Question paper given in the appendix but first the tips and strategy for English Literature (Optional) for UPSC-Civil Services Exam by Mr.Kumar Ujjawal. This Article pertains to four sections that covers the entire syllabus:

  1. English literature: Strategy
    2. POETRY
    5. GENERAL TIPS for English literature proration
  2. Appendix: Question Paper Mains 2013
    1. English Literature Paper 1: SECTION—A
    2. English Literature Paper 1: SECTION—B
    3. English Literature Paper 2 Section A
    4. English Literature Paper II Section B

English literature: Strategy

  1. Novels & Drama (English-origin+Indian)
  2. Poetry
  3. History of English Literature
  4. Unforeseen poetry and prose


Books: 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 Sparknotes , Cliffnotes, Wikipedia etc. But most importantly, text of a novel should be read at least once. But while reading, one must not be too fixated on the meaning of each and every sentence, rather should see a chapter in its entirety and in relation to the overall plot. Critical essays and analysis of a work should be read thoroughly and important points memorized, especially vital themes, symbols and motifs.

For Indian-origin novels (where Worldview and Norton are not available), one should read the text well and search the net for essays, criticisms and analysis.


Books: Here, no specific book will give all dimensions of a poem. One should extensively 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.  One’s own analysis during reading of a poem is equally important*~.


(Covers important literary periods like Renaissance, Elizabethan era etc. refer syllabus)

Books:  Many books are available for this section. However, one can pick that which covers all (or most) periods mentioned in UPSC syllabus. Some books are given below:

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


In paper-I, one has to answer questions based on unforeseen 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.  Although one can answer questions from these sections by using one’s common sense without any intensive prior preparation, a book Practical Criticism (Oxford University Press) can be useful in this regard.

(*~One’s analysis of a poem can be refined by reading the above book, and would help in analyzing the poems prescribed in syllabus).

GENERAL TIPS for English literature proration

  1. If one is fairly interested in literature, one can go for this optional very safely notwithstanding his/her graduation stream.
  2. Coverage of complete syllabus should be a priority. Questions asked, especially in the recent years are so based as to test this aspect. Generally, 3 months is sufficient for a person having background in English to complete the syllabus. For one with a different background, around 6 months is sufficient depending on one’s familiarity with the texts.
  3. Read the historical portion after completion of the literary works. In most novels, the plot and characters depict clearly the traits of a particular literary period. That way, one would get a fair idea of various periods without any extra effort.
  4. One should use simple language while answering questions.  Deliberate and unnecessary use of complex lexicon isn’t going to fetch any extra marks. Remember that it is a test of one’s knowledge of ‘literature’ and not ‘English’. The latter is only a medium for the former.
  5. Answer-writing practice is of utmost importance. One should do it on a regular basis using the previous year questions (questions from past 10 year paper are relevant).
  6. Since professional guidance (as per UPSC requirement) for this optional is virtually non-existent, one can approach any good university professor for evaluation of one’s answers. If not, even self-evaluation is sufficient.
  7. Do not refer such books which are often used by university students for securing a mere passing grade in exams (one such example is Ramji Lall). Their use, if necessitated, should only be restricted to summary of the plot/play. They cannot serve as a basic book for one’s preparation in CS exams.
  8. A Glossary of Literary Terms by M.H Abrams is useful for familiarizing oneself with various literary terms.

Prepared by Kumar Ujjwal With inputs taken from: Ajay Prakash (AIR 9, CSE 2010) and Shuchita Kishore (AIR 39, CSE 2010)

Appendix: Question Paper Mains 2013

  1. Please read each of the following instructions carefully before attempting questions. There are EIGHT questions divided in Two Sections.
  2. Candidate has to attempt FIVE questions in all.
  3. Question no. 1 and 5 are compulsory and out of the remaining, THREE are to be attempted choosing at least ONE from each section.
  4. The number of marks carried by a question/part is indicated against it. Answers must be written in ENGLISH.
  5. Word limit in questions, wherever specified, should be adhered to.
  6. Attempts of questions shall be counted in chronological order. Unless struck off, attempt of a question shall be counted even if attempted partly. Any page or portion of the page left blank in the answer book must be clearly struck off.
  7. 250 marks | 3 hours

English Literature Paper 1: SECTION—A

Q1. Each question should be answered in about 150 words 10 x 5 =50

  1. The influence of Machiavelli on the drama of Renaissance England.
  2. The impact of the French Revolution on the English Romantic poets.
  3. The feminist consciousness in the Victorian novel.
  4. The role of the Fool in King Lear.
  5. Tennyson’s use of natural phenomena to reflect human thoughts and feelings in In Memoriam.

Q2. Each 400 words x 25 marks

  1. Would you agree with the view that The Tempest is more concerned with the problems of old age than with the experiences of the young? Give reasons for your answer.
  2. The interest in the Metaphysical poetry of the early 17th century was revived in the early 20th century. What features of the Metaphysical poetry appealed to the modern mind? Discuss with particular reference to the poems of Donne.

Q3. Answer Each in 400 words x 25 marks

  1. ‘The description of Adam and Eve betrays Milton’s patriarchal and misogynistic attitude.’ Discuss with reference to Book IV of Paradise Lost.
  2. ‘The polished exterior of The Rape of the Lock barely conceals a rapacious and predatory society.’ Discuss.

Q4. Answer Each in 400 words x 25 marks

  1. Bring out the complexities in Shakespeare’s presentation of the theme of madness in King Lear.
  2. ‘Wordsworth’s poetry brings out his belief that nature is conscious and shows the influence of nature on man.’ Discuss with illustrations from the poems you have read.

English Literature Paper 1: SECTION—B

Q5. Study the following poem, and answer the questions below in 60-80 words each:


Be assured, the Dragon is not dead
But once more from the pools of peace
Shall rear his fabulous green head

The flowers of innocence shall cease
And like a harp the wind shall roar
And the clouds shake an angry fleece.

Here, here, is certitude,’ you swore,
Below this lightning blasted tree.
Where once it strikes, it strikes no more.

Two lovers in one house agree.
The roof is tight, the walls unshaken.
As now, so must it always be.

Such prophecies of joy awaken
The toad who dreams away the past
Under your hearthstone, light forsaken,

Who knows that certitude at last
Must melt away in vanity
No gate is fast, no door is fast —

That thunder bursts from the blue sky,
That gardens of the mind fall waste,
That fountains of the heart run dry.

  1. Examine the imagery of the second stanza.
  2. What do the lovers imply when they say ‘so must it always he”?
  3. What is meant by saying that the toad (in stanza 5) ‘dreams away the past’?
  4. What is implied by the line ‘No gate is fast, no door is fast’?
  5. Consider the implications of the title ‘Vanity’.

Q6. Answer Each in 400 words x 25 marks

  1. ‘Though Tom’s heart is in the right place, his instincts are not always in his control.’ Do you agree? Justify your answer with illustrations from Tom Jones.
  2. ‘In a sense Book II of Gulliver’s Travels is a reversal of Book I.’ Do you agree? Give reasons for your answer.

Q7. Answer Each in 400 words x 25 marks

  1. Show what part is played by the other characters in bringing about the changes in Darcy and Elizabeth which lead to their final reconciliation in Pride and Prejudice.
  2. In Hard Times Dickens makes moral comments on the industrialization of society. Can you find  instances to show how he incorporates such comments into a realistic narrative?

Q8. Answer Each in 400 words x 25 marks

  1. Discuss the role of society in the shaping of individual life and destiny in The Mill on the Floss and Tess of the d’Urbervilles.
  2. Consider Twain’s handling of the ‘outlaw figure’ in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

English Literature Paper 2 Section A

Q1. Write short notes on the following: 10 x5=50

  1. The comically self-aware persona in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
  2. Yeats’s fancy for an aristocratic life of elegance and leisure in “A Prayer for My Daughter”
  3. The thematic rhymes in Section 3 of “In Memory of W. B. Yeats”
  4. Postcolonial melancholia
  5. Postmodern ‘realisms’

Q2. 25+25 (word limit not given)

  1. How sustainable is the argument that Indian writers in English betray an `anxiety of Indianness’?
  2. To what extent have Indian traditions of thought influenced A. K. Ramanujan’s poetry?

Q3. 25+25 (word limit not given)

  1. How does Beckett exploit the metaphor of life as theatre in Waiting for Godot?
  2. Was Philip Larkin, the poet troubled by the socioeconomic imbalances in postWorld War II Britain? Substantiate,

Q4. 25+25 (word limit not given)

  1. Discuss some major issues involving language as power in postmodern English writing.
  2. How crucial in your view is the concept of Othering’ in postcolonial literatures?

English Literature Paper II Section B

Q5. Answer the questions that follow this passage: 10 x5=50

It is worth attempting some headon thoughts about ‘meaning’. Confronted with passages of text you may sometimes face a choice between leading questions : ‘what does it mean’ versus ‘how does it work’. It will be evident that words and phrases carry lexical meanings, sometimes in multiple array of possible signifying activities, sometimes also echoing other literary or historical usage. It will be evident too that what words mean is a different question from what a text passage means; or what are the meanings at work in a whole literary composition, its thematic conflicts and developments and layers of interpretation. Also a further complication arises when we speak of what a person means, of his or her intention to be understood in a certain way, through speech or action; thus concerning Cordelia’s silence in King Lear we may ask two slightly but importantly different questions : what does her silence mean, and what does she mean by her silence. In drama, these issues can be especially acute : what a particular speech ‘means’ will vary amongst its onstage auditors, some of whom may be more inward than others with part hidden purposes; and for the larger audience an initial array of distinct possible or probable meanings may be modified in retrospect by later disclosures or the ‘dramatic irony’ of subsequent events. It is fairly unlikely that questions of the playwright’s own meaning or meaning intention will feature strongly in this interplay of interpretation, though the choice of topic may indicate certain possible motives in the context of the times.

Where personal character is represented as a focus for point of view interaction, as in narrative fiction, again what is meant may be an aspect of what this person means, in speech and action, or what this person is capable of successfully wishing to mean, depending on self-knowledge and expressed in the sense of actions consequentially undertaken, such actions then interpreted by others from differing viewpoints along significantly divergent lines. The resulting social complex of behavior, and the novelist’s construction of an extended meaning process in many strands, give the reader much work for imaginative and emotional intelligence, for sympathy tempered by judgment. Linguists and philosophers of language, and even lawyers, sometimes speak of ‘plain sense’, normative or ‘ordinary language’ meaning; but students of literature know well that literary language is not ordinary, even when it adopts for stylistic purposes the speech patterns of natural utterance. Patterns of symbolism or constructed allegory, especially in pre modern works, or tragic foreclosure in tightly plotted drama, may also require us to read for the sense of the design along more or less genre specific lines of construal, just as earlier communities once read the pattern of daily events in terms of a directing providence. Both grammar and syntax inflect the stylistic pitch and meaning effects of writing, and formal devices like prosody and meter and figuration will alert the reader to further aspects of meaning carried by structure and form—bringing into view what may be meant by ‘carried’ in this context. Richness of meaning may challenge or even defeat coherence of design; or it may reveal ordered depths of multiple significance (polysemy, ambiguity), or layers of structure and structure echo, so that successive readings and succeeding generations of readers can discover constantly new insights and rewards.

  1. What possible meanings exist beyond mere lexical meaning?
  2. How differently significant are the two questions concerning Cordelia’s silence in King Lear?
  3. What special meaning to a speech does ‘dramatic irony’ give?
  4. In what way is the meaning of a character’s utterance limited and limiting in narrative fiction?
  5. Explain the phrase the sense of the design.

Q6. 25+25 (word limit not given)

  1. What memories of childhood and family inform A House for Mr Biswas?
  2. Comment critically on the view that A Passage to India presents a muddle—the whole country’s a place of division and disjunction.

Q7. 25+25 (word limit not given)

  1. Attempt a critique of the writer as worker as enunciated in Marxist critical thought.
  2. How do Feminist writers engage cultural politics?

Q8. 25+25 (word limit not given)

  1. How does Mrs Dalloway capture the sense of rupture caused by a catastrophic war?
  2. Comment on the deployment of repetitive language and action in the English new theatre’.