HVA pair win Jane Austen contest

Hardin Valley Academy sophomores Emily Bridges and Morgan Dailey have won HVA’s school-wide Jane Austen Essay Contest.

“I was excited. I was surprised,” Bridges, daughter of Amy and John Bridges, said. “I have always really enjoyed reading, writing and delving into the story.

“I felt winning the school contest said something about my writing abilities to some extent,” she added.

“I was surprised [about finding out she won],” Dailey, daughter of Rachel and Russ Dailey, said. “There are a lot of skilled writers in my class.

“It was almost kind of surreal, but I was excited about writing the essay,” Dailey said. “It was cool to see that enthusiasm for the book and movie have actual results.”

The girls’ essays were sent to The University of Tennessee to join essays from other high schools for the Jane Austen Essay Contest, sponsored by UT. That grand prize is $250 and the runner-up prize is $50. Winners will be announced during AustenFest Thursday, April 6, at UT.

Prizes for the UT contest are being given at both the high school and college levels.

Bridges and Dailey wrote the essay as part of an assignment in their honors English class, taught by Brooke Bianchi-Pennington.

“Mrs. Bianchi-Pennington was originally going to do a creative writing project, but she learned about the contest and decided to have us all do essays,” Dailey said. “She has two English classes this semester, and she was going to pick two essays she was going to submit, and it happened there was one from each English class.”

“Last year Shannon Jackson, the former English Languare Arts supervisor for Knox County Schools, asked who among the high school English teachers would be interested in being involved with Austenfest. I immediately responded, as I LOVE Jane Austen,” Bianchi-Pennington said. “A few teachers across the district decided to teach the works of Jane Austen this year to allow students to participate.

“My sophomore honors classes are always required to write essays about their summer reading, so it seemed natural to kill two birds with one stone and allow their essay to be a prompt from the contest.

“Additionally, I knew that several students who may lack the confidence to compete otherwise would compete if it were a required assignment,” she said. “Also, I think it is extremely important for students to see both reading and writing out in the real world, valued by real adults. This contest provided students the opportunity to put their writing out to the real world to a real audience that values literary works for more than just getting through school.”

Students had various topics from which to choose. They chose to write their essays on Austen’s romantic plots and use of irony. She was instructed to argue the difference or connection between romance and irony.

“I felt like that was a big part of her novel, especially irony. That’s what develops the characters,” Bridges said. “It adds to theme that people have whole misconceptions and they have to overcome those misconceptions.”

Dailey also chose the prompt and chose to write about Jane Austen’s use of irony, specifically in “Pride and Prejudice.”

“I’ve always loved the BBC adaptation [of ‘Pride and Prejudice’] in the movie, and I read the book before so it was exciting to delve into her use of irony and wit,” she said.

The contest was part of AustenFest, which UT AuthorFest is presenting to celebrate the Regency world of Austen.

First editions of Austen’s works and related items from UT’s Special Collections will be on display in Hodges Library in April. All events are free and open to the public.