The Paper Garden is unlike anything else you have ever read. At once a biography of an extraordinary 18th century gentlewoman and a meditation on late-life creativity, it is a beautifully written tour de force from an acclaimed poet. Mary Granville Pendarves Delany (1700-1788) was the witty, beautiful and talented daughter of a minor branch of a powerful family. Married off at 16 to a 61-year-old drunken squire to improve the family fortunes, she was widowed by 25, and henceforth had a small stipend and a horror of a marriage. She spurned many suitors over the next twenty years, including the powerful Lord Baltimore and the charismatic radical John Wesley. 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 found love, and married. Upon her husband's death 23 years later, she arose from her grief, picked up a pair of scissors and, at the age of 72, created a new art form, mixed-media collage. Over the next decade, Mrs Delany created an astonishing 985 botanically correct, breathtaking cut-paper flowers, now housed in the British Museum and referred to as the Botanica Delanica. Delicately, Peacock has woven parallels in her own life around the story of Mrs Delany's and, in doing so, has made this biography into a profound and beautiful examination of the nature of creativity and art. Gorgeously designed and featuring 35 full-colour illustrations, this is a sumptuous and lively book full of fashion and friendships, gossip and politics, letters and love.
It's to be devoured as voraciously as one of the court dinners it describes.