Monday, May 16, 2011

106: The Self-Empowered Woman: Mary Delany

Dear Followers,

I love when friends and followers introduce me to stories that they feel mesh with The Self-Empowered Woman theme. Thanks to Donna Brown Agins, I was able to learn about a remarkable woman who discovered her (7) Magnificent Obsession at the age of 72.

Mary Granville Pendarves Delany was born on May 14, 1700. As a young girl, she was sent to live with her childless aunt (Lady Stanley) in London in the hopes that she might be chosen as a Lady in Waiting. During this time she attended a school taught by a French refugee (Mlle. Puelle), where she learned History, Music, English, French, Dancing and Needle Work. During this time she became friends with the composer, Handel (9: Music).

Unfortunately, Queen Anne died in 1714, and when the Hanovers came to power, Mary's chances of becoming part of the Royal household evaporated. Her family moved from London to Gloucestershire, which was socially isolated, but allowed Mary to continue her education and her interest in paper cutting (2: An Early Sense of Direction).

Because of the family's reduced circumstances, at age 17 Mary was married off to Alexander Pendarves, a 60 year old man whom she described in her letters as "disgusting," "excessively fat" and "my jailer" (15: Forget About Prince Charming). She lived with him for seven unhappy years until he died in 1724. He had not included her in his will, so she inherited very little, but widows at that time had more rights than unmarried women so this time was happier for her than her years with a wealthy man whom she despised.

In 1743, after 19 years as a widow, the Irish clergyman Dr. Patrick Delany - who was 16 years older - proposed and the couple shared their joy of gardening at their home near Dublin. During this time Mary was able to paint landscapes, decorate with seashells and do needle work, all of which revolved around her love of flowers.

Dr. Delany died in Bath, England at the age of 84; the couple had enjoyed a happy marriage for 25 years. Once again a widow, Delany spent a lot of time with her friend the Dowager Duchess of Portland. One day in October, 1772, Mary noticed a petal from a geranium as it fell onto the dark
surface of a table. She had paper nearby that was the same color as the flower, and she began to create her first collage. In her words, "I have invented a new way of imitating flowers."

Her technique was to cut and glue together thousands of dots, slivers, squiggles and loops of brightly colored paper. Ultimately, "The Paper Garden" filled ten bound volumes that now reside in the British Museum. Delany only stopped creating her "Paper-Mosaicks" when her eyesight began to fail at the age of 88. By that time she had created almost 1,000 realistic and accurate paper flowers mounted on black backgrounds.

After the Dowager Duchess of Portland died, King George III and Queen Charlotte gave Mary a small house at Windsor and a pension of 300 pounds a year.

Looking forward to your comments...


  1. Thank you for writing about this most remarkable woman. It proves that one is never too old to learn and begin something new. It's inspiring that her work is in the British Museum.

    Bravo Marilyn for your most wonderful work and excellent blog!