Mrs Delany A Life Clarissa Campbell Orr

Publication date:
10 Sep 2019
Yale University Press
448 pages: 235 x 156mm
50 color illus.
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The first comprehensive biography of Mary Granville Delany—the artist and court insider whose flower collages, in particular, continue to inspire widespread admiration
“Biographer Clarissa Campbell Orr immerses you in the minutiae of Mary’s life” —Constance Craig-Smith, Daily Mail

Mary Granville Delany (1700-1788), perhaps best known simply as Mrs Delany, is best remembered for her captivating paper collages of flowers, but her artistic flourishing came late in life. This nuanced, deeply researched biography pulls back the lens to place Delany’s art in the broader context of her family life, relationships with royalty, and her endeavor to live as an independent woman.
Clarissa Campbell Orr, a noted authority on the eighteenth century court, charts Mary Delany’s development from a young woman at the heart of elite circles to beloved godmother and celebrated collagist. Orr traces the varied connections Mary Delany fostered throughout her life and which influenced her intellectual and artistic development: she was friends with prominent figures such as Methodist leader, John Wesley, composer G. F. Handel, the writer Jonathan Swift, and England’s leading patron of science, Margaret Bentinck, Duchess of Portland.
Mrs Delany reveals its subject to be far more than a widow befriended by George III and Queen Charlotte; she is, instead, restored to her proper place in the era’s aristocratic society –and as a ground-breaking artist. 

Clarissa Campbell Orr is the author of, or editor and contributor to, numerous essays and anthologies, including Queenship in Europe 1650-1789 and Queenship in Britain 1660-1837.
She was a Visiting Research Fellow at St Mary's University Twickenham from 2016 to 2018 after a long career at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge.

“Biographer Clarissa Campbell Orr immerses you in the minutiae of Mary’s life” —Constance Craig-Smith, Daily Mail

“The whole work resonates with the sound of not only Delany's voice in quotations from her letters and occasional poems but also those of many of her contemporaries, which generates a highly pleasurable and instructive image of eighteenth-century sociability.”—Alain Kerherve, The Burlington Magazine

“Clarissa Campbell Orr balances scholarship and salacity.”—Damian Thompson, World of Interiors

“This sensitively-written book immerses the reader in the world of a cultivated and artistic eighteenth-century gentlewoman. Through a fully-researched and fascinating exploration of the familial correspondence of Mary Delany, Orr throws new and original light on the attitudes of the eighteenth-century elite to marriage, family life and the education and status of women.”—Jane Rendall, author of The Origins of Modern Feminism

“Mrs Delany’s love of gardens and natural history, combined with the dexterity of a craftswoman led her, at over seventy, to an astonishing project: the wonderful cut-paper flower pictures for which she is now remembered. Orr gives us the Christian gentlewoman rather than the artist, in a panorama of gentry life with its many duties and constraints as well as privileges. One feels that Mrs Delany would give her blessing to the portrait.”—Norma Clarke, author of Queen of the Wits

“How was it that Mary Delany so skillfully combined a high-profile social circle, copious letter-writing and attendance at the royal court with gardening, botanical enquiry and prolific and innovative artistic endeavour? This fascinating life is both timely and revelatory.”—James Raven, What is the History of the Book?

“Through a deep study of kinship, friendship and a large cast of characters, Orr skilfully crafts the story behind Mary Delany’s creation of nearly one thousand botanical collages as an album amicorum. With great clarity and verve, the author proves a most faithful companion to Delany and her life’s ‘work’.”—Mark Laird, author of A Natural History of English Gardening