Q&A: Sarah Wadsworth

SWadsworth Photo CroppedSarah Wadsworth is an Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies in English at Marquette University, where she specializes in American literature to 1900, book history, and children’s literature. She is the author of In the Company of Books: Literature and Its “Classes” in Nineteenth-Century America (University of Massachusetts Press, 2006) and coauthor, with Wayne A. Wiegand, of Right Here I See My Own Books: The Woman’s Building Library at the World’s Columbian Exposition (University of Massachusetts Press, 2012). She is currently working on a book about Henry James, periodicals, and American women writers. Her recent article “‘Lifted Moments’: Emily Dickinson, Hymn Revision, and the Revival Music Meme-Plex,” published in The Emily Dickinson Journal (Spring 2014), began life as a conference paper at NCSA. A past president of the History of Reading Special Interest Group of the International Reading Association, she currently serves on the NCSA board of directors and has recently joined the editorial staff of Nineteenth Century Studies.

What historical figure would you love to see in 21st century life? Susan B. Anthony. Anthony accomplished an amazing amount at a time when she had no direct, official political power. In the 21st century, I think she would not only be a powerful voice in national politics but a tireless and much-needed advocate for the rights of women and girls around the world.

What’s your favorite literary film adaptation? Marginally literary, perhaps, and definitely not nineteenth-century, my pick is Adaptation, a quirky, postmodern adaptation of The Orchid Thief, Susan Orlean’s nonfiction account of Florida orchid hunters. It’s more of a meditation on literary adaptation as an unpredictable, creative, and sometimes wildly deviant process than a faithful rendering of Orlean’s text. I love the metacommentary in this film, its humor, its startling clash of literary and popular genres, and its rejection of the idea that an adaptation needs to adhere closely to the original. Besides, Meryl Streep is in it, and she does not disappoint.

What’s your favorite nineteenth-century quotation? Maybe it’s just the end of the academic year looming, but the mix of aspiration, pragmatism, and resignation in these two quotations appeals to me. Ask me in July, and I might pick something different.

  •  “I try all things; I achieve what I can.”—Herman Melville, Moby-Dick.
  • “We work in the dark—we do what we can—we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.”—Henry James, “The Middle Years”

Is there anything from the nineteenth century you wished would come back into fashion? Ever since reading E. Nesbit’s The Wonderful Garden in elementary school, I have been intrigued by the Victorian fascination with the language of flowers and, more generally, botany in its everyday, domestic manifestations—botanical drawing, herbology, collecting, flower arranging, posies worn at the waist, and so forth. Since then I’ve learned a little about gardening, written on the language of flowers, and visited many wonderful gardens. There’s a lot to be said for cultivating an acquaintance with the plant- and animal-life of the worlds we live in.


Do you have a monograph, edited collection, or scholarly article that will be soon or was published within the last year? Are you the recipient of a grant that has not long ago or will soon reach one of its project milestones?  Have you recently won an award related to your scholarly or pedagogical work in the nineteenth century?

If so, we want to hear from you!

Please send one or two sentences describing your accomplishment to Kate Oestreich at koestrei@coastal.edu, and we will be back in touch regarding when you will be featured on 19 cents.

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Q&A: Maura Coughlin

Maura CoughlinMaura Coughlin is associate professor of visual studies in the department of English and Cultural Studies at Bryant University in Smithfield, Rhode Island.  Trained as an  historian of nineteenth-century European art (PhD New York University, 2001), her current research on visual culture in Brittany is informed by material cultural studies, ecocriticism, feminist theory and cultural geography. She a member of the Material Collective and a frequent participant in the Babel Working Group. A sabbatical over the last year provided Coughlin with the opportunity to work on her book, Materiality and Ecology in the Visual Culture of Brittany, 1880-1914, and, among other things, she started blogging about visual culture in France:  http://materialbrittany.blogspot.com/

What was the last book you read? The last book I read is Roger Sansi Art, Anthropology and the Gift (2014). I have been teaching a senior seminar in which we are reading widely on creativity and the arts in public culture and we began the semester with some selections from Lewis Hyde’s classic text, The Gift. Of late, I am also obsessed with John Berger’s prescient observations about the material knowledge that one gains in living a rural life, and find myself continually finding connections between his thoughts in the 1970s, later 19th century visual culture and the work of recent scholars interested in New Materialism and Relational Aesthetics in contemporary art.

Who was your favorite professor in graduate school and why? I worked with Linda Nochlin at the Institute of Fine Arts and was deeply influenced by her methodological eclecticism and the ways that she made insightful connections between contemporary and 19th-century art.  It’s an example that I have sometimes followed— especially in putting  concepts gleaned  from Robert Smithson and Mierle Laderman Ukeles into dialogue with 19th century visual culture.

What’s your favorite film set in the nineteenth century?  Even though some of my art historian friends groan and roll their eyes when I say it, I loved Mike Leigh’s 2014 film, Mr. Turner.  I felt utterly transported to the 19th century— with all of its dirt, surfaces, textures and deprivations.

What’s your favorite nineteenth century quotation? I suppose that I could say that rural materiality has been a pervasive theme in my research, ever since my earliest grad school days (at Tufts, then later NYU).  A favorite quote of mine that’s been rattling around in my head for years comes from a letter from Vincent Van Gogh to his brother Theo: “What a mistake Parisians make in not having a palate for crude things, for Monticellis, for common earthenware. But there, one most not lose heart because Utopia is not coming true” (Letter 520 Arles, 11 August 1888).

Which country / decade of the nineteenth century would you like to live in if you could go back in time?  I seem to be obsessed with the 1860s in France.  After working up my most recent paper that I just delivered at NCSA in Boston (on material “discoveries” and the naming of a French “monument”) it dawned on me that I keep returning to the Universal Exposition of 1867 as a touchstone.  So perhaps that is the direction that new work will pursue.

Is there anything from the nineteen century you wished would come back into fashion? This may sound really weird, but I think that we could learn a lot about working through the process of grief from the nineteenth century.  In my research into practices of mourning that persisted in 19th century Brittany, I really gained a sense of what we have repressed and lost in terms of ritual and material expressions of grief and mourning.

If you could go back to the nineteenth century to change one thing, what would it be?  Eliminate Tuberculosis.  All the cool people died too young.


Do you have a monograph, edited collection, or scholarly article that will be soon or was published within the last year? Are you the recipient of a grant that has not long ago or will soon reach one of its project milestones?  Have you recently won an award related to your scholarly or pedagogical work in the nineteenth century?

If so, we want to hear from you!

Please send one or two sentences describing your accomplishment to Kate Oestreich at koestrei@coastal.edu, and we will be back in touch regarding when you will be featured on 19 cents.