Mary Delany - a new way to make flowers
My new book, Deep Trouble, the second in the Vic Gardner series, revolves around Vic hunting for the album created by an 18th-century collage artist. In my book, I call the artist Margaret Granville. She is inspired by the real collage artist, Mary Delany. And this is Mary’s story.
Mary Delany the early years – Part I
Born into minor aristocracy, Mary Granville was only 7 when she was sent to live with her aunt to learn how to act as a maid of honor for Queen Mary (film – The Favorite). Like all political appointments, when Anne died, Mary’s career as her waiting lady was upended. May was duly sent off to another relative who pressured the 17-year-old into marrying 60-year-old Alexander Pendarves. Pendarves was wealthy, disgusting, an alcoholic, and her only option.
As bad as the situation was, Mary made the best of it. Despite her jealous husband, she was a success in the London social scene while avoiding her husband as much as she could. Despite the family’s hopes that on his death (which couldn’t come soon enough) Pendarves would provide for Mary. It was not to be. Her husband failed to alter his will after their marriage. On his death, 26-year-old Mary was left only a small stipend.
“Why,” she writes,” must women be driven to the necessity of marrying? A state that should always be a matter of choice!”
Botany & Design
Like many upper-class women in the 18th century (including Martha Washington), Mary studied botany. She owned a number of botany books and researched, copied, sketched, and embroidered elaborate floral arrangements for her own dresses.
Shell Grottoes in Ireland
In June 1732 the indefatigable Mary Pendarves wrote to her sister, “About half-a-mile from hence there is a very pretty green hill, one side of it covered with nut wood; on the summit of the hill is a natural grotto, with seats in it that will hold four people. We go every morning at seven o’clock to that place to adorn it with shells – the Bishop has a large collection of very fine ones; Phill [Mrs. Clayton’s sister Anne Donnellan] and I are the engineers, the men fetch and carry for us what we want, and think themselves highly honored.”
This was the beginning of a lifelong interest in shell work that continued even after her marriage to Dr. Delany in 1743 (he proposed by letter). She moved to his home in Delville on the outskirts of Dublin, Ireland.
Patrick and Mary were a love match (one could say – finally!) They spent their marriage entertaining and creating elaborate gardens on their 11-acre property with input from Patrick’s friends Jonathan Swift, the Dean of Dublin, as well as from Alexander Pope.
Her years at Delville with Delany were her happiest. He was a supportive husband and encouraged her artistic work including the shells and the needlework.
Tragically, Patrick passed away too early and at 69, Mary was again widowed.
But her story does not end here.
For Further Reading
Deep Trouble – Catharine Bramkamp
The Paper Garden – Molly Peacock
Mrs. Delany, Her life and her Flowers – Ruth Hayden
The Duchess’s Shells – Beth Fowkes Tobin