Publisher: Bloomsbury, 2010
Genre: Non-Fiction / Bioghraphy
My Rating: A+
Summary (from the publisher): Mary Delany (1700-1788) was the witty, beautiful, and talented daughter of a minor branch of a powerful family. Married off at sixteen to a sixty-one-year-old druncken squire to improve the family fortunates, then widowed by twenty-five, she would spurn many suitors over the next twenty years, including the charismatic Lord Baltimore. 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 – so accurate that botanists still refer to them, and now housed in the British Museum and referred to as the Flora Delanica.
First, let me say that this actual, physical book is a treat. It’s exactly what I want when I spend money on a hardcover book. It’s just a bit heavier than most books and it’s printed on high-quality paper. There are colored prints of some of Mary Delany’s “mosaicks” and other pictures throughout. The book is the type of treasure that I feel compelled to wash my hands before opening it. It will stay on my shelves.
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 about that, but Mary Delany was a strong-willed woman who managed to do very well in spite of whatever negatives life might throw at her. It’s a life to be examined and a 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, very good at it. In this book Ms. Peacock talks about the art of Mary Delany but also about the importance of art or craft in one’s life that I completely agree with. She said:
Craft is engaging. It results in a product. The mind works in a state of meditation in craft, almost the way we half-meditate in heavy physical exercise. There is a marvelously obsessive nature to craft that allows a person to dive down through the ocean of everyday life to a sea floor of meditative making. It is an antidote to what ails you.
My life-long craft has been knitting which, for me, is pure meditation. But I’ve also had fun with crewel embroidery, sewing, quilting, creative cooking, and, now with blogging, a little bit of writing. I started to erase the last two sentences about my own life but then thought better of it. In The Paper Garden the author tells us in great detail about the life of Mary Delany and a little bit about herself. I liked that. Molly Peacock made this biography personal and linked it to herself and to me.
Speaking of personal, there’s the fact that Mary Delany’s best known work didn’t begin until she was in her seventies. You can be sure I saw the parallels to my own life. Who can say that a person in their seventies or eighties or nineties can’t do intricate art work? Thank goodness Mary Delany didn’t believe that.
Every time I open a new book I wonder what kind of new friend I’m going to meet inside. In The Paper Garden I met two new friends that I like equally. I want to spend more time with them. I have lots of passages with sticky notes for re-reading. This book is thought-provoking as well as meditative. I also want to find some prints of Mary Delany’s flower collages. And then I’m going to read more of Molly Peacock’s writings. Yes, it was that kind of book for me – a window-opening book. And, I want more.
For more information on this book:
- The TLC Book Tour Schedule is HERE
- Last Sunday’s NY Times Book Review of The Paper Garden HERE
- Molly Peacock’s website HERE
Thanks so much to Lisa of TLC Book Tours for asking me to read and review this beautiful book. Thanks also to Bloomsbury for my copy. The publisher is offering one copy as a GIVEAWAY (US and Canada only) to someone reading this review. Please let me know in the comments section of your interest. I’ll keep the GIVEAWAY open for one week.