The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life’s Work At 72

Author: Molly Peacock

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.

My thoughts:

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.

Photo Credit: British Museum

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.

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20 Responses to The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life’s Work At 72

  1. JoAnn says:

    Such a beautiful book and a good read, too! I’d love to be entered in your giveaway.

  2. Liz says:

    This looks like such a good book. I would love to read it.

  3. That certainly does look like a book to savor. Those mosaics are stunning!

  4. Barbara says:

    Even in our 70s we aren’t over the hill yet. This woman’s life sounds fascinating and I like the fact that she took up something new and creative at such an advanced age. Please enter me in the giveaway and thanks for the review.

  5. I’m so glad you thought this was good – it’s coming up in my pile soon, and I can’t wait to read it!

  6. Kay says:

    Margot, I loved your review and the fact that you included those two sentences. Truly. I need to read this book obviously. I like the idea that life can begin after 40 or after 50 or beyond. New beginnings, new starts. I also like the quote you shared about creativity and comparing the meditative state to one experienced during exercise. I’m fairly new to intense (for me anyway) exercise, but that struck a chord. When I’m in the middle of walking, biking, elliptical-ing (a word?), sometimes I just kind of drift off in my mind and come to realizing that several minutes have passed. I always feel so relaxed at that point regardless of whether I’m dripping with sweat or not. 🙂

    Please toss my name in the hat for this wonderful book. Not a big non-fiction reader, but there are exceptions to every preference.

  7. Ti says:

    I love it when a book is made well. High quality paper makes all the difference for book lovers, like us.

    I love what you said about meeting a new friend every time you open a book. I feel that way too.

  8. kaye says:

    the story sounds so inspirational. thanks for the heads up.

  9. You know that it takes a LOT for me to want to buy a new book in hardcover! Your review provides the LOT for this book. It feels like a must have and I will look for it on our next trip to the mall (B&N).

  10. Yvonne says:

    Hi Margot,

    What an exquisite book and such a talented artist, although I am ashamed to say that I am unfamiliar with her work, especially as she was born not too far from where we live, in Wiltshire. We are up in London next week and I am hoping to make the time to go and view some of her work in The British Museum.

    I am so envious of such talented people, as my forays into the arts and crafts world, usually end up as something of a disappointment. Like yourself, I have dabbled in knitting, embroidery and crochet, but never seem to have enough time to devote to them, to show any noticeable improvement. I do get great enjoyment from my endeavours, so really that is all that is important in the scheme of things.

    A lovely book and a great post, thanks for sharing.

  11. Liz says:

    This sounds like a wonderful book to experience… please may I get entered into your drawing? Thanks a lot.

  12. Staci says:

    I have to say that I always enjoy reading your posts about books because I can just hear your voice telling me what you loved about this one shining through. It sounds wonderful and I think it’s pretty awesome that she discovered her talent in her 70s..

  13. Definitely a book I’d love to read and have. Art and history and women’s fiction rolled into one.

  14. Theresa N says:

    Sounds like a wonderful book full of inspiration and may even inspire me to pick up my paint brush once again.

  15. Annie says:

    I love your post Margot and want to read this book. It seems to me I share many of your thoughts about a beautiful book, crafting -pure meditation for me too !- and how we can improve ourselves as well as whe are twenty as when we are sixty, seventy, eighty or more- What will be our lifes if we don’t think so ?
    Thank you really for this post !

  16. Martha says:

    Wow, I love your review. I guess it only makes sense that the older I get the more I enjoy reading about people who are still living a wonderful, vital life well into their “advanced” age. My daughter is on her way to London next week, I’ll have to have her keep an eye out for Mary’s work. As for me, I’m adding this book to my list today.

  17. Lisamm says:

    Margot, I’m so happy that you enjoyed this beautiful book. You bring a nice perspective to it and I love that you included some personal info about yourself. Thank you so much for sharing The Paper Garden with your readers and for being on the tour!

  18. Oh, this sounds gorgeous! I am really excited to get my hands on it!

  19. Louise S. Davis says:

    Being older than 72 myself I am so intrigued by reading about others who have done well at an advanced age. Thank you for introducing this book to me. I look forward to reading it and learning from it and just plain enjoying it. Thank you for your reviews which add so much to and improve my life. I can always trust them.

  20. stacybuckeye says:

    This looks so good. I love books tha are a delight to hold in my hands.

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