master list

Remember when everyone you know was posting on Facebook about how many books they’d read from some BBC list? The gist was that they thought that the BBC had said that the average person had only read 6 out of the 100 books, so if you had read more than 6, you could feel smug and superior– I know I did.  The truth is, that list was really just a list culled from people’s votes for the best-loved novel, not some sort of required reading list.

A newly minted English Lit grad student, I am now in possession of a list of things I have to read and master (in addition to everything I read for my actual coursework) in order to get a Master’s Degree.  Much like my pediatrician hubby taking his boards this October, English Lit students have to take a big exam at the end of their schooling called “Comps.”  Basically, you read and study and obsess over a list of literary works, and then they give you a bunch of ID questions (sample: name the work and author this line comes from: “The world is too much with us, late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.”) and you write 3 1.5 hour essays, and then, if you pass, you get a Master’s Degree.  It’s terrifying.

Anyway, I figure a list of works considered necessary for any Master to master is more of a definitive reading list than any ole BBC top 100 popularly-voted list, and thought I’d share my comps list here.  For one, you can check your literacy and see how many you’ve read. For two, you can join me in my shock and awe at the breadth of the list, and possibly even my disappointment that they only managed to come up with ONE twentieth century British woman writer.  For three: Do you happen to own any of these works? Can you help me save some bucks and let me borrow them? Pretty please? I promise not to write in them or abuse them in any way. I just need to read and study them over the next two years or so.  And fourth: I’m going to use this to cross off ones I’ve read, using it as a little checklist as a I go.

So, here you have it, the stuff a bunch of Ph.D’s have decided I must know in order to be a Master of English Lit (some items are not novels but are poems or short stories by the same author):


  1. Beowulf
  2. Wanderer
  3. Battle of Maldon
  4. Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People: “Account of the Poet Caedmon” and “The Conversion of King Edwin.”
  5. The Dream of the Rood
  6. Lyrics: “Western Wind,” “Summer Is Icumen In,” and “Adam Lay Ybounden”
  7. Ballads: “Edward, Edward,” “Sir Patrick Spens,” “Lord Randall”
  8. Langland Piers Plowman (Passus 18)
  9. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
  10. Chaucer: (to be read in Middle English) General Prologue, The Miller’s Prologue and Tale, The Wife of Bath’s Prologue, Words of the Host to the Physician and Pardoner, Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale (all from The Canterbury Tales); Troilus and Criseyde
  11. Chaucer: Lyrics: “Truth” (“Balade of Bon Conseyl”) and “Complaint to His Purse”
  12. Julian of Norwich: A Book of Showings, from Chapters 3, 4, 5, 6, 27, 58-61, 86 (Norton Anthology selections)
  13. Margery Kempe: The Book of Margery Kempe, from Chapters 1, 2, 11, 18, 28, 52, 76 (Norton Anthology Selections)
  14. The Second Shepherds’ Play
  15. Everyman
  16. Malory: Morte Darthur, Caxton Books XX, XXI

Renaissance and Seventeenth Century

  1. John Skelton: “The Tunning of Elinour Rumming,” “Phillip Sparrow”
  2. Thomas Wyatt: “Whoso list to hunt,” “They flee from me,” “My lute, awake!,” “Mine own John Poins”
  3. Thomas More: Utopia
  4. Sir Philip Sidney: Astrophil and Stella (Sonnets 1, 2, 5, 6, 15, 21, 31, 39, 41, 45, 49, 52, 53, 71, 74, 81)
  5. Edmund Spenser: The Faerie Queene (“Letter to Raleigh” and Book I), Amoretti (Sonnets 1, 34, 37, 67, 68, 75, 79), Epithalamion
  6. Christopher Marlowe: Doctor Faustus
  7. William Shakespeare: Sonnets 3, 18, 20, 29, 30, 55, 60, 71, 73, 94, 116, 129, 130, 138, 144, 146
  8. William Shakespeare: Hamlet, King Lear, A Midsummernight’s Dream, Henry IV, Twelfth Night, The Tempest
  9. Mary Wroth: Pamphilia to Amphilanthus (Sonnets 1, 16, 39, 40, 68, 77, 103)
  10. John Webster: The Duchess of Malfi
  11. Ben Johnson: Volpone, “Song: To Celia,” “To the Memory of Shakespeare,” “Inviting a Friend to Supper,” “To Penshurst,” “To Heaven,” “Ode to Cary and Morison”
  12. John Donne: “The Good Morrow,” “The Sun Rising,” “The Indifferent,” “The Canonization,” “The Flea,” “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning,” “The Ecstasy,” “Elegy 19,” “Good Friday, 1613, Riding Westward,” Holy Sonnets 5, 7, 10, 14, Meditation 17
  13. Robert Herrick: “Delight in Disorder,” “Corinna’s Going A-Maying,” “To the Virgins,” “Upon Julia’s Clothes”
  14. George Herbert: “Easter Wings,” “Prayer (1),” “Jordan (1),” “The Collar,” “The Pulley,” “Love (3)”
  15. Andrew Marvell: “To His Coy Mistress,” “The Garden,” Upon Appleton House
  16. Francis Bacon: Essays (“Of Truth,” “Of Great Place,” “Of Superstition,” “Of Studies”)
  17. Sir Thomas Browne: Religio Medici
  18. John Milton: Paradise Lost, Samson Agonistes, Areopagiticia, “Lycidas,” “L’Allegro,” “Il Penseroso”

Restoration and 18th Century

  1. John Dryden: Mac Flecknoe, Absalom and Achitophel, An Essay of Dramatic Poetry
  2. William Congreve: The Way of the World
  3. Alexander Pope: Essay on Criticism, The Rape of the Lock, Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot
  4. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu: “The Lover: A Ballad”
  5. Jonathan Swift: Gulliver’s Travels, “Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift,” “A Modest Proposal”
  6. John Gay: The Beggar’s Opera
  7. Daniel Defoe: Robinson Crusoe
  8. Henry Fielding: Tom Jones
  9. Thomas Gray: “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,” “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College”
  10. William Collins: “Ode on the Poetical Character,” “Ode to Evening”
  11. Oliver Goldsmith: The Deserted Village
  12. Samuel Johnson: Rasselas, The Vanity of Human Wishes, “Pope” and “Milton” from Lives of the Poets
  13. James Boswell: Life of Johnson (Hibbert’s Abridged Edition)
  14. Laurence Sterne: Tristram Shandy
  15. Robert Burns: “Address to the Deil,” “Holy Willie’s Prayer,” “Tam O’Shanter”

19th Century

  1. William Blake: Songs of Innocence and Experience, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
  2. William Wordsworth: “Tintern Abbey,” “Ode: Intimations of Immortality,” “Resolution and Independence,” “Elegiac Stanzas,” Michael, The Prelude I-II, Preface to the Second Edition of Lyrical Ballads
  3. S. T. Coleridge: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Christabel, “Kubla Khan,” “Frost at Midnight,” “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison,” “Dejection: An Ode”
  4. Lord Byron: Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, III-IV, Manfred, Don Juan I-IV
  5. Sir Walter Scott: Waverley
  6. P. B. Shelley: “Ode to the West Wind,” “The Cloud,” “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty,” “To a Sky-Lark,” Adonais, “Mont Blanc”
  7. John Keates: Odes: “Nightingale,” “Grecian Urn,” “Melancholy,” Sonnets: “Chapman’s Homer,” “Bright Star,” “When I Have Fears,” The Eve of St. Agnes, “To Autumn”
  8. William Hazlitt: “On Gusto,” “My First Acquaintance with Poets”
  9. Charles Lamb: “Old China,” “Dream Children”
  10. Thomas De Quincey: “On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth
  11. Mary Shelley: Frankenstein
  12. Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice
  13. Thomas Carlyle: Sartor Resartus
  14. Lord Tennyson: “The Lady of Shalott,” “The Lotos-Eaters,” “Ulysses,” “Tithonus,” “Locksley Hall,” In Memoriam
  15. Robert Browning: “My Last Duchess,” “Andrea del Sarto,” “Fra Lippo Lippi,” “The Bishop Orders His Tomb,” “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came,” “Abt Vogler”
  16. E. B. Browning: Sonnets from the Portuguese (21, 22, 32, 43), Aurora Leigh Books 1, 2, 5
  17. John Ruskin: “The Roots of Honor” from Unto This Last, “The Nature of Gothic” from The Stones of Venice
  18. Matthew Arnold: “Memorial Verses,” “The Scholar Gypsy,” “Dover Beach,” “Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse,” “The Function of Criticism at the Present Time,” “The Study of Poetry”
  19. A.C. Swinburne: “Hymn to Proserpine,” “The Garden of Proserpine,” “The Triumph of Time”
  20. Christina Rossetti: “Goblin Market”
  21. G.M. Hopkins: “God’s Grandeur,” “The Windhover,” “Pied Beauty,” “Spring and Fall,” “Carrion Comfort,” “No Worst, There Is None,” “I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark, Not Day,” “Thou Art Indeed Just, Lord”
  22. Lewis Carroll: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
  23. Emily Bronte: Wuthering Heights
  24. Charlotte Bronte: Jane Eyre
  25. Charles Dickens: Great Expectations
  26. George Eliot: Middlemarch
  27. Anthony Trollope: Barchester Towers
  28. W.M. Thackeray: Vanity Fair
  29. Oscar Wilde: The Importance of Being Earnest

20th Century

  1. Thomas Hardy: “Hap,” “The Darkling Thrush,” “The Convergence of the Twain,” “Neutral Tones,” “Channel Firing”
  2. W. B. Yeats: “The Stolen Child,” “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” “Adam’s Curse,” “September Byzantium,” “Leda and the Swan,” “Among School Children,” “Byzantium,” “A Prayer for My Daughter,” “Long-Legged Fly,” “Lapis Lazuli,” “The Circus Animals’ Desertion,” “Under Ben Bulben”
  3. Wilfred Owen: “Dulce et DEcorum Est,” “Strange Meeting,” “Disabled”
  4. D.H. Lawrence: “Piano,” “Snake,” “Bavarian Gentians,” “The Ship of Death,” Women in Love
  5. W. H. Auden: “Musee des Beaux Arts,” “Lullaby,” “In Memory of W.B. Yeats,” “In Praise of Limestone,” “The Shield of Achilles”
  6. Dylan Thomas: “The Force that Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower,” “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night,” “A Refusal to Mourn…,” “Fern Hill”
  7. Philip Larkin: “Church Going,” “High Windows”
  8. Seamus Heaney: “Digging,” “Punishment,” “The Strand at Lough Beg”
  9. G. B. Shaw: Arms and the Man
  10. Samuel Beckett: Waiting for Godot
  11. J.M. Synge: The Playboy of the Western World
  12. James Joyce: “Araby,” “The Dead,” A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
  13. Joseph Conrad: Heart of Darkness
  14. Virginia Woolf: To the Lighthouse
  15. E.M. Forster: A Passage to India
  16. Harold Pinter: The Homecoming
  17. Tom Stoppard: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
  18. Derek Walcott: “As John to Patmos,” “A Far Cry from Africa,” “Ruins of a Great House,” “North and South”
  19. Chinua Achebe: Things Fall Apart
  20. Salman Rushdie: Satanic Verses

American Literature Prior to 1860

  1. American Indian Myths and Tales: Pima story of the creation and flood; Winnebago trickster cycle (Norton Anthology selections)
  2. William Bradford: Of Plymouth Plantation
  3. John Winthrop: “A Model of Christian Charity”
  4. Mary Rowlandson: Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration
  5. Anne Bradstreet: “To My Dear and Loving Husband,” “Before the Birth of One of Her Children,” “In Memory of my Dear Grandchild Elizabeth Bradstreet,” “On My Dear Grandchild Simon Bradstreet”
  6. Edward Taylor: selections from the Preparatory Meditations, including “Prologue,” First Series–22, Second Series–26
  7. Jonathan Edwards: “Personal Narrative,” “A Divine and Supernatural Light,” “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”
  8. Benjamin Franklin: Autobiography Books I and II
  9. Phillis Wheatley: “On Being Brought from Africa to America,” “To His Excellency General Washington”
  10. St. Jean de Crevecoeur: “What is an American?”
  11. Washington Irving: “Rip Van Winkle”
  12. James Fenimore Cooper: The Pioneers
  13. Ralph Waldo Emerson: Nature, “The American Scholar,” “The Divinity School Address”
  14. Henry David Thoreau: Walden, “Civil Disobedience”
  15. Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Scarlet Letter, “Young Goodman Brown,” “My Kinsman, Major Molineux,” “The Minister’s Black Veil”
  16. Edgar Allan Poe: “The Black Cat,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Philosophy of Composition,” “To Helen,” “The Raven,” “Israfel”
  17. Frederick Douglass: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave
  18. Harriet Jacobs: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Chapters 1, 7, 10, 14, 21, 41
  19. Herman Melville: Moby Dick, “Bartleby the Scrivener,” “The House-Top,” “The Maldive Shark,” Billy Budd
  20. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: “My Lost Youth,” “The Arsenal at Springfield,” “The Fire of Driftwood,” “The Jewish Cemetery at Newport”
  21. Walt Whitman: Song of Myself, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking,” “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” “The Wound Dresser”

American 1860-Present

  1. Mark Twain: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  2. Emily Dickinson: poems numbered 67, 125, 130, 214, 258, 280, 303, 328, 341, 435, 448, 449, 465, 632, 657, 712, 754, 986, 1071, 1129, 1732
  3. Henry James: Portrait of a Lady, “Daisy Miller,” “The Beast in the Jungle”
  4. Sarah Orne Jewett: “A White Heron,” “The Foreigner”
  5. Mary E. Wilkins Freeman: “A New England Nun,” “The Revolt of Mother”
  6. Charlotte Perkins Gilman: “The Yellow Walpaper”
  7. Booker T. Washington: Up from Slavery, Chapters I, XIV
  8. W. E. B. Dubois: The Souls of Black Folk, Chapters I, III
  9. Stephen Crane: The Red Badge of Courage, “The Open Boat,” “The Blue Hotel,” “The Bride comes to Yellow Sky”
  10. Kate Chopin: The Awakening
  11. Edith Wharton: The Age of Innocence
  12. Theodore Dreiser: Sister Carrie
  13. Willa Cather: “Neighbour Rosicky”
  14. Robert Frost: “After Apple-Picking,” “Home Burial,” “Birches,” “Design,” “Desert Places,” “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening”
  15. T. S. Eliot: “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” The Waste Land, “Tradition and the Individual Talent”
  16. Ezra Pound: “In a Station of the Metro,” “To Whistler, American,” “A Pact,” “Portrait d’une Femme,” “The River-Merchant’s Wife,” Hugh Selwyn Mauberley
  17. William Carlos Williams: “Spring and All,” “The Red Wheelbarrow,” “This is Just to Say,” “The Widow’s Lament in Springtime,” “The Dance,” “Tract,” “The Yachts,” “To Elsie”
  18. Wallace Stevens: “Peter Quince at the Clavier,” “Sunday Morning,” “Anecdote of the Jar,” “The Snow Man,” “A High-Toned Old Christian Woman,” “The Emperor of Ice Cream,” “The Idea of Order at Key West,” “Of Modern Poetry”
  19. Langston Hughes: “Theme for English B,” “Epilogue (I, too, sing America),” “Harlem”
  20. Hart Crane: The Bridge
  21. F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby
  22. Ernest Hemingway: The Sun Also Rises, “Hills Like White Elephants,” “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber”
  23. William Faulkner: The Sound and the Fury, “A Rose for Emily,” “Barn Burning,” “The Old People”
  24. Zora Neale Hurston: Their Eyes were Watching God
  25. Eugene O’Neill: Long Day’s Journey Into Night
  26. Eudora Welty: “A Worn Path,” “Petrified Man”
  27. Tennessee Williams: A Streetcar Named Desire
  28. Flannery O’Connor: “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” “Good Country People,” “Revelation,” “Everything that Rises Must Converge,” “Parker’s Back”
  29. Ralph Ellison: Invisible Man
  30. Robert Lowell: “The Quaker Graveyard at Nantucket,” “Skunk Hour,” “For the Union Dead”
  31. Allen Ginsberg: “Howl”
  32. Arthur Miller: Death of a Salesman
  33. Elizabeth Bishop: “The Fish,” “Questions of Travel,” “The Armadillo,” “In the Waiting Room,” “Crusoe in England”
  34. Richard Wright: Native Son
  35. James Baldwin: “Sonny’s Blues”
  36. Toni Morrison: Beloved
  37. Joyce Carol Oates: “Where are You Going, Where Have You Been”
  38. John Updike: “A & P”
  39. Philip ROth: “The Conversion of the Jews,” “Defender of the Faith”
  40. Sylvia Plath: “Daddy,” “Lady Lazarus”
  41. N. Scott Momaday: The Way to Rainy Mountain
  42. Leslie Marmon Silko: Ceremony
  43. Louise Erdich: “Fleur”
  44. Don DeLillo: White Noise

So. There you have it. Over 160 things I have to read and know well in order to get an MA. This is why I have to quit my book club.

9 Replies to “master list”

  1. I’m kind of jealous that they’ve already given you a list; I won’t get mine ’til I’ve tentatively named my comps committee in April/May.


  2. I woudl be happy to lend you the ones I own, but they’re probably ones you already have – Pride & Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, the complete works of Poe and Carroll and The Great Gatsby. I might have a few of the plays and Moby Dick laying around somewhere too. All that proves is I took high school English, I really love Poe, and I DEFINITELY need to read more non-contemporary fiction. Yikes.


  3. I would wager that you can find a great deal of these for very cheap in used bookstores or on Craigslist or even sellers for dirt cheap, so I would also check that out.

    There are two titles on that list of yours that I would spend the money on the edition the professor wants–T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” and Moby Dick. One of my husband’s English profs said that students truly need guidance on only three works in English literature: Moby Dick, The Wasteland and Ulysses (by Joyce). I would wager that they specify certain editions for the notations, the desired edition, etc. and if you can get everything else for cheap it makes sense.

    That said, I’d be happy to send you any books I have on this that you need–feel free to send me an email and I’ll help you fill the gaps! Because really–am I actually going to read Vanity Fair anytime soon?


  4. One… I’ve read Pride and prejudice. And I’ve seen Hamlet on stage. But I’m afraid I don’t need extra fingers to simply count the works I héard of :/.
    Two… I join you (see also One…)
    Three… See One…
    Four… Good luck and have fun!


  5. I’ve got two volumes of the works of Jonathon Edwards. It appears to use the titles Edwards himself did, which may not be the same as the ones on your list. However, it’s two volumes, so you’d think there would have to be something in there.


  6. I have a bunch of these. Some of these are ancient versions in the old house that we’re about to tear down and we’ll have to get rid of the books (i.e. give them to a library or you anyway) let me take the list and go through the books.


  7. wowsa. that was a bit humbling. i like to think of myself as well read, but i haven’t even read a third of that list. i may have some of the poetry books. i’ll do some digging and let you know.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: