The Paper Garden

Written by Molly Peacock
Review by Edward James

This is the story of an 18th century English lady who in old age takes up composing pictures of flowers from coloured paper. Interesting?

American poet, Molly Peacock, is surely the only person who could have made this into a fascinating book. She herself became fascinated with Mrs Delany’s life and work, echoing her own youthful disappointments and late age fulfilment. So we have two life stories in parallel, Mrs Delany’s biography and Mrs Peacock’s autobiography, the one set in England and Ireland and the other in the USA and Canada, which vie for our interest.

But the greatest beauty of the book is the pictures. Delany invented collage, although she called it ‘mosaicks’, and the book reproduces 14 of the almost 1000 compositions she made in the last decade of her life. They are botanically accurate to the tiniest detail, pieces of superb craftsmanship with the feeling of a fine artist. Peacock uses a different picture to illustrate each chapter, and her discussion of each adds greatly to our understanding. Mrs Delany’s fragile work still survives in the British Museum. In every sense a beautiful book.