Bloomsbury USA, $30.00, 394 pages
Mary Granville Pendarves Delany, at the age of 72, turned her back on her past live and started anew. Two marriages (one bad, one good) were over and in the year 1772, with scissors in hand, she began to create a legacy, an art form uniquely hers and since copied but never bettered. Her scores of paper-cut reproductions of flowers, botanically close to perfect, are now treasured in the British Museum. Author and poet Molly Peacock tells the tale of Mrs. Delany’s ‘mosaicks,’ setting the story in the context of her own life. The artistry she describes is woven into a social history like a Georgian novel embracing English royalty and the upper class lifestyle of the period. Peacock delights in describing the costume and food as well as the domestic intrigues, her sources including Mrs. Delaney’s personal correspondence with her sister and friends. The Paper Garden, illustrated with radiantly colored examples of the mosaicks, is a charming story elegantly told, a learning experience for the reader no less than a visual pleasure.
Reviewed by Jane Manaster