The UPSC Civil Services Exam consists of three stages: Prelims, Mains, and Interview. The Mains exam requires candidates to choose one optional subject, which significantly influences their ranking. Literature subjects are becoming increasingly popular among candidates, with higher success rates.

English Literature is a popular choice for the optional UPSC Civil Services Exam subject. The syllabus for the English Literature component of the Mains exam covers literature from both the medieval and early modern periods, as well as more contemporary works from the 1900s onwards. English is also a mandatory language paper in the Mains exam.

Interested candidates should familiarize themselves with the English Literature syllabus and recommended books in the linked article.

The English Literature component of the Mains exam consists of two papers, each worth 250 marks for a total of 500 marks. Those with strong backgrounds in English and a love of reading novels and poems are ideal candidates for this option. This article also provides a comprehensive UPSC syllabus for the English optional and a PDF of the syllabus.

English Optional Paper 1


The syllabus consists of two papers, designed to test a firsthand and critical reading of texts prescribed from the following periods in English Literature : Paper 1 : 1600-1900 and Paper 2 : 1900–1990.

There will be two compulsory questions in each paper : (a) Ashort-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 alsobe 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; Neoclassicism; 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 :


–Death be not proud;

–The Good Morrow;

–On his Mistress going to bed;

–The Relic;

3. John Milton : Paradise Lost, I, II, IV, IX.

4. Alexander Pope. The Rape of the Lock.

5. 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.

6. Alfred Tennyson : In Memoriam.

7. Henrik Ibsen : A Doll’s House

Section B

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.

English Optional Paper 2

(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 streamof-consciousness Novel; Absurd Drama; Colonialism and Post-Colonialism; Indian Writing in English; Marxist, Psychoanalytical and Feminist approaches to literature; PostModernism.

Section A

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.

2. T.S. Eliot. The following poems :
– The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.
– Journey of the Magi.
– Burnt Norton.

3. 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

4. John Osborne : Look Back in Anger.

5. Samuel Beckett. Waiting for Godot.

6. Philip Larkin. The following poems :
– Next
– Please
– Deceptions
– Afternoons
– Days
– Mr. Bleaney

7. A.K. Ramanujan. The following poems :
– Looking for a Cousin 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 TenTwentieth 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. Naipaul. A House for Mr. Biswas

UPSC English Optional Syllabus PDF