The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life's Work At 72

Molly Peacock

Excerpts from reviews of The Paper Garden in Canada - and other news

to other pages of Reviews: main Reviews page - United States - UK and Ireland - Australia and New Zealand - to Paper Garden home page

December 22, 2010: Maclean's magazine names The Paper Garden as one of the Top 20 Books of 2010
     Maclean's magazine - Canada's national newsmagazine - named The Paper Garden as one of the "Top 20 Books of 2010" in its "2010: The Year in Pictures" issue, dated January 3, 2011.
          see the full list

December 16, 2010: The Paper Garden reaches #1 on Maclean's magazine's national bestseller list
     The Paper Garden ranked as #1 (!) on the Non-fiction Bestseller list in Maclean's magazine - reflecting sales across Canada - for December 16, 2010. It was on the Bestseller list for a total of seven weeks. See the full lists (scroll down to get to December 16)

December 2010: two amazing bookstore window displays featuring The Paper Garden. Click here to see photos.

Globe and Mail ad December 4, 2010December 4, 2010: The Globe and Mail runs a full-page, full-color ad for The Paper Garden. Click on the thumbnail image to the left or here to see the ad.

November 27, 2010: The Globe and Mail names The Paper Garden as one of the "Top 100 of 2010"
     The Globe and Mail, Canada's national newspaper, included The Paper Garden in its "2010 Globe 100" list in its November 27, 2010 issue.

November 17, 2010: The Paper Garden on Non-Fiction award longlist
     The jury for Canada's largest literary non-fiction prize, the BC (British Columbia) National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction, has released its longlist for 2011. The jury panel selected a longlist of 10 books from the 151 titles that were nominated for the prize by publishers from across Canada, and The Paper Garden was one of them!
          read the full press release

September 18, 2010: The Globe and Mail names The Paper Garden as one of "10 Books You Have to Read This Fall"
The Globe and Mail named The Paper Garden as one of "10 Books You Have to Read This Fall" in its September 18, 2010 issue.

review by Victoria Glendinning in The Globe and Mail, October 30, 2010:
     Deciding that the cut-paper mosaics have "the feeling of a memoir," Peacock scrutinizes closely 11 of them and proceeds to free-associate, cutting and pasting Mrs. Delany's life story in small, vivid snippets. She layers these with accounts of her research, and with slices of her own life, which is so very different from Mrs. Delany's that some of the juxtapositions are quite jarring, like clashing colours, as is her defiantly anachronistic description of Mrs. Delany's letters as her "blog." Yet there are parallels: their childlessness, their satisfying second marriages - and, in "a strange way," her subject's early life "lays a ghostly silhouette onto the atmosphere of my own experience." . . .
     Thus, Peacock has structured the whole book as metaphor, a collage about collage, and a meditation on sexuality, friendship and creativity. It both analyzes and exemplifies that obsessional, mesmerized state induced in artists and crafts people through concentration and close observation. The volume itself is a craft object, sumptuously presented and designed, on fine paper, with colophons and decorations, and full-page colour reproductions so that we can test Peacock's responses against our own. If some of the interpretation seems absurd - as Peacock herself fears it might - it is triumphantly absurd. The Paper Garden will be everyone's favourite Christmas present this year. . . .
          —Victoria Glendinning, author of many biographies, including Elizabeth Bowen (1977) and Jonathan Swift: A Portrait (1998)
          read the full review

review by Jane Christmas in Maclean's, November 22, 2010:
     Delany's life and artistry would be compelling enough, but Peacock gives us so much more, and the details and precision of her text mirror the dogged, forensic approach Delany took with her work. Peacock wants us to see how the artist and the art are one.
     Like collage itself, The Paper Garden is carefully layered - part fascinating biography, part history lesson about the English Georgian period, part gripping memoir, part paean, and part art appreciation accompanied by dozens of vivid photo reproductions. Beautifully written and rendered (the pages are printed on heavy glossy paper, the likes of which are rarely encountered in modern publishing), Peacock's obsession for Delany's art and life becomes ours, too.
          read the full review

from review by Katharine Lochnan in the Literary Review of Canada, March/April 2011:
     To scrupulous research [Molly Peacock] brings poetic sensibility and structures her narrative in a way that echoes the flowers themselves. The result is as innovative a piece of literary craftsmanship as her subject’s was artistic. . . .
     Peacock's book is a carefully crafted work of art in its own right. . . .
     Molly Peacock articulates her themes with grace and artistry. They are as elegantly introduced and intertwined as ribbons on a Maypole. On the last page they come together and are tied in a bow. Although there were moments when I raised my eyebrows, as I closed this beautifully designed book with its exquisite reproductions and sensuous paper, one word came to mind and has remained with me ever since: amazing.
           —Katharine Lochnan, Senior Curator and The R. Fraser Elliott Curator of Prints and Drawings, Art Gallery of Ontario

from review by Claire Holden Rothman in the Montreal Gazette on October 23, 2010:
     The art form was mixed-media collage. The subject matter: flowers - 985 of them, to be exact. Mrs. Delany had been aiming for 1,000, but her eyes gave out at age 82. Each cut-out is botanically correct, with pistil, stamen, stigma and all the rest of a flower's intricate anatomy carefully noted and included. The paper and other materials were ingeniously cut, arranged, and mounted on black backgrounds. The result is stunning, as the 35 full-colour illustrations in this sumptuous hardcover from McClelland & Stewart testify. The Paper Garden provides a wonderful introduction to the Flora Delanica, as the collection is called, and an alternative to flying across the ocean to the British Museum in London, where it is housed. . . .
     The Paper Garden
is a fascinating, uplifting and beautiful book.

review by Alison Gillmor in the Winnipeg Free Press, October 23, 2010:
     This rich and poetic hybrid biography follows the life of a remarkable 18th-century Englishwoman, while touching gently on other ideas - the consolations of creativity, the nature of art, and the unexpected gifts of age. . . .
     Mrs. Delany was an unusual woman, and The Paper Garden is an unusual work, part chronological biography, part emotional and artistic autobiography, part meditation on the reach and power of the imagination.
     Teeming with life - and gorgeous colour illustrations - it will appeal to those interested in art and craft, women's history, the 18th century and, of course, anyone looking to redefine "creative retirement."
         read the full review

review by George Fetherling in Quill and Quire, October 2010:
     This wonderful and markedly unusual book by Toronto poet Molly Peacock is both biography and memoir . . .
     Delany's art, now in the British Museum, launched Peacock on a decades-long journey of enlightenment and obsession, as she tried to comprehend how creativity can strike without warning at such an advanced age, and what that may tell us about gender, empowerment, the craft that lies beneath art and literature, and "the floral metaphor as a way of life." . . .
     This is a unique book, one even more remarkable than Mrs. Delany herself.
          — George Fetherling, author of Walt Whitman's Secret
         read the full review

review by Linda L. Richards in January Magazine, November 15, 2010:
     If you were to dream up the perfect gift for the hardcore book lover, it would look a lot like The Paper Garden (McClelland & Stewart) by Molly Peacock. . . .
     Molly Peacock, a celebrated poet, brings her sharply honed eye and sensibility along to tell Delany’s story. In the process, she embroiders it with her own. The resulting book is more than a beautiful glimpse at Delany’s very interesting life (among other things she dined with Jonathan Swift and fended off Lord Baltimore) but a considered and shared contemplation on art and creativity. . . .
     The Paper Garden is just beautiful and, like Delany’s art, it is challenging to categorize. It is the biography of an interesting and creative woman. It is the memoir of another. It includes 35 color illustrations: portraits of Delany at various stages, examples of her (actually not at all fuddy-duddy) art. And, finally, it is a celebration of shared creativity.
          read the full review

review by Nancy Schiefer in the London Free Press (London, Ontario), December 24, 2010:
     Former Londoner Molly Peacock, who now lives in Toronto, has published a beautifully put together book on late-life creativity and on how it nourishes the waning years and latent talent of Mary Granville Pendarves Delany, 1700-1788. . . .
     The Paper Garden is a lovely book, clever, artfully contrived, wonderfully illustrated and full of surprises. . . .
     Molly Peacock's glance-back at Delany and at the parallels she discovered in her own life is fascinating and original. It is a book to be treasured.
          read the full review: London Free Press - Toronto Sun - Peterborough Examiner - Owen Sound Sun Times - Indiatimes

review by Emily Donaldson in the Toronto Star, January 22, 2011:
     American-born, Toronto-based poet Molly Peacock has produced a winsomely unorthodox ode to Delany that is part biography, part miniature coffee-table book and part memoir. . . .
     Peacock skillfully and tangibly evokes Delany’s era . . . The point Peacock makes most convincingly is that Delany’s rarefied oeuvre, and her late but metaphorically apt “blooming,” was the perfect, logical product of the life that preceded it.
          read the full review

excerpts from review by Judith Meyrick in The Novascotian, February 20, 2011:
Her language is both visual and poetic, with an attention to detail that takes her readers into the heart of court life in 18th-century England.
     In the continuing debate about the future of print publications, McClelland & Stewart have triumphed. An electronic version of The Paper Garden would be a mere shadow, only hinting at the pleasure readers will get from this miniature art book. The silken pages, the writing, the careful stitching, the wonderful reproductions, the subtle perfume of new ink, the size (it tucks perfectly in the corner of a bag) - these all combine to a whole that is a pleasure to hold and to read.

Oneline Review, January 1, 2011:
     Become her, corseted & sheathed, flowering curious composed she is, hear the soft brush of her scissors 'snip, snip'.
          see the full page

from Shonna Froebel on the "Canadian Bookworm" Website, January 15, 2011:
     This is a very different book than I expected. Peacock has taken 13 of the 985 works that Delany made and used them to illustrate her life. Each work is the focus of a chapter, and each chapter moves through Mrs. Delany's life from childhood through old age. Each chapter also follows Peacock's writing of this book, from her first awareness of the wonderful art created by Mrs. Delany to the completion of this book. It is a fascinating structure for a biography, a revival of awareness in this amazing set of artwork, and the inspiration that leads a writer to her subject. Wonderful, unexpected, and enlightening.
          read the full post

remarks by Sonia Day in the Toronto Star, July 29, 2011:
Poet Peacock treats her subject in an imaginative way (this isn't your usual overdetailed biography, penned by some boring academic) and I loved the whole story.
          read the full article

review by Angela Hickman on her "Books Under Skin" Website, November 10, 2011:
Peacock is a poet, and the aesthetic experience of reading her writing adds another level of beauty onto an already lovely book. It sounds strange, but to read Peacock's writing about the sexuality of flowers or the snipping of paper is rather like looking at a painting: suddenly, words you are familiar with become beautiful because they are arranged in unexpected ways, with a cadence that lets the lines sing themselves to you.
     The Paper Garden
is, in my opinion, the whole package. It's a riveting story about a woman who, against all odds, created an art form that has never been matched; it's a contemporary coming-of-age story about another fascinating woman; and it's told with language and photos that are so lovely it's hard to believe they're real.
          read the full post

review by Rohan Maitzen on her "Novel Readings: Notes on Literature and Criticism" Website, June 17, 2012:
As I read through this idiosyncratic, fascinating, beautiful, and occasionally annoying book, I kept wondering what it was that had drawn me to it at this particular moment. . . . In the choices I made about my professional specialization as well as in the daily choices I make about reading and looking and listening, I don't tend in an 18th-century direction. And yet not only did I pick up The Paper Garden to take a closer look (a first move that's understandable when you see how lovely all the various editions are) but almost right away, I wanted it. It seemed to have something to do with me, something to offer me.
     Peacock's very personal 'readings' of the flower collages were fascinating and also provoking to me: I turned back again and again trying to look with her eyes at their images. . . . Was it the subtitle that caught my eye, then? It promises what The Paper Garden in fact delivers, a subversive, celebratory view of growing older as a woman. The book is also, crucially, about becoming an artist - I would say, "belatedly," but the whole impulse of The Paper Garden goes against that word, insisting instead on the necessity of long preparation.
          read the full review

Notices on blogs:

from Life as a Human, by Lorne Daniel, March 18, 2011:
     Peacock's fascinating book interweaves the story of Mrs. Delany's late discovery of her art with the author's own life story to produce a compelling exploration of life patterns. Yes, it says, you can start late and accomplish great things.

annamariaart, April 5, 2011

Women and the Garden, April 28, 2011

The Paper Garden inspired a sermon by Rev. Millie Rochester at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Winnipeg, Manitoba, May 15, 2011

Winnipeg artist Cliff Eyland comments on taking The Paper Garden with him on his travels (Akimbo, June 30, 2011 - scroll down to #4).

from Calgary Public Library's Design District, December 16, 2011:
     It's a non-fiction story of an artist that is as engaging as a good novel . . . Peacock explores the issues of women’s independence, the sustaining nature of good marriages, the trials of economic uncertainty and the unexpected blossoming of creativity in old age.

from Hub Pages by Vanderleelie, March 2012:
     Peacock's engaging account of the life of Mrs. Delany charts a fascinating historical period and a creative journey that readers can interpret as a call for personal reflection and renewed faith in talent and latent ambition. In the words of Mary Delany, at age 50, "How can people say we grow indifferent as we grow old? It is just the reverse...."

from Canadian Living's Craft Blog by Austen Gilliland, April 3, 2012:
     Her art is astounding - each chapter is accompanied by a full-page, full-colour reproduction of one of her cut-paper flowers. They're simply beautiful - but closer inspection reveals that there's nothing simple about them. . . . If you like history, drama, art, crafts, romance, intrigue, poetry, memoir ... you should pick it up. It's rare that I read something a bit at a time these days - I'm a binge-reader, now - but this one I intend to enjoy for as long as possible.

from What Next? by MaryLou Driedger, April 29, 2012:
     Molly Peacock's book is full of exquisite descriptions and many phrases that really get you thinking. . . . Molly Peacock says Mary encourages us to look for artists of the everyday.

from Willow Books, August 21, 2012:
     the amazing Mrs. Delany is sure to win your heart

to other pages of Reviews: main Reviews page - US - UK and Ireland - Australia and New Zealand - to Paper Garden home page

Sanguinaria Canadensis collage Mary Delany The Paper Garden