Passion Flowers in Winter opens with a quite impressive description of a woman named Mrs. Mary Delany. At the age of seventy-three, she began her life’s work, creating “flower mosaik” cut-and-pasted creations. These pieces of artwork are incredibly intricate; it’s amazing that a woman of seventy-three had the ability and energy to create such beautiful and realistic collages. Mrs. Delany’s accomplishments inspired Molly Peacock so much so that she considers the woman a role model.
Peacock believes that “a life’s work is always largely unfinished;” that people should be changing and creating and inventing until the day they die. Mrs. Delany is the perfect example to support Peacock’s philosophy. Also, because she believes that people should grow and learn until they die, Peacock believes that role models can be acquired “long past … adolescence.” Mrs. Delany has become an inspiration and a role model for the author, aged fifty eight. The author reflects on role models, saying that she most often chooses people who have already died. Then, their “lives are complete, cut and pasted.” You can learn from all of their experiences and understand the full picture.
Molly Peacock next compares two of her role models, her mother and Mrs. Mary Delany. She instantly connects them using the number seventy-three; it was the year Mrs. Delany began her life’s work and the year Molly’s Mom, Mrs. Peacock, died. The death of her mother showed Peacock that “the end gives the lived life a shape.” You can look at it, compare it to your own life, and learn from it.
Mrs. Mary Delany’s brief biography follows. She was caught in the middle of political chaos in her family and taken to the countryside. She lived with her uncle and was obligated to marry a horrible, druken older man until his death ten years later. The marriage was a sort of door that “clanged shut on her life;” she was only released after becoming a widow.
Mrs. Peacock’s life has some similarities with Mrs. Delany’s. She graduated early from high school to get a factory job, and went to California just as Mrs. Delany had gone to the countryside. There, she met and married a man, which turned out to be a heavy door “clanging shut on her life” as well. Both women were able to live more fully and independently when their spouses were taken out of their lives, Mrs. Delany’s by death and Mrs. Peacock’s by divorce.
The author then draws a parallel between her two role models using silhouettes. Mrs. Delany had learned to make them as a child before being taken away to the countryside. Mrs. Peacock had admired and prized a silhouette of Molly done when she was a child. Both women, as well as Peacock, were inspired by the attention to detail that silhouettes show. Mrs. Delany used her skill as a silhouette cutter when creating her flower mosaiks years and years later.
Peacock believes that Mrs. Delany’s artwork was inspired by her happiness with her second husband, Mr. Patrick Delany. She “delved into the depths of her happiness,” putting great care and love into each flower. When seeing and touching them in the British Museum (which was a great privilege), the author was anxious and overwhelmed. She didn’t want the possibility of harming these pieces of art in which Mary Delany had put so much of her time, effort, and love.
That was Mrs. Delany’s way of moving on; Mrs. Peacock chose another path. She cleaned out her house and had “the Great Throw Out.” After shedding useless memorabilia, she was able to “fill out her own outline [and] to embody her own silhouette.” She had another “Great Throw Out” years and years later; but the energy she gained from these throw-outs quickly diminished. This was because she didn’t sort out the past and really move on, she just closed the door on her past and didn’t look back. Mrs. Delany put her past into artwork and was able to create lasting happiness out of it.
Peacock then reflects on the differences in class of Mrs. Delany and the Peacock Family. Mrs. Delany grew up around wealth; Mrs. Peacock grew up in a little, poorly built house and struggled all her life. This, she says, “seems tied to the fact that they had little wealth of memory.”
Mrs. Peacock seemed to settle for less all throughout her life, to dream about things but never actually do them. There are many possible reasons for this including her class and depression, but another cause that is discussed is that she did not make crafts or artwork. “Craft is engaging.” Crafts can be a form of meditation. Mrs. Delany used crafts to get through the death of her husband. Doing some sort of craft probably would have helped Mrs. Peacock get through her divorce and struggle in life.
The author then relates a number of differences between the way Mrs. Delany and Mrs. Peacock lived and worked through their struggles. Mrs. Delany exercised and took up crafts and letter-writing. She moved on and found new things to both occupy her time and to help her through her grief. Mrs. Peacock “spent the last half of her life resting up from the first.” While Peacock had started off describing the similarites between her two role models, now she seemed to realize that they were two “uncomparable women.”
Mrs. Peacock and Mrs. Delany both influenced Peacock greatly, though in opposite ways. Mrs. Delany showed her what can come of working through the bad times in life, of creating and doing and working to build a happy life and achieve goals. Mrs. Peaock showed her what can come of not doing those things- of sitting idly by and wishing things would be different.
Mrs. Delany inspired Peacock in so many ways; but it all came down to complexity. Peacock bought a book about Mrs. Delany when she was in London and instantly found a role model. It was as if she finally found what she was looking for, though she had only been secretly and subconsciously looking. Mrs. Delany didn’t want to simplify her experiences in life and hide them away. She wanted to celebrate them and make them into something beautiful.
Peacock realized the complexity in life, and that a “multitude of vectors” brings us to any given point in our life. To completely and fully live, people must change and search for role models, truths, love, and anything else they need. However, this changing from one place in life to another is just like the “confusion of youth” and requires role models. To invent you must look back on the past either to take inspiration from it or to react against it. Molly Peacock is attempting to do both of these things with the help of her role models to live a fuller and more creative and productive life.
- sub-rosa – adj – secretive, private
- happenstance – n – a circumstance especially that is due to chance
- Jacobites – n - a partisan of James II of England or of the Stuarts after the revolution of 1688
- ephemeral - adj - lasting one day; lasting a very short time
- née - adj – used to identify a woman by her maiden family name; originally or formerly called
- conjecture – guess; to deduce from an inference from defective or presumptive evidence or from a conclusion deduced by surmise or guesswork
- debrief – v – to carefully review upon completion
- vulvular - ? – a word that is not to be found in the Oxford American Dictionary OR the Merriam-Webster online dictionary.
Tone – in awe, reflective
- metaphor: “…as if I were looking for something at the back of the drawers of experience…” pg. 175
“…everything about the life is complete, cut and pasted.” pg. 175
“She was a young woman who had heard a heavy door clang shut on her life.” pg. 178
“Are these details really silhouettes within silhouettes…” pg. 180
- simile: “…so energetically dramatic that each one leaps out from the dark as onto a lit stage.” pg. 174
“The stilled life is something like a still life…” pg. 176
“…just as in a sonnet, the end gives the lived life a shape.” pg. 176
“They are like the imagined scent that might arise from Mrs. Delany’s blooms.” pg. 175
- parallelism: “Seventy-three. That is something of a magical number for these two women, Mrs. Delany beginning her life’s work at this age, and Mrs. Peacock dying at the very same age.” pg. 176
“I think of her California as the equivalent of Mrs. D[elany]‘s Ireland.” pg. 179
“[Mary] was a young woman who had heard a heavy door clang shut on her life.” pg. 178 “Soon my mother would become Mrs. P., and a door would be shutting for her, too.” pg. 179
“There [Mary] learned the art of cutting silhouettes.” … “One of my mother’s prized possessions was a silhouette of me that my teacher did in the early 1950s…” pg. 181.
“…the teacher had cut out each loose tendril of hair in the silhouette paper. … [my mother] marveled at the tendrils that embarrassed me…” … “In her collage of the passion flower, Mrs. Delany pays particular attention to the tendrils of the vines…” pg. 181.
- I think this is epiplexis. It might also be aporia, or maybe it’s just better to simply say ‘rhetorical questions’: “Is it ridiculous of me to compare my role models, my own mother, who died at seventy-three, and Mrs. Delany, who literally came into a second flowering? I wonder if I am overmanufacturing these links between my role models and myself. Are these details really silhouettes within silhouettes, upside down and inverted, tissue thin?” pg. 180.
- allusion: “…any square inch of which might be replicated and blown up to become an abstraction very much like an Henri Matisse cutout…”182
“…her father …took them away to a small house in the country to live in a kind of Jane Austenesque exile away from intrigue.” pg. 176
“As in an Austen novel, Mary was invited to stay at her uncle’s estate as a way of her coming out into society.” pg. 177
- Appeal to Pathos: “…then began to paste hundreds- and I really mean hundreds into the thousands-of the tiniest slices of …paper onto the backgrounds. How she had the eyesight to do it, let alone the physical energy (didn’t her arm muscles seize up?) let alone the dexterity (one passion flower alone has 230 slivers of paper whorled into the central mob of its pistils), is absolutely beyond me. …It seems to be beyond everyone who looks at them, since everyone I’ve ever talked with about Mrs. D. gasps to think of the enterprise.” pg. 175