Author(s): Molly Peacock
At once a biography of an extraordinary 18th-century gentlewoman and a meditation on late-life creativity, this 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 marriage. She spurned many suitors over the next 20 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, stitched, 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.
Molly Peacock has written six volumes of poetry, most recently The Second Blush and Cornucopia: New and Selected Poems. She has also written a memoir, Paradise, Piece by Piece, and a book of criticism, How to Read a Poem and Start a Poetry Circle; and edited The Private I: Privacy in a Public World, a volume of essays.