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
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
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
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
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,
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
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?