Charles Dickens Essay Contest

It seems that you cannot turn a corner this year without bumping into Charles Dickens. So far we've seen the release of four major novels based on the Victorian icon's life: Dan Simmons's Drood (February), Matthew Pearl's The Last Dickens (March), Richard Flanagan's Wanting (May), and Gaynor Arnold's Girl in a Blue Dress (July). Earlier this year BBC1's lush new production of Little Dorrit was nominated for five Bafta awards in the UK, and 11 Emmys in the US. Newspapers and magazines have run stories on his relevance to the current global economic crisis. And with the Christmas season now only four months away, it seems that there is no getting away from him any time soon.

As someone who teaches and writes about Dickens, the question of why we still read him is something that's often on my mind. But that question was never more troubling than one day, nearly 10 years ago, when I was standing as a guest speaker in front of a class of about 30 high school students. I had been speaking for about 20 minutes with an 1850 copy of David Copperfield in my hand, telling the students that for Victorian readers, Dickens's writing was very much a "tune-in-next-week" type of thing that generated trends and crazes, much as their own TV shows did for them today.

Then a hand shot up in the middle of the room.

"But why should we still read this stuff?"

I was speechless because in that moment I realised that, though I had begun a PhD dissertation on Dickens, I had never pondered the question myself.

The answer I gave was acceptable: "Because he teaches you how to think," I said. But lots of writers can teach you how to think, and I knew that wasn't really the reason.

The question nagged me for years, and for years I told myself answers, but never with complete satisfaction. We read Dickens not just because he was a man of his own times, but because he was a man for our times as well. We read Dickens because his perception and investigation of the human psyche is deep, precise, and illuminating, and because he tells us things about ourselves by portraying personality traits and habits that might seem all too familiar. His messages about poverty and charity have travelled through decades, and we can learn from the experiences of his characters almost as easily as we can learn from our own experiences.

These are all wonderful reasons to read Dickens. But these are not exactly the reasons why I read Dickens.

My search for an answer continued but never with success, until one year the little flicker came – not surprisingly – from another high school student, whose essay I was reviewing for a writing contest. "We need to read Dickens's novels," she wrote, "because they tell us, in the grandest way possible, why we are what we are."

There it was, like a perfectly formed pearl shucked from the dirty shell of my over-zealous efforts – an explanation so simple and beautiful that only a 15-year-old could have written it. I could add all of the decoration to the argument with my years of education – the pantheon of rich characters mirroring every personality type; the "universal themes" laid out in such meticulous and timeless detail; the dramas and the melodramas by which we recognise our own place in the Dickensian theatre – but the kernel of what I truly wanted to say had come from someone else. As is often the case in Dickens, the moment of realisation for the main character here was induced by the forthrightness of another party.

And who was I, that I needed to be told why I was what I was? Like most people, I think I knew who I was without knowing it. I was Oliver Twist, always wanting and asking for more. I was Nicholas Nickleby, the son of a dead man, incurably convinced that my father was watching me from beyond the grave. I was Esther Summerson, longing for a mother who had abandoned me long ago due to circumstances beyond her control. I was Pip in love with someone far beyond my reach. I was all of these characters, rewritten for another time and place, and I began to understand more about why I was who I was because Dickens had told me so much about human beings and human interaction.

There are still two or three Dickens novels that I haven't actually read; but when the time is right I'll pick them up and read them. I already know who it is I'll meet in those novels – the Mr Micawbers, the Mrs Jellybys, the Ebenezer Scrooges, the Amy Dorrits. They are, like all of us, cut from the same cloth, and at the same time as individual as their unforgettable aptronyms suggest. They are the assurances that Dickens, whether I am reading him or not, is shining a light on who I am during the best and worst of times.

for the opportunity to win $5,000 towards the college of your choice.

Submit your three page essay answering the following question:

Out of the Easy references the following quote from Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield. How does this quote relate to the journey of the characters in “Out of the Easy” and also to your personal journey as you prepare for college?

Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.— Charles Dickens

No purchase necessary

Open to 11th and 12th grade full-time matriculated students who are attending high schools located in the fifty United States, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories and possessions, or home-schooled students between the ages of 16-18 who are residents of the fifty United States, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories and possessions.

SUBMISSIONS

  •  Please be sure to see full details and complete Official Rules at http://www.OutoftheEasy.com.
  • Essays must be exactly three double-spaced pages, single or double sided pages, in 12-point Times Roman with one-inch margins all around.
  • Essays must be submitted by entrant’s English teacher, school librarian, guidance counselor or other college application mentor. Home-schooled students must submit their entries through their parent or legal guardian.
  • Entries may be uploaded to http://www.OutoftheEasy.com
  • Uploaded entries must be received no later than May 30, 2015, 11:59:59 PM Eastern Time.

Entries may also be mailed to:

Penguin Young Readers Group
School and Library Marketing
345 Hudson Street
New York, New York 10014
Attn.: Out of the Easy College Scholarship Essay Contest

  • Mailed entries must be postmarked no later than May 24, 2015, and received on or by May 30, 2015.
  •  Winner will be selected on or about June 8, 2015.
  • Void where prohibited by law.

PRIZE

One winner will receive a check in the amount of Five Thousand Dollars to be used toward winner’s college tuition made payable to the college/university that the winner will be attending (ARV = $5,000.00).

JUDGING

Five (5) finalists will be selected by Sponsor, and then one out of the five will be determined to be the winning essay by a qualified panel of judges chosen by Sponsor.  Entries will be judged based upon the writer’s understanding of one of the book’s central themes, the journeys of the characters and on style, content, grammar and originality.

Official Rules for the Out of the Easy College Scholarship Essay Contest

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. A PURCHASE WILL NOT ENHANCE YOUR OPPORTUNITY TO WIN.

Open to 11th and 12th grade full-time matriculated students who are attending high schools located in the fifty United States, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories and possessions, or home-schooled students between the ages of 16-18 who are residents of the fifty United States, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories and possessions.

HOW TO ENTER

  1. To enter theOut of the Easy College Scholarship Essay Contest (the “Contest”), read these Official Rules and write an essay based on the following topic:

Out of the Easy, by Ruta Sepetys (the “Author”), references the following quote from Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield: “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” How does this quote relate to the journey of the characters in Out of the Easy and also to your personal journey as you prepare for college?

  1. Essays must be submitted as exactly three double-spaced pages in length (no more or less), single or double-sided pages, in 12-point Times Roman with one-inch margins all around. Full-time matriculated students must have their essays submitted by their English teacher, school librarian, guidance counselor or other college application mentor. Home-schooled students must have their essays submitted through their parent or legal guardian.
  1. Essays may be uploaded to the essay contest page at http://www.OutoftheEasy.com. All submissions must be accompanied by the entry form, which should include: the student’s first and last name, grade, mailing address, home telephone number, email address, school name, and name, telephone and email address of their English teacher, school librarian, guidance counselor or other college application mentor, or if home-schooled, the name, telephone and email address of their parent or legal guardian.
  1. Entries may also be mailed to Penguin Young Readers Group, School and Library Marketing, 345 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014, Attention: Out of the Easy College Scholarship Essay Contest with all entry information as noted above. Entrants will receive an email from schoolandlibrary@us.penguingroup.com to let them know that their submissions have been received.
  1. Contest begins January 1, 2015. To be eligible, all emailed entries must be received no later than May 30, 2015, 11:59:59 PM Eastern Time. All mailed entries must be postmarked by May 24, 2015 and received on or by May 30, 2015.
  1. Entries will not be returned. By entering the Contest, contestants agree to abide by these rules, and represent and warrant that the entries are their own and original creations, and do not violate or infringe the rights, including, without limitation, copyrights, trademark rights or rights of publicity/privacy, of any third party.
  1. Entries are void if they are in whole or in part illegible, incomplete or damaged. Penguin Young Readers Group, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. (“Sponsor”) assumes no responsibility for late, lost, damaged, incomplete, illegible, postage due or misdirected mail entries. Sponsor and its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies are not responsible for technical malfunctions of any kind which may limit the ability to participate, or by any human error which may occur in the processing of the entries. If for any reason the Contest is not capable of being conducted as described in these rules, Sponsor shall have the right to cancel, terminate, modify or suspend the Contest.

JUDGING

  1. On or about July 15, 2015, five (5) finalists will be selected by a panel of qualified judges chosen by Sponsor., and then one out of the five will be determined to be the winning essay by the Author.
  1. Entries will be judged based upon the entrant’s understanding of one of the book’s central themes, the journeys of the characters, and on style, content, grammar and originality. Equal weight will be given to each criterion. The decision of the judges, Author and Sponsor with respect to the selection of the winner and in regard to all matters relating to this Contest shall be final and binding.
  1. Winner will be personally notified by the Author via a conference call arranged by Sponsor.

PRIZE

  1. One winner will receive a scholarship check in the amount of Five Thousand Dollars ($5,000.00) to be applied toward the winner’s college tuition, to be made payable to the college/university that the winner will be attending. In order to receive the prize, winner will be required to provide Sponsor with proof of acceptance at such college/university, such as an acceptance letter or other such proof. Total Approximate Retail Value (“ARV”) of prize = $5,000.00.
  1. In the event that there is an insufficient number of qualified entries or if the judges determine in their absolute discretion that no or too few entries meet the quality standards established to award the prizes, Sponsor reserves the right not to award the prize.

 

ELIGIBILITY

  1. Open to 11th and 12th grade full-time matriculated students who are attending high schools located in the fifty United States, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories and possessions, or home-schooled students between the ages of 16-18 who are residents of the fifty United States, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories and possessions.
  1. Employees of Sponsor, Author and their parent company, subsidiaries, affiliates or other parties in any way involved in the development, production or distribution of this Contest, as well as the immediate family (spouse, parents, siblings, children) and household members of each such employee are not eligible to participate in this Contest. Void where prohibited by law. All state and local restrictions apply.

GENERAL

  1. No cash substitution, transfer or assignment of prizes allowed. In the event of the unavailability of a prize or prizes, Sponsor may substitute a prize or prizes of equal or greater value.
  1. All expenses, including taxes (if any), related to receipt and use of prizes are the sole responsibility of the winner.
  1. Winner may be required to execute an Affidavit of Eligibility and Release. The Affidavit must be returned within fourteen (14) days of notification or winner will forfeit the prize and another winner will be selected. If a selected winner is under eighteen (18) years of age, his/her parent or legal guardian will be required to sign the Affidavit. Because the ARV exceeds $600.00, winner’s chosen college or university shall be required to provide a Federal Tax Identification Number to Sponsor for issuance of a 1099 Form, in connection with its receipt of the $5,000.00 prize
  1. By accepting a prize, the winner grants to Sponsor the right to edit, publish, copy, display and otherwise use his/her entry in connection with this Contest, and to further use the winner’s name, likeness and biographical information in advertising and promotional materials, without further compensation or permission, except where prohibited by law.
  1. By participating in the Contest and/or accepting the prize, contestants release Sponsor, the Author, their parent, subsidiary and affiliated companies, or the agencies of any of them, from any liability, injury, damages, cost or expense, including reasonable attorney’s fees, arising out of or connected to participation in this Contest or the acceptance, possession, use or misuse of any prizes.
  1. Any dispute arising from this Contest will be determined according to the laws of the State of New York, without reference to its conflict of law principles, and by entering, the entrants consent to the personal jurisdiction of the state and federal courts located in New York County and agree that such courts have exclusive jurisdiction over all such disputes.

WINNER INFORMATION

For the name of the winner, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope by December 9, 2015 to School and Library Marketing, Penguin Young Readers Group, 345 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014, Attention:Out of the Easy College Scholarship Essay Contest Winner Information.

 

SPONSOR

School and Library Marketing

Penguin Young Readers Group

A Division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC

345 Hudson Street

New York, New York 10014

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