Signet Classics Student Scholarship Essay Contest 2015-2016

Here is great news for budding young writers. US high school juniors and seniors are eligible to enter the Signet Classics 16th Annual Student Scholarship Essay Contest for a chance to win $1,000 award prize!

This year’s competition book is Jane Austen’s Emma. Essays must be based on the five topic selected by Signet. Here are the details from the official contest website:


Select one of the following five topics:

  1. In the “Introduction” to the Signet edition, Margaret Drabble writes: When Jane Austen embarked on her novel Emma, she is said to have said, “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” (pp. v) What is there about Emma that people might not like? Give specific examples from the novel. How does this reflect your own opinion about Emma? Explain.
  2. Will Emma and Mr. Knightley be happy once they are married and settled? What passages in the novel led you to this conclusion? What differences or conflicts in these characters might lead to stress or dissatisfaction in their union?
  3. Curiously, four of the major characters, Emma, Frank, Jane and Harriet, are children raised by surrogate parents. How do you think their family situations influence them as adults? Consider their personalities, behavior, values, relationships. Choose at least two of these characters and discuss the ways their backgrounds influence the course they take in the novel. Use specific details.
  4. Emma experiences several painful events and realizations that alter her understanding of herself and jolt her out of her complacency. Discuss three or four of the most important events which trigger her development into a mature and compassionate young woman from a clever but self-centered adolescent.
  5. The Victorian writers who followed Jane Austen later in the nineteenth century often depicted a dramatic range of social classes. In contrast, Austen’s focus in Emma is more narrow, essentially only depicting the middle class since none of the characters are either extremely wealthy or extremely poor. Nevertheless like the larger outside world, the society is quite rigidly stratified. How is community depicted? What defines each group economically, culturally and socially?

Be sure to check out the Official Rules for 16th Annual Signet Classics Student Scholarship Essay Contestand read the winning essaysfrom the 15th Annual Contest.

The deadline to submit your essay is April 13, 2012 so don’t delay. Best of luck to all you budding Janeites in the US.


Laurel Ann

© 2007 – 2012 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

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Signet Classics Announces Winners of the 19th Annual Scholarship Essay Contest


New York, NY, July 2015—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 fifteenth annual Signet Classics Scholarship Essay Contest. The Grand Prize Winners, listed in alphabetical order, are:

  • Hudson Barnes Cleveland
    Hudson Barnes Cleveland is in the 12th grade at All Saints’ Episcopal School, Fort Worth, TX.
  • Maggie Foster
    Maggie Foster is in the 11th Grade at North Oldham High School, Goshen, KY.
  • Kory Huskonen
    Kory Huskonen is in the 11th Grade at Buckeye High School, Medina, OH.
  • Lucille Riddell
    Lucille Riddell is an 11th grade homeschooled student from Orem, UT.
  • Kevin H. Zheng

    Kevin H. Zheng is in the 12th grade at Parkway South High School, Manchester, MO.

Read the winning essays from previous years »

Essay Subject: Pygmalion and My Fair Lady by George Bernard Shaw

Topics for the essay contest:

  1. Henry Higgins, the leading man in Pygmalion and My Fair Lady, may be considered an anti-hero, a character who acts in ways contrary to conventional literary representations of heroism. What qualities mark him as an anti-hero?
  1. When Eliza threatens to leave Henry in Act 5 of Pygmalion, Henry defends himself, saying, “I care for life, for humanity….What more can you or anyone ask?” In light of Henry’s behavior throughout the play, does this self-justification seem satisfactory? What are the pitfalls of caring for life and humanity in general, as Henry does, but neglecting to consider the needs of individuals?
  1. At the end of Pygmalion, Henry is amused when Eliza goes off to marry Freddy. In My Fair Lady, Eliza returns in a scene that suggests she and Henry have a future together. Given your understanding of Eliza and Henry, do you think one ending fits better than the other? Would it work to switch conclusions—end Pygmalion with Eliza’s return and My Fair Lady with Eliza’s departure? Why or why not? What changes did Lerner make to Shaw’s play to make his new ending plausible?
  1. At the beginning of Pygmalion, we are introduced to Alfred Doolittle, Eliza’s father. Alfred reappears—surprisingly, almost as an afterthought—toward the conclusion of the play. In My Fair Lady, by contrast, his role is greatly expanded in additional scenes and songs. How do these additions affect your view of Alfred’s character and his life philosophy?
  1. Both plays poke fun at the middle class, most notably its emphasis on proper speech and appearance. In what other ways does the play satirize middle class values? What middle class preoccupations and interests are undermined? Do you believe members of the middle class today share attitudes illustrated in the plays? Use examples to illustrate your point.
  1. In Act 5 of Pygmalion and almost verbatim in Act 2, Scene 5 of My Fair Lady, Eliza claims Col. Pickering showed her how to act like a lady by behaving well himself: “I shall always be a flower girl to Professor Higgins because he always treats me like a flower girl, and always will; but I know I can be a lady to you, because you always treat me as a lady, and always will.” Do you agree with Eliza’s assessment of Col. Pickering as a true gentleman? Illustrate your answer with references to his behavior throughout the play.

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 $1,600.

The designated title for 2013-2014 was Beowulf translated by Burton Raffel. The book selected for the 2015-2016 Signet Classics Scholarship Essay Contest is Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

For more information on the 2015-2016 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 Publishing Group
Signet Classics Scholarship Essay Contest
375 Hudson Street
New York, NY 10014

New American Library is a division of Penguin Publishing Group, and includes the imprints Signet, Signet Classics, Onyx, Roc and NAL Trade Paperbacks.


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