Academic | Essay Contest

Signet Classics Announces Winners of the 13th Annual Scholarship Essay Contest

Jane Eyre New York, NY, June 2009—Signet Classics, the imprint of New American Library devoted for more than 40 years to publishing inexpensive paperback editions of more than 300 of the world's greatest literary works, has announced the winners of the thirteenth annual Signet Classics Scholarship Essay Contest. The Grand Prize Winners, listed in alphabetical order, are:

  • Andrew Lovdahl
    Andrew is in 12th grade at University Laboratory High School, Urbana, IL
  • Jasmine McGrath
    Jasmine is in 12th grade at St. David High School, St. David, AZ
  • Marian Ting
    Marian is in 12th grade at Woodbridge Ranch Academy, Roseville, CA
  • Kylie Witt
    Kylie is in 12th grade at Hollis Brookline High School, Hollis, NH
  • Neilee Marie Wood
    Neilee is in 12th grade at Harding Charter Preparatory High School, Oklahoma City, OK

Read the winning essays from previous years »

Essay Subject: Jane Eyre

Topics for the essay contest:

  1. Erica Jong, in her "Introduction," in the Signet Classic edition, states: "The universe of JANE EYRE operates according to female laws. Jane's success as a heroine depends on her breaking all the rules decreed for nineteenth-century women. (p. viii)." To what extent is Jane Eyre an appropriate heroine for the feminist movement? In what ways, if any, does she fall short? Give examples from the novel to support your conclusions.
  2. In outline, the novel is a Victorian update of the Cinderella story; a non-descript young woman, poor and abused, catches the eye of a Prince Charming, powerful and wealthy. After a series of obstacles, she marries him, and they live happily ever after. Do you regard the Jane/Rochester story as a fairy tale? If so, discuss the reasons for your opinion. What elements make their love affair seem like a fantasy? Or, do you believe the love between them is realistic? If so, what accounts for their strong attachment to each other despite the differences between them?
  3. Discuss the elements of "paranormal" or supernatural experiences in the novel. Use specific examples to illustrate the way characters' dreams and visions help advance the narrative, reveal psychological complexity, build suspense and evoke sympathy for the characters? You may also discuss the ways such elements enhance (or detract from) the overall realism in the novel.
  4. Discuss the issue of social class in the novel. What overt or implied class differences exist between Jane, the governess, and her employers and her young charges? How is Jane's status different from that of other servants in the household? Use specific scenes that illustrate the social system that existed.


The Signet Classics Scholarship Essay Contest was established in 1996 to encourage greater interest in reading among high school students by offering tangible assistance to the winning students and their schools. It is open to qualifying high school juniors and seniors in the United States. "We are proud to be involved in a unique scholarship program that encourages student appreciation for the great classics," notes Craig Burke, Vice President and Executive Director of Publicity for New American Library.

Entrants are required to submit a 2-3 page double-spaced, typewritten essay, answering one of four questions relating to the designated competition book. Essays must demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the themes in the book; clear, concise writing; and logical, well-supported arguments. Judges also consider style, content, grammar and originality. Five Grand Prize Winners are each awarded a $1,000 scholarship and a Signet Classics Library for their school (or local public library, in the case of home-schooled students), valued at $1,700.

The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells The designated title for 2008-2009 was Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. The book selected for the 2009-2010 Signet Classics Scholarship Essay Contest is The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells.

For more information on the 2009-2010 Signet Classics Essay Contest, click here.

Entry forms and full information about the contest will also be available in high school English departments, or by writing to:

Penguin Group (USA)
Signet Classics Scholarship Essay Contest
375 Hudson Street
New York, NY 10014

New American Library is a division of Penguin Group (USA), part of Pearson Plc, the international media group, and includes the imprints Signet, Signet Classics, Onyx, Roc and NAL Trade Paperbacks.

Penguin Group (USA) would like to thank our friends at Family Education Network and PBS for their support of the Signet Classics Essay Contest.


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