The Estelle Prize
£500 is awarded annually for the best essay submitted by a year 12 student, with the main focus being on something that has not currently been studied in the classroom or offered as A-level coursework.
Winners from the 2022 competition:
1. Esme Gutch, Ilkley Grammar School, West Yorkshire, for her essay on “She knew it was poetry from the rhythm and ring of exaltation and melancholy in his voice”: An exploration of the pleasure and value of incomprehensibility in a selection of Woolf’s literary works and essays.
2. Jasmine Elworthy, Coopers’ Company and Coborn School, Upminster, for her essay on ‘The Female Epic: Form and Innovation in Aurora Leigh’.
In my essay, I explored the meaning of incomprehensibility, how it can arise, and how it can give pleasure and value to the reader. I considered the form and language of ‘To the Lighthouse’, in particular Mrs Ramsey’s relationship with words as they are spoken to her. I also used Woolf’s essays ‘A Room of One’s Own’, ‘On Being Ill’, and her diaries. The range of texts and forms enabled me to take a ‘cubist’ approach to the question of incomprehensibility which permeates Woolf’s works in many different forms: whether discussing incomprehensibility, intentionally using it, or writing in a style in which it arises. In my study of Mrs Ramsay, I came to understand that pleasure and value of the incomprehensible can be simultaneously universal and subjective: for her and the reader, words become more, or less, than words, and morph into an entity with texture, depth, and soul. In this way, they are like music, with articulation and rhythm. When the collection of words is incomprehensible, it is still possible to appreciate these words in a sequential order, placed in a position relative to other sounds in the sentence. Incomprehensibility is not synonymous with meaninglessness; it is a different, intensely sensational, and valuable perspective on meaning. I concluded that incomprehensibility does not detach from, but offers a more complex, charged, and beautiful sense of understanding – of oneself, through the way the individual interpretation is gathered, and of society, which is the sum of individual interpretations.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh, with its astonishing form and predominance of female characters, was unlike anything I had read before. I became convinced that, in making the strikingly independent Aurora narrator, Barrett Browning had necessitated the creation of a new form of epic poem. My essay applies Cixous’ concept of the écriture féminine to justify that Aurora Leigh, as a poem written by a woman about a woman with a strongly proto-feminist bent, was necessarily different from the traditional male-identified epic. While structurally in line with epic conventions, Aurora Leigh freely innovates by involving elements of the 19th Century woman’s novel and the lyric to create a form that is both intensely personal and uniquely accessible to a female audience. Aspects of novelistic polyphony are used to recreate the political discourse of the Victorian drawing room and to highlight the voices of the marginalised women who were excluded from said discourse. I conclude that, due to innovations in its form, Aurora Leigh was able to not only encapsulate the social and political climate of its time, but also to articulate faithfully female emotional, spiritual, and intellectual life, rendering it a profoundly modern and relevant text.
2015-16: Julianna B (Ysgol Bro Pedr) ‘The Uses of Spectral Trees: Locke and Emily Brontë on Conveying Knowledge’.
2016-17: Lottie McCrindell (Latymer School) ‘An Awkward Lyric’. Later graduated from Queens' with a First Class degree in English.
2017-18: Lucy Thynne (Lady Margaret School Fulham) 'A Hunger for Articulation: examining the encounter between the "tongue-tied" and "articulation" in poetry.'
Runner up: Helena A (Lady Eleanor Holles School in Hampton) ‘Is poetic language its own language’.
2018-19: Mia Griso Dryer (The Latymer School) 'Talking proper: language, liberation and oppression' (now studying at Queens').
and Matilda Sidel (St Paul's Girls' School) “Bell hooks on female liberation from oppressive mind-body dualism: intimacy and language in women’s literature”.
2021-2022: Esme G (Ilkley Grammar School) "She knew it was poetry from the rhythm and ring of exaltation and melancholy in his voice”: An exploration of the pleasure and value of incomprehensibility in a selection of Woolf’s literary works and essays.
and Jasmine E (Coopers’ Company and Coborn School) ‘The Female Epic: Form and Innovation in Aurora Leigh’.