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Essay Contest

JASNA conducts an annual student Essay Contest to foster the study and appreciation of Jane Austen's work. Several hundred students compete for scholarship awards each year.

The contest is open to students world-wide in three divisions: 

  • High School:  students and home-schooled students enrolled at the high school level during the contest year

  • College/University:  students enrolled in at least six credit hours of course work at a junior college, college, or university during the contest year

  • Graduate School:  students enrolled during the contest year in at least three credit hours of graduate course work at a college or university leading to an advanced degree 

Membership in JASNA is not required to enter the contest.

 The winners of the 2020 Essay Contest have been selected, and we invite you to read their essays here.  
Information about the 2021 Essay Contest will be available here in November.

2020 Contest Topic

Young JA McMaster

Drawing of the young Jane Austen by Juliet McMaster, published in The Beautifull Cassandra, edited and illustrated by Juliet McMaster, Victoria: Sono Nis Press, 1993.

The 2020 Essay Contest connected Jane Austen’s novels to her Juvenilia. The latter are short pieces she wrote as a young teenager—brief stories, plays, and chapters of novels. Many of the works are laugh-out-loud funny and feature memorably naughty young ladies who have inspired this year’s essay topic: female “villains” in Austen’s novels.

The assignment for high school students differed slightly from that for college and graduate students.

  Text for the Juvenilia and Lady Susan is available online.

High School Students:  Female “villains” in Jane Austen’s novels don’t get away with their bad deeds. Or do they? Discuss at least one or more such characters from the major novels and compare them to the title character in Lady Susan. The latter is a short epistolary novel that can be viewed as the last of the Juvenilia or the first of Austen's mature novels. You are welcome—but by no means required—to bring in some works from the Juvenilia. We suggest "Henry and Eliza," "The Three Sisters," "The Beautifull Cassandra," and/or "Love and Freindship." (No, the extra "l" and "ei" aren't typos; that's how young Jane spelled them!)

Undergraduate/Graduate Students:  Lady Susan may be viewed as the best of the Juvenilia or the first of the mature novels. The position of the title character herself is likewise unsettled. Is Lady Susan an anti-heroine, villain, or heroine? In answering the question be sure to bring in at least one other heroine or female "villain" from a major novel. Does Austen give us any guidance on how to judge her?


The deadline for Essay Contest submissions was Monday, June 1, 2020 JASNA will begin accepting submissions for the 2021 contest in November when the new essay topic and the latest contest rules are posted.

Essay Contest Awards

JASNA awards scholarships to winners in each of the three divisions: 

  • First Place:  $1,000 scholarship and free registration and two nights’ lodging for JASNA’s upcoming Annual General Meeting (Transportation to the conference is not provided.)
  • Second Place:  $500 scholarship
  • Third Place:  $250 scholarship 

Winners and their mentors each receive a one-year JASNA membership. In addition, each winner receives a set of Norton Critical Editions of Jane Austen's novels. The winning essays are published on this website.


Please review the Essay Contest FAQs. If you still have questions, contact Meg Levin at essay-contest@jasna.org. Use “JASNA Essay Contest” in your subject line.


Submission Guidelines ›

Learn about Essay Contest rules and formatting requirements.

Winning Essays ›

Read the insightful essays that placed first, second, and third in past Essay Contests.

Essay Contest FAQs ›

Get answers to frequently asked questions about the contest.

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