Here’s how contest winner Prashansa Taneja funded her trip to a meeting of Jane Austen scholars

In the timeless classic Pride And Prejudice, author Jane Austen refers to “a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife”. For Prashansa Taneja, it was Austen herself who brought good fortune. The 19-year-old undergraduate student of English Literature at Jesus and Mary College in Delhi is the first South Asian to win the first prize in the annual essay competition (college division) organised by the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) for her essay Lovers Of Their Time: Untimeliness In Pride And Prejudice.

“The competition JASNA holds every year requires students across three categories (high school, college and graduate) to write an essay, and the essay is always on the theme of their annual meeting. This year the theme is Pride And Prejudice… Timeless,” she explains. JASNA’s website elaborates: “Though Pride and Prejudice may be regarded as timeless, nevertheless within the novel Austen plots her time very carefully. Timing is everything for important relationships and events. And the characters are deeply connected to the time in which they live, which is both like and unlike our times. What do we discover about time, times, or timeliness from reading Pride and Prejudice?”

“I took a while to come up with my essay and was encouraged by Professor Shobana Bhattacharji who taught me Pride And Prejudice,” she says. Prashansa’s essay explores how “untimeliness propels the narrative in the novel”.

Austen’s fun!

About how she discovered Austen at the age of 12 with this very novel, Prashansa adds, “I have since read it several times. What I love about Austen is that she is really timeless and anyone, even those in India now, can relate to the themes in her novel. Many disagree with Austen fans. People say Austen’s focus was too narrow and she wrote only about certain things. I think she demonstrated her genius within that focus impeccably. She wrote about what it was like to be a woman, and I think nobody writes irony like she does. Austen is a lot of fun.”

Prashansa, who plans to do her postgraduate research on Austen, needed financial help to take part in JASNA’s Annual General Meeting to be held in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the U.S. between September 27 and 29 — an event that will play host to several prominent Austen scholars. On the advice of a friend, Prashansa turned to the crowd-funding website www.indiegogo.com. Thanks to good Samaritans, Austen lovers, friends and total strangers Prashansa got more than the 1,000-dollar funding she wanted, with over 27 days to spare — the campaign was to run from July 30 to August 29, but by August 3 she was funded. “I now have $ 2,365 and don’t have to spend my scholarship money on the trip; I can use it for my education,” an excited Prashansa says.

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