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

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

by Molly Peacock

McClelland & Stewart | October 12, 2010 | Hardcover

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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 off at 16 to a 61-year-old drunken squire to improve the family fortunes, she was widowed by 25, and henceforth had a small stipend and a horror of a marriage. She spurned many suitors over the next twenty years, including the powerful Lord Baltimore and the charismatic radical John Wesley. 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 found love, and married. Upon her husband''s death 23 years later, she arose from her grief, picked up a pair of scissors and, at the age of 72, 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 Botanica Delanica.

Delicately, 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 35 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.

Format: Hardcover

Dimensions: 416 pages, 8.28 × 5.34 × 1.11 in

Published: October 12, 2010

Publisher: McClelland & Stewart

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0771070330

ISBN - 13: 9780771070334

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– More About This Product –

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

by Molly Peacock

Format: Hardcover

Dimensions: 416 pages, 8.28 × 5.34 × 1.11 in

Published: October 12, 2010

Publisher: McClelland & Stewart

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0771070330

ISBN - 13: 9780771070334

Read from the Book

Chapter One. Seedcase     Imagine starting your life’s work at seventy-two. At just that age, Mary Granville Pendarves Delany (May 14, 1700–April 15, 1788), a fan of George Frideric Handel, a sometime dinner partner of satirist Jonathan Swift, a wearer of green-hooped satin gowns, and a fiercely devoted subject of blond King George iii, invented a precursor of what we know as collage. One afternoon in 1772 she noticed how a piece of colored paper matched the dropped petal of a geranium. After making that vital imaginative connection between paper and petal, she lifted the eighteenth-century equivalent of an X-Acto blade (she’d have called it a scalpel) or a pair of filigree-handled scissors – the kind that must have had a nose so sharp and delicate that you could almost imagine it picking up a scent. With the instrument alive in her still rather smooth-skinned hand, she began to maneuver, carefully cutting the exact geranium petal shape from the scarlet paper.   Then she snipped out another.   And another, and another, with the trance-like efficiency of repetition – commencing the most remarkable work of her life.   Her previous seventy-two years in England and Ireland had already spanned the creation of Kew Gardens, the rise of English paper making, Jacobites thrown into the Tower of London, forced marriages, women’s floral-embroidered stomachers, and the use of the flintlock musket – all of which, except for
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Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Seedcase
Chapter 2: Seedling
Chapter 3: Hound's Tongue
Chapter 4: Damask Rose
Chapter 5: Nodding Thistle
Chapter 6: Opium Poppy
Chapter 7: Canada Lily
Chapter 8: Passion Flower
Chapter 9: Magnolia
Chapter 10: Everlasting Pea
Chapter 11: Bloodroot
Chapter 12: Portlandia
Chapter 13: Winter Cherry
Chapter 14: Leaves
 
Notes
Flowers and Faces: A List
People, Places, Plants, and Practices: An Index
Acknowledgments

From the Publisher

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 off at 16 to a 61-year-old drunken squire to improve the family fortunes, she was widowed by 25, and henceforth had a small stipend and a horror of a marriage. She spurned many suitors over the next twenty years, including the powerful Lord Baltimore and the charismatic radical John Wesley. 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 found love, and married. Upon her husband''s death 23 years later, she arose from her grief, picked up a pair of scissors and, at the age of 72, 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 Botanica Delanica.

Delicately, 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 35 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.

About the Author

Molly Peacock is an acclaimed poet, essayist and creative nonfiction writer. Her latest work of nonfiction is The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life's Work at 72, at once a biography of an extraordinary 18th century artist and a meditation on late-life creativity. Her most recent collection of poems is The Second Blush, love poems from a midlife marriage. As President of the Poetry Society of America, Molly Peacock was one of the creators of New York''s Poetry in Motion program; coediting Poetry In Motion: One Hundred Poems From the Subways and Buses. She serves as a Faculty Mentor at the Spalding University Brief Residency MFA Program and is also the Series Editor of The Best Canadian Poetry in English.

Editorial Reviews

"The volume itself is a craft object, sumptuously presented and designed, on fine paper, with colophons and decorations, and full-page colour reproductions. . . .  The Paper Garden will be everyone's favourite Christmas present this year." 
 - Victoria Glendinning, The Globe and Mail

"Like collage itself, The Paper Garden is carefully layered-part fascinating biography . . . part gripping memoir, . . .  accompanied by dozens of vivid photo reproductions. Beautifully written and rendered." 
 - Maclean's

Complementing her research, Peacock''s prose is a delight. . . . A fascinating, uplifting and beautiful book." 
 - Claire Holden Rothman, The Gazette (Montreal)

"Rich and poetic. . . . Teeming with life -- and gorgeous colour illustrations." 
 - Winnipeg Free Press
 
"The perfect gift for the hardcore book lover [The Paper Garden is] more than a beautiful glimpse at Delany's very interesting life . . . a considered and shared contemplation on art and creativity." 
 - January magazine

"A lyrical, meditative rumination on art and the blossoming beauty of self that can be the gift of age and love." 
 - Kirkus Reviews

Bookclub Guide

1. In chapter 1 of The Paper Garden, Molly Peacock describes the first time she came across Mrs. Delany's extraordinary flower mosaics many years ago in the Morgan Library in New York. At the time, Peacock writes "I wished I loved in my heart the art I could love in my mind. Big, bold, epic, symphonic. But I love the small, the miniature, the detailed, the complex."
 
Have you ever felt this way about art, literature, music, or decor? Or do your head and your heart (or soul, perhaps) seem to be in agreement about these things? Has that situation changed as you have gotten older?

2. Later in the book, Peacock relates how the mosaics and Mrs. Delany's own story re-entered her life, this time taking an unshakeable hold of her imagination.

Have you ever rediscovered something that suddenly seems meant for you, at that particular point in your life? How do such new beginnings make you feel? Do you know anyone who has had a burst of late-life rejuvenation and creativity? Do you think you might be starting your life's work at 62, 72, 82?

3. The structure of The Paper Garden is somewhat unusual, interweaving elements of biography, autobiography, and art and social history. In what ways does each thread enrich the others? Can you think of other books you have enjoyed that blend different genres?

4. Friendship played an enormous role is Mary Delany's life, and there are many examples of different kinds of friendship explored in The Paper Garden: friendships with men and women; with people quite a bit older than Mary or, in her later life, younger; with people from various levels of the very stratified society in which she lived. Did any of these friendships surprise you in any way? If so, why? Which do you think were the most important to Mary's happiness? Which to her physical well being? Why?

5. How does the theme of friendship play out in the more autobiographical sections of Molly Peacock's work? In your own life? Has its role changed over the course of your life? In contrast, is the value or the fundamental role of friendship somehow different in the early 21st century from what it was in the 18th?  Mrs. Delany has both a romantic friend in Ann Donnellan and a lifelong friend in the Duchess. What is your understanding of these relationships? Have you had a younger or a richer friend? How have you negotiated the differences in age or wealth?

6. Mrs. Delany had no children, although she took her godchild and her nieces into her household and even mothered a great-niece at 79. If Mary Delany had had children, how do you think it would have affected her Flora Delanica?

7. Mary Delany had two very different marriages, two very different husbands. Did the way in which she came to marry either Alexander Pendarves or Patrick Delany surprise you? The dramatic difference between her first and second marriages might highlight those differences between your own marriages or those you've witnessed. The Delanys are an example of a richly successful mid-life marriage. Often a second marriage becomes fertile soil for creativity-it certainly has in the author's own life. What is your experience with how a second marriage affects personal development, or even a "life's work?"

8. How do the threads of friendship and love entwine or contrast each other in Mary Delany's life? How about in your own?

9. Mrs. Delany's extraordinary flower mosaics required an extraordinary attention to the tiniest detail, a steady hand, and an ability to imagine the natural world of flowers in a two-dimensional form that nevertheless leaps off the page. How on earth did she do it? For a demonstration, watch Molly Peacock try her own hand at some mosaics at home, at www.peacockpapergarden.com.

10. Many of the reviews of The Paper Garden noted what a beautiful object it is, in all of its parts-the cover, the interior design of text and images. As one New Zealand online reviewer wrote: "I not only loved reading this book, I loved holding it and admiring it and turning the pages and smelling the ink. It's that kind of book."  
 
Is this aspect of a book, or of some books, important to you? Or would you (did you?) find the experience of reading The Paper Garden on an electronic device perfectly satisfying?

11. In some ways Mrs. Delany's story is one of obstacles and flexibility: how to overcome (or sneak around) obstacles and how to maintain flexibility. How do you see Mrs. Delany's approach to her life in the 18th century as compared to attitudes toward how a woman can live her life in the 21st century?

12. Do you keep valuable e-mails? What role do private e-letters play in your life? Would you, like Anne, have disobeyed a command to burn correspondence, or delete precious, but intimate, e-mails?

13. The author brings Mrs. Delany, bitten on the foot by a "gnat," to a point of stillness in her life. At this moment of being still-highly difficult for a busy person-Mrs. Delany's creative leap takes place. Is it even possible to replicate this stillness in a 21st century life? How does stillness relate to imagination?

14. As a life-long noticer, Mary Delany was able to bring her skills of observation to everything around her, from clothes to food to flowers to people's behaviour. Do you value the noticing skill? How does it function in your own life?

15. Molly Peacock writes that "Some things take living long enough to do." Do you subscribe to this maxim?

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