As I study for the GRE subject exam, and take numerous practice tests, it seems deceptively easy. I am suspicious and a little scared. But other than just reading and refamiliarizing myself with works of literature I am not sure what else there is to do. I am currently using the Princeton, Kaplan, and another study book. I now realize that they all kind of say the same thing, but this is good since it means I am on the right track. Aside from study techniques and whatnot, the most important piece of information that I have been able to get out of these books is a list of works I should be reading, or at the very least looking over. I have also found (if the practice tests are anything like the real test), that the test is geared towards questions on works that the GRE people feel most students have read. I haven’t noticed anything terribly obscure.
The majority of the lists out there are categorized by author and time period. I have conflated the lists, and added the major works for these authors that are most likely to be tested (because they never supply a list of works, just authors, all of them rather prolific… which I guess is the whole point). Hopefully this helps someone. I have kept them in chronological order (sort of).
Also, this list is in no way exhaustive (and still a work in progress), especially in modern authors and works. Although I am sure there several authors and/or works I am missing from this list in every time period, but my main focus is to provide the major works that are most likely to be tested, not a comprehensive lists of everything each author wrote. Also, it seems I have a major gap in knowledge in everything written after 1850, so I am unable to provide too much detail there.
The ones I am not very familiar with, I will specify so in the event I am overlooking some important work you may look further into it.
William Langland – Piers Plowman
Geoffrey Chaucer – Canterbury Tales, maybe Troilus and Criseyde
Thoman Malory – Le Morte d’Arthur
John Skelton – The Bowge of Court, maybe Colin Cloute or Phyllyp Sparowe
Thomas More – Utopia
Philip Sidney – Astrophil and Stella
Edmund Spencer – The Faerie Queene, maybe Sonnet 75 and Amoretti
John Lyly – Endymion, maybe Midas
Christopher Marlowe – Tamburlaine, The Jew of Malta, maybe The Tragicall History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus (I read Malta, Tamburlaine, and parts of Faustus in a survey course, but I don’t remember which one, if any, was the most important. To be safe, I would just review all of them).
William Shakespeare – This one is tricky. Which Shakespeare plays are the most important? How do you even answer that? Reading all of his plays in a short period of time is not advisable, but here is a list of plays that are more or less considered fair game (no one is going to ask you about Coriolanus). Othello, Lear, Measure for Measure, Merchant of Venice, Tempest, Romeo and Juliet, Richard II, Richard III, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Henry IV (Part I and Part II), Taming of the Shrew, and Antony and Cleopatra. Here is a list of some that *might* be on the test: As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, Titus Andronicus, Cymbeline, Winter’s Tale, King John, Henry V and Troilus and Cressida. The rest probably won’t be on the test. And if they are, you will miss no more than a point.
As for Shakespeare’s sonnets? There are 154 of them, but they are short, so just read them.
Ben Johnson – I have only ever read the Alchemist and Volpone, which were very briefly discussed in one of my classes, so your guess is as good as mine.
John Donne – The Canonization, The Flea, The Sun Rising, A Valediction Forbidding Mourning, The Elegies, and Meditation XVII
John Webster – The Duchess of Malfi
John Milton – Paradise Lost, Lycidas, Sonnets, and maybe Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes
Robert Herrick – Corinna’s Going A-Maying, Delight in Disorder, To the Virgins to Make Much of Time, and The Vine
Andrew Marvell – To His Coy Mistress, A Dialogue Between the Soul and Body, and maybe On A Drop of Dew
William Congreve – The Tears of Amaryllis for Amyntas, and The Way of the World
George Etherege – The Man of Mode, and maybe The Comical Revenge
John Bunyan – Pilgrim’s Progress
John Dryden – Absalom and Achitophel, The Hind and the Panther, and maybe the Medal, Mac Flecknoe, and The Duke of Guise
Daniel Defoe – Robinson Crusoe, and maybe True Born Englishman
Alexander Pope – Rape of the Lock, Dunciad, and Essay on Moral Criticism
Jonathan Swift – Gulliver’s Travels, and Essays on the Death of Dr. Swift
Henry Fielding – The Covent Garden Tragedy. This is another one I am not terribly familiar with.
Thomas Gray – Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard
Samuel Johnson – Rasselas, and The Vanity of Human Wishes. He also wrote a lot of criticism. I would suggest to leaf through that.
Lawrence Sterne – Tristram Shandy
Horace Walpole – The Castle of Otranto, and maybe Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of Richard III
Thomas Chatterton – Elinor and Juga, and An Excelente Balade of Charitie
Mary Wollstonecraft – A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, A Vindication of the Rights of Men, and maybe Thoughts on the Education of Daughters
William Cowper – Olney Hymns
Anne Radcliffe – The Mysteries of Udolpho, The Italian, A Sicilian Romance, and The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne
William Blake – Songs of Innocence, Songs of Experience, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, and The First Book of Urizen
William Wordsworth – Lyrical Ballads (both of them), and Poems (both of them).
Samuel Coleridge – Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Kubla Khan, and maybe Christabel and Bibliographia Literaria
Percy Bysshe Shelley – Ozymandius, Prometheus Unbound, Ode to the West Wind, Mont Blanc, and A Defence of Poetry
Lord Byron – Don Juan, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage
John Keats – All of the Odes, To Autumn, On Fame and maybe The Eve of St. Agnes
Charles Lamb – The Old Familiar Faces
Jane Austen – Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, Mansfield Park, and Northanger Abbey
Thomas Carlyle – Sartor Resartus, and maybe some of his Latter-Day Pamphlets
Alfred Tennyson – Ulysses, In Memoriam, and The Lotos Eaters,
Washington Irving – Sleepy Hollow, and maybe Tales of the Alhambra
Edgar Allan Poe – The Raven, The Cask of Amantillado, Tell Tale Heart, and maybe Annabel Lee and The Purloined Letter
Thomas Macaulay – The Armada
Emily Bronte – Wuthering Heights
Charlotte Bronte – Jane Eyre
Charles Dickens – Great Expectations, Hard Times, A Tale of Two Cities, David Copperfield, and maybe Oliver Twist, and a Christmas Carol
Robert Browning – Pauline, Porphyria’s Lover, and Dramatis Personae
Nathaniel Hawthorne – The Scarlet Letter, and Young Goodman Brown
Ralph Waldo Emerson – Nature, Concord Hymn, Uriel, Representative Men, and maybe The Poet
Henry David Thoreau – Walden and Civil Disobedience
Herman Melville – Moby Dick, Billy Budd, and Bartleby the Scrivener
Matthew Arnold – Dover Beach, The Scholar Gipsy, Culture and Anarchy, Essays in Criticism
John Ruskin – The Stones of Venice. This is another one I am not very familiar with. I have only read excerpts of this one, and none of his other work.
George Meredith – Diana of the Crossways, and maybe The House on the Beach and Lucifer in Starlight
Charles Swinburne – Rosamond, and Songs Before Sunrise
Walt Whitman – Leaves of Grass
George Eliot – Middlemarch, and Daniel Deronda
G. Manley Hopkins – The Wreck of the Deutschland, Spring, The Sea and the Skylark, and Felix Randal
Thomas Hardy – Far from the Maddening Crowd, Tess of the d’Ubbervilles, and Jude the Obscure
Mark Twain – Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and maybe The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County
Henry James – The Portrait of a Lady, The Bostonians, The Ambassadors, and maybe The Golden Bowl
William Butler Yeats – The Second Coming and The Lake Isle of Innisfree
Joseph Conrad – Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim, and maybe Nostromo
D. H. Lawrence – Lady Chatterly’s Lover, Sons and Lovers, The Rainbow, and maybe The Rocking Horse Winner
W. H. Auden – The Age of Anxiety, and maybe The Dyer’s Hand
James Joyce – Ulysses, Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Finnegan’s Wake
Virginia Woolf – Orlando, To the Lighthouse, A Room of One’s Own, and maybe Mrs. Dalloway
Ernest Hemingway – The Sun Also Rises, Farewell to Arms, The Old Man and the Sea, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and maybe The Garden of Eden
F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby
Gertrude Stein – I have only read her poetry, and not a great deal. I was taught these poems were important: Tender Buttons, A Long Dress, A Mounted Umbrella, and Stanzas in Meditation.
T.S. Eliot – The Waste Land, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, and maybe Portrait of a Lady and Gerontion
William Faulkner – The Sound and the Fury, and maybe As I Lay Dying
Ezra Pound – Umbra is the only one I have been formally taught, so I don’t know if it is his most important. I have read a few others on my own, but they were random, thus not of any necessary consequence. So you might want to look into this.
E. M. Forster – A Passage to India
George Orwell – 1984, and Animal Farm
I will make a list of more authors and works in a few days (or maybe just update this one and repost it). Next, the Classics, and then the Russians.