Christina Denny

Graduate Student Takes First Prize in Jane Austen Essay Contest

A St. John’s University student pursuing a master’s degree in English has captured first place in the graduate division of the 2012 Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) Essay Contest.

Christina Denny ’13G wrote the winning essay, which nine judges selected from among 80 entries worldwide. Entitled “Why ‘Willoughby’? Resisting the Familiar in Sense and Sensibility,” it explores Austen’s use of formal and informal address to demonstrate characters pursuing and resisting intimacy in relationships. 

Although a long-time fan of the British author, Denny said she had not actually studied Austen until enrolling in the Master of Arts program in English at St. John’s.

Denny learned about the JASNA contest while working on a paper about Austen for a seminar taught by Amy King, Ph.D., Associate Professor of English in St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Dr. King encouraged her to submit her final paper.

“Her essay is exceptionally nuanced and original,” said Dr. King. “Clearly, the scholars who picked it know their Austen. I’m delighted that Christina is being singled out and honored for her contributions to Austen scholarship — and I’m gratified that she wrote it while studying with me.”

Student and professor are looking forward to attending the JASNA meeting together in Brooklyn, NY, on October 5–7. As Denny’s mentor and invited guest, Dr. King will be at the Saturday night banquet when the prizes are announced.

They both will be presented with complimentary, one-year memberships in JASNA, and Denny will receive a scholarship, registration, two nights’ lodging and a bound set of the Norton Critical Editions of Austen’s novels. “It will be a celebratory evening for both of us,” said Dr. King. 

Jane Austen Today — the course taught by Dr. King — opened up a new and provocative way for Denny to read the 19th-century author. “Looking at contemporary adaptations of Austen’s novels,” she said, “including movies, television programs and books, helped me to understand why they are still alive today in popular culture.” She also gained a greater appreciation of Austen’s artistry.

Originally from Alaska, Denny came to St. John’s to pursue English after majoring in media studies and working in the editorial field. As she mulls her next step, Denny looks forward to her upcoming Brooklyn adventure. “I’m excited to meet other Austen scholars and fans,” she said, “and learn more about my favorite British novelist.”