Acclaimed poet Peacock (Second Blush, 2008, etc.) chronicles her fascination with the life of Mary Granville Pendarves Delany (1700–1788), a largely forgotten aristocrat who, at the age of 72, created a series of beautiful cut-paper botanical mosaics.
The author entwines the story of Delany with private reflections on her own life as an artist and a woman. As Peacock undertook her eccentric quest to discover the life of the woman who created the beautiful paper mosaics that she so admired, she discovered resonant parallels. Both struggled as women and artists; both had failed first marriages and deeply satisfying second marriages; both confronted the possibility and, in the case of Delany, the reality, of the death of those cherished lovers; both worked to free themselves in adulthood from the bonds and obligations of painful family histories. Chronicling Delany's first abusive marriage and her struggles to preserve her independence as a young widow in a repressive era, Peacock reflects on her mother's oddly similar challenges with poverty and childrearing two centuries later. Throughout, the author elegantly reflects on the idea that certain works of art belong to certain moments of our lives; it is possible to encounter some works too early to understand them fully, and it is equally possible to find one’s métier well into late adulthood. In a lightly managed running metaphor, Peacock examines the botanical life and reproductive cycle of the flowers depicted by Delany. Curiously and somewhat digressively structured, the book provides an intriguing, evocative aesthetic experience.
A lyrical, meditative rumination on art and the blossoming beauty of self that can be the gift of age and love.