Complete guidance with booklist for students preparing for IAS with English Literature as optional

Civil Services aspirants, who choose English literature as optional often face challenges in terms of right guidance on important topics to be studied, study material, etc. Therefore, this article is written keeping in mind the challenges which most of the aspirants face during the preparation for IAS with English literature as optional, which is considered as one of the most interesting subjects too.

Syllabus of English Literature optional

As every optional subject consists of 2 papers, the same goes for English Literature. Both the papers intend to test the critical reading and analyzing of texts prescribed in the following period. Paper1: 1600 to 1900 and paper 2: 1900 to 1990.

2 compulsory questions are given in both the papers; one is the short notes question related to the topics of general students and second is the critical analysis of unseen passages of both in prose and verse.

Note: Candidates will be required to have adequate knowledge of the following movements and topics mentioned in the syllabus of Paper 1 and Paper 2

*The most Important ones: The Renaissance: Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama; Metaphysical Poetry; The Epic and the Mock-epic; Neo-classicism; Satire; The Romantic Movement; The Rise of the Novel; The Victorian Age.

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Syllabus (2)

Syllabus (1)

So, first and foremost, aspirants are always advised to run through the syllabus well and understand the requirement of the exam first. For students who have graduated with English literature, preparing for the subject during Civil Services Exam is comparatively easier, but still, he/she is advised to devote at least 3 months to cover the entire syllabus of Civil Services Exam for English literature. However, a candidate who is entirely new to the subject specifically for Civil Services Exam must devote at least 6 months to study the entire syllabus, covering the topics from basics to the advanced level.


Novels and Drama:

  • For English-origin novels and drama, either ‘Worldview edition’ or ‘Norton Critical edition’ is recommended.
  • One should supplement the analysis/criticism provided in these books with content available on websites such as Spark notes, Cliff notes, and Wikipedia etc.
  • The text of a novel should be read at least once. Do not try to understand the meaning of each and every sentence; instead, see a chapter in its entirety and in relation to the overall plot.
  • Make the flow chart of characters in the work of the writer as it helps to get a faster understanding of the story.
  • See maximum YouTube recordings of plays and novels and movies


  • Dig the internet to gather as much in-depth knowledge about a poem as possible
  • Memorizing important lines of a poem is a good idea as its usage in an answer gives a very good impression
  • You can sail through by using your own analysis while reading the poem
  • Innovate quotes along with some impactful deep lines of poetry will add value to the answers

History of English Literature:

(Covers important literary periods like Renaissance, Elizabethan era etc. as mentioned in the syllabus)

Many good books are available for this:

  • Introduction to English Literature by W.H Hudson
  • The Routledge History of Literature in English
  • A Short History of English Literature (Pramod K. Nayar)
  • Wikipedia is also a good source.

Unseen Poetry and Prose:

  • In paper-I, one has to answer questions based on the unseen poem and in paper-II, there is similarly a passage from which questions are based. Both combined constitute 100 marks (50 each) and are compulsory
  • These can be answered by using one’s common sense without any intensive prior preparation. A book ‘Practical Criticism’ (Oxford University Press) can be useful in this regard
  • A Glossary of Literary Terms by M.H Abrams is useful for familiarizing oneself with various literary terms
  • Spend some time every day on one-word substitution

Important Booklist

  • Introduction to English Literature by W. H Hudson
  • The Routledge History of Literature in English
  • A Short History of English Literature (Pramod K. Nayar)
  • King Lear- William Shakespeare
  • The Tempest- William Shakespeare
  • Canonization- John Donne
  • Death be not proud- John Donne
  • The Good Morrow- John Donne
  • On his Mistress going to bed-John Donne
  • The relic- John Donne
  • Paradise Lost, I, II, IV, IX- John Milton
  • The Rape of the Lock- Alexander Pope
  • Ode on Intimations of Immortality- William Wordsworth
  • Tintern Abbey-William Wordsworth
  • Three years she grew-William Wordsworth
  • She dwelt among untrodden ways-William Wordsworth
  • Michael-William Wordsworth
  • Resolution and Independence- William Wordsworth
  • The World is too much with us-William Wordsworth
  • Milton, thou shouldst be living at this hour-William Wordsworth
  • Upon Westminster Bridge-William Wordsworth
  • Gulliver’s Travels-Jonathan Swift
  • Pride and Prejudice-Jane Austen
  • Tom Jones-Henry Fielding
  • Hard Times- Charles Dickens
  • The Mill on the Floss-George Eliot
  • Tess of the d’Urbervilles- Thomas Hardy
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn- Mark Twain
  • Easter 1916- William Butler Yeats
  • The Second Coming-William Butler Yeats
  • A Prayer for my daughter-William Butler Yeats
  • Sailing to Byzantium-William Butler Yeats
  • The Tower-William Butler Yeats
  • Among School Children-William Butler Yeats
  • Leda and the Swan-William Butler Yeats
  • Meru-William Butler Yeats
  • Lapis Lazuli-William Butler Yeats
  • The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock- T. S. Eliot
  • Journey of the Magi-T. S. Eliot
  • Burnt Norton-T. S. Eliot
  • Partition- W.H. Auden
  • Musee des Beaux-Arts-W.H. Auden
  • In Memory of W.B. Yeats-W.H. Auden
  • Lay your sleeping head, my love-W.H. Auden
  • The Unknown Citizen-W.H. Auden
  • Consider-W.H. Auden
  • Mundus Et Infans-W.H. Auden
  • The Shield of Achilles-W.H. Auden
  • Look In Anger-John Osborne
  • Waiting for Godot-Samuel Beckett
  • Next- Philip Larkin
  • Please-Philip Larkin
  • Deceptions-Philip Larkin
  • Afternoons-Philip Larkin
  • Days-Philip Larkin
  • Bleaney-Philip Larkin
  • Looking for a Causim on a Swing-A.K. Ramanujan
  • A River-A.K. Ramanujan
  • Of Mothers, among other Things-A.K. Ramanujan
  • Love Poem for a Wife 1-A.K. Ramanujan
  • Small-Scale Reflections on a Great House-A.K. Ramanujan
  • Obituary-A.K. Ramanujan
  • Lord Jim-Joseph Conrad
  • Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man-James Joyce
  • Sons and Lovers-D.H. Lawrence
  • A Passage to India- E.M. Forster.
  • Mrs Dalloway- Virginia Woolf.
  • Kanthapura-Raja Rao
  • A House for Mr Biswas- V.S. Naipal



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