Tips for English Literature Optional by UPSC Rank Holder Gaurav Garg

Gaurav Garg is a law graduate who cleared the 2015 UPSC CSE with an all India rank of 320.  His optional subject was the Literature of English Language and he secured excellent marks in both the optional papers. His score was 123 and 121 in optional paper 1 and 2 respectively. In this article, we have compiled a few useful tips by Gaurav Garg for aspirants to prepare for the English Literature optional papers in the UPSC civil services exam.
Handy tips from Gaurav Garg for English Literature Optional:
  • Read the original texts rather than their commentaries. It is better to read the original prescribed text three times rather than going through commentaries and other material.
  • It is important to finish the UPSC syllabus for English Literature optional. So, it is prudent to plan your UPSC preparation accordingly. Understand your pace of reading and comprehension and plan suitably.
  • History of English literature should be done at the end of the preparation, i.e., after you have done the remainder of the syllabus. Again, only a cursory glance over the history is required. No need to read all the details. You can even go through some video lectures available online for literary history.
  • To ace this optional, invest your time in reading and writing a lot. After you write answers, it is imperative that you get them evaluated by a mentor or a teacher.
  • When it comes to books, it is enough if you buy or acquire only the prescribed textbooks. You can avoid other books.
  • It is advisable to finish at least 40% of the optional syllabus before the UPSC prelims exam.
  • When you read a particular text, you will feel certain emotions and also develop your own understanding of the text. Jot these down so that you can use them in your answers later on.
  • It would help if you make a flowchart of characters of the text.
  • Read this subject daily as opposed to a few days a week.
  • Remember quotations.
  • Timely and frequent revision is important (as with all other subjects in the UPSC exam).
  • You can also create your own quotes and poetic lines. They should be deep and impactful. Don’t make up something just for the heck of it.
  • If you find it difficult to understand a certain story or parts of a story, you may refer to Wikipedia for a better understanding. It explains things in simple language.
  • Other websites you can refer are:, etc.
  • Paper 1 is more international and Paper 2 is more Indian in its content.
  • You can also refer to some text not prescribed in the syllabus so that you can get extra quotes and lines to embellish your answers. Example: Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe.
  • Understand and use certain literary devices like euphemism, allusion, imagery, simile, metaphor, personification, etc. in your answers. This will enhance the quality of your writing.
  • You should also understand certain terminologies like feministic reading, Marxist reading, and Shakespearean idea of a play and so on.
  • An excellent tip for a better and easier understanding of some of the texts would be to watch movies or series of them online. There are plenty of standard productions like Pride & Prejudice, Tess, Waiting for Godot, etc. (This will also take the steam off your preparation!)
  • When you read a poem, try to understand it yourself first before searching for explanations externally. Understanding poetry might take time but enjoy the process and it will be easier and worthwhile.
  • Be open to ideas from all sides. Discussions with family and friends will help in getting new ideas and reflections.
  • Try to get into the head of a character and imagine why he/she behaves in a certain manner.
  • Poetry fetches more marks than novels. But this strategy works only if the quality of your answers is top notch. Otherwise, it is better to stick to novels.
  • Be yourself. This works wonders in the exam hall.
According to Gaurav Garg, a graduate degree in English makes no difference in this paper. This optional is to be taken only if you appreciate literature, and not because you think your English is good.
Important books for English Literature optional for UPSC IAS Mains Exam
The syllabus of English literature in UPSC IAS Mains exam consists of two papers, intended to test a direct and basic perusing of writings recommended from following periods in English Literature. Anyone chooses this subject as optional but if you are an English graduate then it will ease the process.
If the aspirant is interested in literature, one can go for this optional very safely notwithstanding his/her graduation stream. Aspirants should read the novels, poetry etc mentioned in the UPSC syllabus. It will give a fair idea and help you to frame good answer with great understanding. Here we are listing the reference books as well as the core books for English literature for UPSC IAS mains Exam. It is always better to read the poem, stories, novels, drama from the core books.
List of English Literature books for UPSC Exam:
  • 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
  • English Literature Syllabus
    UPSC English Literature Optional Syllabus/English literature syllabus for IAS/English Literature Syllabus UPSC
    UPSC Civil Services Mains Exam is of Optional Subject and consists of 2 papers. Each paper is of 250 marks with a total of 500 marks. ENGLISH The syllabus consists of two papers, designed to test a first-hand and critical reading of texts prescribed from the following periods in English Literature:
    English literature syllabus for IAS exam:
    Paper I: 1600-1900 and Paper II : 1900-1990.
    There will be two compulsory questions in each paper : a) A short-notes question related to the topics for general study, and b) A critical analysis of UNSEEN passages both in prose and verse.
    Answers must be written in English. Texts for detailed study are listed below. Candidates will also be required to show adequate knowledge of the following topics and movements : 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. Section-A
    1. William Shakespeare : King Lear and The Tempest.
    2. John Donne. The following poems :
    – Canonization; – Death be not proud; – The Good Morrow; – On his Mistress going to bed; – The Relic;
    1. John Milton : Paradise Lost, I, II, IV, IX
    2. Alexander Pope. The Rape of the Lock.
    3. William Wordsworth. The following poems: – Ode on Intimations of Immortality.
    – Tintern Abbey. – Three years she grew. – She dwelt among untrodden ways. – Michael. – Resolution and Independence. – The World is too much with us. – Milton, thou shouldst be living at this hour. – Upon Westminster Bridge.
    1. Alfred Tennyson : In Memoriam.
    2. Henrik Ibsen : A Doll’s House.
    1. Jonathan Swift. Gulliver’s Travels.
    2. Jane Austen. Pride and Prejudice.
    3. Henry Fielding. Tom Jones.
    4. Charles Dickens. Hard Times.
    5. George Eliot. The Mill on the Floss.
    6. Thomas Hardy. Tess of the d’Urbervilles.
    7. Mark Twain. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
    Answers must be written in English. Texts for detailed study are listed below. Candidates will also be required to show adequate knowledge of the following topics and movements : Modernism; Poets of the Thirties; The stream-of-consciousness Novel; Absurd Drama; Colonialism and Post-Colonialism; Indian Writing in English; Marxist, Psychoanalytical and Feminist approaches to literature; Post-Modernism.
    1. William Butler Yeats. The following poems:
    – Easter 1916 – The Second Coming – A Prayer for my daughter. – Sailing to Byzantium. – The Tower. – Among School Children. – Leda and the Swan. – Meru – Lapis Lazuli – The Second Coming – Byzantium.
    1. T.S. Eliot. The following poems : – The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock – Journey of the Magi.
    – Burnt Norton.
    1. W.H. Auden. The following poems : – Partition
    – Musee des Beaux Arts – in Memory of W.B. Yeats – Lay your sleeping head, my love – The Unknown Citizen – Consider – Mundus Et Infans – The Shield of Achilles – September 1, 1939 – Petition.
    1. John Osborne : Look Back in Anger.
    2. Samuel Beckett. Waiting for Godot.
    3. Philip Larkin. The following poems : – Next
    – Please – Deceptions – Afternoons – Days – Mr. Bleaney
    1. A.K. Ramanujan. The following poems : – Looking for a Causim on a Swing
    – A River – Of Mothers, among other Things – Love Poem for a Wife 1 – Small-Scale Reflections on a Great House – Obituary (All these poems are available in the anthology Ten Twentieth Century Indian Poets, edited by R. Parthasarthy, published by Oxford University Press, New Delhi). Section-B
    1. Joseph Conrad. Lord Jim.
    2. James Joyce. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
    3. D.H. Lawrence. Sons and Lovers.
    4. E.M. Forster. A Passage to India.
    5. Virginia Woolf. Mrs Dalloway.
    6. Raja Rao. Kanthapura.
    7. V.S. Naipal. A House for Mr. Biswas.


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