Essay Prize 2016-17

** Winner Announced! **

Iconic broadcaster Jeremy Paxman has selected the winner and two runners up of this year's Connell Guides Essay Prize. 
Arthur James, a sixth-form pupil at Eton College, was chosen for his original essay on Satan. Arthur has won the £250 prize and a full set of Connell Guides.
Commenting on the judging process Jeremy Paxman said: 
"If only the moaning minnies who claim that no-one knows nor cares about anything had had  the chance to read these essays! The villains came in all manner of disguises - scheming, sociopathic, adulterous, paedophiliac, malicious and wounded from all races and both genders. Choosing a winning essay was terribly hard.

In the end, the central conundrum of villainy seems to me to be how and why we like those who in other circumstances make our blood run cold. The spirit of the times is compassionate and empathetic - the first question asked is less ‘how could a human behave so evilly?’ than ‘how did they come to be like that?’ It is only at the pantomime that we boo and hiss. The rest of the time, we’re too busy trying to understand.

It is the capacity for constant reinterpretation of villainry (and heroism) which makes characters great. Lucinda Menaul’s enjoyable essay on Richard III caught the tension between affection and loathing perfectly.

How did they become like this? Alfie Fletcher’s analysis of Conrad’s  Mr Kurtz, in Heart of Darkness talks of his expressing ‘the immoral worm wiggling into our souls’, which is good, as far as it goes. But where has the worm come from? Do we all carry it inside us. Conrad used  Kurtz's withdrawal to live in the African jungle, surrounded by the heads of those he had murdered, as a  metaphor for interior travel.

But the essay I enjoyed most was Arthur James’ assessment of  Satan. “Perhaps [he is ] more to be pitied than censured’.  Soon he abandons the weasel word ‘perhaps’ and becomes so involved in the  conundrum of our fascination with evil, suggesting Satan  is, in fact ‘on our side’.  John MIlton’s ability to see Satan as something more than the Big Daddy of Bad is skilful. So is Arthur’s essay."

Click here to read Arthur's essay on Satan

The joint runners up are Lucinda Menaul for her essay on Richard III (click here to read) and Alfie Fletcher for his piece on Kurtz from Heart of Darkness (click here to read). They both receive a £100 Connell Guides gift voucher.
On hearing the news of his win this morning, Arthur James said: 
"Looking at the quality and depth of previous winning essays I am both amazed and thrilled to have won this year's Connell prize. I have been a Connell guide fan for many years and that makes winning this particular award all the more special. My sincere thanks to Jon Connell, Jeremy Paxman and the team for the time they gave to make this competition happen."
The other shortlisted entrants (in alphabetical order):

Amy Richardson
Ella Ticktin-Smith
Isabella Craig
Isabella Ingram
Isabella Mirisola-Jones
Robert Lownie
Zarah Alam
Here are renowned writers William Boyd and Robert Harris – both past judges of our Essay Prize – talking about the merits of the competition and what they like about Connell Guides: