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What are novels for

Upper Sixth student Fiona has won the top prize in the Robinson College Essay Prize this year, with her essay on ‘What are novels for?’.

‘Initially I found the breadth of the title very daunting. I felt slightly inadequate answering a question which has been debated ever since the publication of the ‘first novel’ Robinson Crusoe in 1719, and probably further back still. However, it seemed as good a question as any to stimulate my literary thinking and prepare for studying English Literature at university.

My essay was based on Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk ‘The Danger of A Single Story,’ and as I had previously explored female entrapment in literature in a past essay, I was particularly struck by her idea that ‘if people are shown as one thing – only one thing, that is what they become’. I had recently read Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea and Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles as part of my wider reading, in which both female protagonists seem to become ‘the single story’ that Adichie so desperately warns us against. It was after re-reading both novels and seeing the characters’ struggle to be both seen and heard that inspired my idea that the purpose of fiction is to give a voice to the voiceless. When I decided to take on what I initially thought was an impossible question to answer in the space of 2000 words, I didn’t at all expect for it to be as beneficial and I guess as successful as it was. Taking part in this competition allowed me to continue developing my voice as a writer, something which I have found to be incredibly empowering.’

Fiona U6G

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