The Paper Garden: Mrs Delany begins her life’s work at 72 by Molly Peacock, Scribe, RRP $55, ISBN 9781921640797, Available now.
I’m going to start this review by diving right in and letting you know straight away what I thought of this book. The Paper Garden is a total delight. From beginning to end, from gorgeous cover to gorgeous cover, it is a joy to read.
So, that kind of gave it away, didn’t it?
The Paper Garden is a biography of Mary Delany – 18th century woman and creator of marvelous and groundbreaking flower collages. Hers was a late-life blooming. She was originally married off in a horribly commercial way to a man much her senior, who she clearly found rather detestable. When he died she was left a widow at 25, and determined to hold on to whatever independence she could.
Fortunately for Mary she found love and eventually did marry again. After her husband died she went through a period of deep grief before she (as the book puts it)
picked up a pair of scissors and, at the age of seventy-two, created a new art form, mixed-media collage.
Peacock does a fabulous job of bringing Mrs Delany’s life to… well, life. She captures some of the real fundamentals of 18th century England in the details of this story – the forced marriage for money reasons, the struggle for women to remain independent and seen as capable without a husband, and the “new” world that was being “discovered” and brought back in the collections of men like Joseph Banks.
At the same time Peacock uses small vignettes from her own life to illuminate the universal truths of many women’s lives – truths which haven’t much changed over centuries. Loss of choice. Grief. Love. Inspiration. Family. Friends. Clothes.
As well as all that, Peacock is clearly of the opinion (as am I) that, despite our age’s obsession with youth, real creativity and a deeply felt life are not just the preserve of the young – in fact they may not at all be the preserve of the young.
And Mrs Delany’s art. It’s fabulous and the book does it real justice with reproductions of several of the collages, close-ups and fantastic production values, that at once manage to make the book seem both intimate and significant. 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.
In summary, The Paper Garden is simply a beautiful book, in every way. A perfect gift to yourself, or others.