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ASU Online alum places 2nd in annual Jane Austen essay contest

Linne Marsh chose graduate English program to study with 'Janeite' Devoney Looser

Side-by-side portraits of ASU alum Linne Marsh and ASU Regents Professor Devoney Looser.

ASU Online alum Linne Marsh (left) was drawn to the university's English graduate program by ASU's resident "Janeite," Regents Professor Devoney Looser (right). Courtesy photos

October 12, 2023

When thinking about the evolution from childhood to adulthood, Jane Austen may not be the expert who comes to mind.

But for Linne Marsh, who received her Master of Arts in English from ASU Online, the early 19th-century novelist’s writings provide plenty of material.

“Exploring the way that Jane Austen treated adolescence in her novels was an interesting topic to me,” Marsh said. “These girls are teenagers. In our time it’s weird that they are getting married, but in their time it was acceptable. But still, ‘teenagers’ at the time weren’t even an age group. You were either a child or an adult. There was no in-between.”

It’s concepts like this that got Marsh thinking there could be potential to use literature as a way to help today’s 13- to 15-year-old girls with their sex education.

This inspired the subject of Marsh’s essay, “Growing into Love: A Comparison of Adolescent Marriage in 'Pride and Prejudice' and 'Sense and Sensibility,'” which she submitted to the 2023 annual essay contest sponsored by the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) in the graduate student category. The essay won second place.

Marsh was inspired to write her essay by a class she took with Arizona State University Regents Professor of English Devoney Looser, whose own scholarship on Austen includes 10 published books, multiple published essays and a series of online courses.

“To my mind, Jane Austen is one of the greatest novelists — if not the greatest novelist — writing in English,” Looser said. “Her novels aren’t just readable. They are almost endlessly re-readable. I’ve been reading them for more than 40 years, and teaching them for almost 30 years, and I haven’t gotten tired of them yet!”

For Marsh, that passion played a major role in her choice to attend ASU’s graduate English program.

“I came to ASU for Professor Looser,” Marsh said. “She was my driving force in applying to the online program. I was so impressed with who she is and what she represents in terms of academia and Jane Austen studies, and I was very excited to take a class from her. She is a foremost authority on Jane Austen on the West Coast in my eyes. Her class was by far one of my favorites.”

Assignments under Looser were uniquely challenging and engaging for Marsh, asking her to approach the material in ways she hadn’t considered before, such as taking one single word from “Sense and Sensibility” and writing an essay on it.

“Linne wrote an exceptionally polished and well-researched paper on how the word ‘melancholy’ is used in Austen’s 'Sense and Sensibility,'” Looser said. “The assignment asks the student to trace historical changes in words and meanings through the Oxford English Dictionary. Linne turned in a sensitive, beautifully written and historically informed close reading of Austen’s first published novel.”

After the class concluded, Marsh took inventory of the work she had produced. Reaching out to Looser, Marsh asked for guidance in repurposing some of her essays for publication. Looser advised her to dig deeper and suggested she look into JASNA’s assigned theme for its annual essay contest.

“I was thrilled when Linne decided to write a new paper to enter the contest and then asked for advice on how to make her draft stronger,” Looser said. “I advised her to narrow her subject and refine her argument, then pointed her to the winning essays from previous years to consult them as models. Her next draft brought the work forward in a way that was absolutely stunning. I knew then that she had a real shot at recognition.”

In her essay, Marsh analyzes Austen’s treatment of Lydia, from "Pride and Prejudice," and Marianne, from "Sense and Sensibility" — two teenage girls whose literary marriages were very different.

“Lydia makes a lot of mistakes,” Marsh said. “She’s young, and I feel like she gets judged heavily. She didn’t experience much growth by the end of the novel. Marianne is a very dynamic character who is also a teenager but experiences growth, and for that, she is rewarded with her happily ever after.”

JASNA, founded in 1979 by three Jane Austen enthusiasts, boasts an international membership of more than 5,000 “Janeites” today.

This November, several hundred of them, including Marsh, will converge for the Annual General Meeting in Colorado, wherein speakers and presentations will expound on this year’s Austen-inspired theme — Pride and Prejudice: A Rocky Romance.

Marsh’s goal now is to continue teaching English composition as a full-time professor at Utah Tech University and eventually get her PhD.

“We’ll see if that pans out for me,” Marsh said. “Not yet. The beauty is that I get to work towards becoming a full-time faculty member and teach. I can just focus on my composition classes.”

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