later, she arose from her grief, picked up a pair of scissors and, at the age of seventy-two, 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 Flora Delanica.
Delicately, Molly 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 thirty-five 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.