In The Paper Garden, celebrated poet Molly Peacock explores the remarkable life of 18th-century British gentlewoman-turned-artist Mary Delany. In the 1770s, at the age of 72, the twice-widowed and nearly broke Delany turned her interest in botany into beautiful paper “mosaick” flowers still revered today.
©2010 Molly Peacock (P)2011 Recorded Books, LLC
"[N]ot only an introduction to a unique artist, but also a whole bouquet of thoughts and observations about the flow of life.” (Washington Post)
Blogger of accidental discoveries through books
This story was a lovely ramble through the life of Mary Delaney. It isn't a subject that I thought I'd enjoy but I did because it is very well written and narrated and Mary Delaney was extra-ordinary.
Say something about yourself!
First of all, this is a book about visual art. Unless a person is actually blind, we still have to find the pictures which are included in the bound book. Now, I am going to sound really mean-spirited, but here goes! I bought this audio because it is about a woman who suddenly becomes an artist at 72 -- she discovers her life's work. I thought that would be inspiring! I imagined a whole new beginning as I assume Whistler's mother began painting. The sales pitch didn't say what kind of art this old lady did, just that it was her life's work.
The artist who is the subject of the book is Mary Delaney who lived from 1700 to 1788. She was married twice and lived in Ireland and England. She had no children. She was accomplished in all the upscale pursuits of ladies of the time. From age 6 or so she was learning to embroider, cut paper dolls and designs, sew, play the harpsichord, and behave in high society. She was married off at 17 to a most distasteful man in his 60's. As it turned out, he wasn't even wealthy, and it was an effort for her to mind her wifely manners and just barely tolerate the alliance. When he died, she remained unmarried for 20 years. I don't see any pictures of her except when she was quite old with a plump face and extra chin. She liked men and she knew how to dress well, but denied all offers. At 43 she married for love. She enjoyed a beautiful friendship with that man. He left her a widow at 68. Four years later she hit on her own new variation of the paper cutting craft. Her colorful and accurate renditions of flowers against black are loved and studied by many.
What is causing me some frustration is that the author, Molly Peacock, a poet I never heard of, is writing about her own long life as well as Mary Delaney's. Molly knows a little about twentieth century crafts, cross-stitch kits and the like. She must have done some research. Her husband took her to Ireland to look around. Also the British Museum to handle the original paper collages. While she is very creative, she is not a visual artist at all. And she is torturing us by waxing poetic about these flower mosaics that we are not able to see. I did google and wiki-search around and I did try to listen to one quite egregious poem. I do understand how women in their 60's like to begin winding up their lives and imagining how things have all fitted together nicely. Good for Molly, but that is another book that you couldn't pay me to read! I've had a quite wonderful and tumultuous life -- and I have decided to move to Tahoe and clean the bear house rather than sit around telling the world about my dysfunctional family, the USAF, the late marriage, the outrageous family dramas, etc. ad nauseum. With no guidance about colleges, I was accepted at USC only to be told that my physician father who always drove a Mercedes would have to save for my brother coming along five years behind me! The world is full of stories of promising young people being kicked in the chin. My dear husband was euthanized against his will after a motorcycle accident; that almost became a TV movie! The wildlife rehab is my late life new career, and I still knit and sew and design. Most of us have been to Hell and back, and many of us are marvelous artists in our own way. This is why I am pained to hear about Molly's drunken father and her comparisons of Mary's life to her own.
Another great irritation is the use of language, something Molly should know all about. Her use of modern slang sounds so wrong! Don't tell us how an 18th Century lady relieves herself while dressed in all her finery -- and use the word "pee!." The word is "urinate." Don't tell us Mary and her friend got up early to get ready for the Coronation and were out the door at 0430 and then were "hanging out" at a coffee house! Perhaps they lingered.
This whole book seems to me just an ego trip for Molly because at least a couple of books have already been written about Mary Delaney. Her letters have been saved and edited. I don't think Molly has a clue how Delaney went about her art. I am very creative at this late date, and when I design a dress or begin an original embroidery, I am not thinking about "how they did it to me" all those years ago. I am reaching for the frisky girl who despite all the abuse had enough resilience to get through officer training and type blazing fast as a temp all over San Francisco. As for manual dexterity and attention to detail, gee whiz, Molly! When my husband was in ICU, only working with seed beads kept me sane. When my love was gone, I had to do my life. Very close work like Mary's paper cutting, or beads or embroidery -- these are all a kind of meditation. I used to look at church vestments and think of the poor silly nuns who made them. I was wrong; they loved their work! No, Molly is pasting her own life and her own unwelcome take on things over this other life. I admire Abigail Adams, for example, but I would never try to write my own life over hers. In fact, I think this effort cheapens Molly's own life story. There really is no comparison. I don't want Molly's rambling poetic expression and I don't want her life. Just this dear woman from the past.
Shame on audible.com for marketing this to us without offering a way to see the accompanying pictures! I will definitdly not buy the print edition. Go to amazon.com and you will see a similar criticism of the print book. Too much about Molly! I am indeed very glad to have met Mary, however.
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