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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Paper Garden...Review

About the book:
An inspirational tour de force that proves it’s never too late to be who you might have been.

Mary Delany was seventy-two years old when she noticed a petal drop from a geranium. In a flash of inspiration, she picked up her scissors and cut out a paper replica of the petal, inventing the art of collage. It was the summer of 1772, in England. During the next ten years she completed nearly a thousand cut-paper botanicals (which she called mosaicks) so accurate that botanists still refer to them. Poet-biographer Molly Peacock uses close-ups of these brilliant collages in
The Paper Garden to track the extraordinary life of Delany, friend of Swift, Handel, Hogarth, and even Queen Charlotte and King George III.

How did this remarkable role model for late blooming manage it? After a disastrous teenage marriage to a drunken sixty-one-year-old squire, she took control of her own life, pursuing creative projects, spurning suitors, and gaining friends. At forty-three, she married Jonathan Swift’s friend Dr. Patrick Delany, and lived in Ireland in a true expression of midlife love. But after twenty-five years and a terrible lawsuit, her husband died. Sent into a netherland of mourning, Mrs. Delany was rescued by her friend, the fabulously wealthy Duchess of Portland. The Duchess introduced Delany to the botanical adventurers of the day and a bonanza of exotic plants from Captain Cook’s voyage, which became the inspiration for her art.

Peacock herself first saw Mrs. Delany’s work more than twenty years before she wrote
The Paper Garden, but “like a book you know is too old for you,” she put the thought of the old woman away. She went on to marry and cherish the happiness of her own midlife, in a parallel to Mrs. Delany, and by chance rediscovered the mosaicks decades later. This encounter confronted the poet with her own aging and gave her-and her readers-a blueprint for late-life flexibility, creativity, and change.

I'd never heard of Mary Delany before I read this book.  Her mosaicks are beautiful and her story is compelling.  The book is a combination biography and memoir.  Molly Peacock weaves her own story in and among Mary Delany's and her observations are interesting and somewhat thought-provoking.  This isn't a book to rush through but it was still too slow for me.  It was also much more scholarly than I'd anticipated and at times almost reads like a textbook.

I had a really hard time getting into it.  It fascinated me, it didn't resonate with me.  I do think that The Paper Garden is one I could go back to at some point in my life and savor it then, as I can't now.  Sometimes appreciation of a book is all about timing.  My review seems to be outside the norm, however, and many other reviews are glowing and very positive.

Thanks to Lisa at TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Molly Peacock here.  You can purchase your own copy here.  You can see other reviews and tour stops here.

Monday, April 25th:  Unabridged Chick
Wednesday, April 27th:  Allison’s Book Marks
Monday, May 2nd:  Library of Clean Reads
Thursday, May 5th:  Sophisticated Dorkiness
Monday, May 9th:  Life in Review
Tuesday, May 10th:  Broken Teepee
Thursday, May 12th:  Dolce Bellezza
Monday, May 16th:  In the Next Room
Tuesday, May 17th: Rundpinne
Wednesday, May 18th:  Joyfully Retired
Monday, May 23rd:  Picky Girl
Wednesday, May 25th:  2 Kids and Tired Book Reviews

Read 5/11

* * *
3/5 Stars


  1. I really liked this book because of the way it inspired me with Mary Delaney's age and creativity. I also loved how Molly wove parts of her stories, or at least thoughts, in with Mary's mosiacks. But you're right, so much of a book fitting in with the reader has to do with the right time and place.

  2. Sounds interesting. Not really my kind of thing, but interesting nonetheless.