The Best Review Self Has Read (So Far) Abt Molly Peacock’s THE PAPER GARDEN

The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany (Begins Her Life’s Work) at 72, by Molly Peacock, was reviewed in The Economist of 11 June 2011:

Mary Delany  —  aristocrat, gardener, prodigious letter-writer, woman of fashion and friend to George Frederic Handel, Jonathan Swift and King George III, died childless more than 220 years ago.  Yet she left a multitude of vivid, vital offspring:  985 botanically accurate and startlingly beautiful portraits of flowers in bloom, collectively known as the “Flora Delanica.”

Delany started this project as a widow in her eighth decade.  Despite grief, ageing hands and eventually failing eyesight, she invented a new method for creating her flower “mosaicks” :  collaging layers of cut, painted paper onto a dense black background, matching her materials to the papery fineness of a flower’s petal.  In Molly Peacock’s illustrated biography, the results leap out of the darkness of the past, pulsating with life.

Ms. Peacock is a noted American poet, and it shows in her approach:  she repeatedly uses the mosaicks as a simile for the rich and varied life of her subject, which she describes as “so shapely that it feels like a complete work of art, cut and pasted.”  Certainly parts of the narrative read like an 18th century novel:  at 17, Delany was married by her wicked uncle to a 60-year-old drunken squire, who tore her away from her family to live in a rotting Cornish castle.  After he died in bed, his face “quite black” beside her, she had just enough money to live independently, setting up home with a friend in the London suburbs, spending their days embroidering, writing and fluttering at the fringes of the Georgian court.

Oh, how self wishes she could type the review in its entirety.  But she has oh so much reading to accomplish before this night is over.

By the way, it was beautiful on the Stanford campus today.  And self almost had no space to sit when she went to look at the box of materials she had requested from the Hoover Archives.  But afterwards she treated herself to a small cup of lychee and peanut butter cioccolato from of course Gelato Classico on Emerson.  Self found it quite chilly, sitting on the shady sidewalk, but she had ample opportunity to appreciate the signage on the Aquarius movie theatre, just across the street (“BEGINNERS:  You can start over at any age” —  to which self can only respond, Har Har Har Har, mebbe if you’re a man!  —  and “SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN:  The Joy Luck Twosome”)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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Iain Kelly

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