I have grown up being referred to as “the girl who loves Taylor Swift.” My heart and soul are devoted to Swift and her excellent storytelling, no matter what genre she ventures into. Swift found a way to make me love her even more — literary references had me geeking out over every lyric on her two newest albums. Her recent works, particularly “folklore” and “evermore,” have heavy allusions to classic literature.
I maintain that Swift is a creative genius, and if there is a book that has influenced her and her art, then of course I am immediately going to pick up a copy. Over time, I have been detailing all of her literary allusions in her music, and I wanted to share my favorite references from her music. There are obvious mentions, such as “Love Story,” which is clearly a reference to Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” but I wanted to include some newer and lesser known references.
“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Swift’s line in “happiness” on the “evermore” album reads “I hope she'll be your beautiful fool who takes my spot next to you.” Swift has alluded to a line from Daisy Buchanan from “The Great Gatsby,” where Buchanan is glad her child is a girl and isn’t expected to be intelligent, saying that she wants her daughter to be ignorant of the world so she will not suffer from its harsh realities. Swift does an excellent job of taking the meaning from the important Buchanan quote and transforming it into her own work.
That wasn’t the only time Swift used “The Great Gatsby” in her lyrics. References to the jazz age in “the 1” and “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” also bring the novel to mind. One of the reasons I picked up Fitzgerald was because of Swift. If a book is good enough for Swift, then it will be good enough for me.
“Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Brontë
I ran to my tattered copy of “Jane Eyre'' after hearing “invisible string” for the first time, finding a line where Edward Rochester says, “I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you – especially when you are near me, as now: it is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs.” Swift alludes to “Jane Eyre” throughout “invisible string” with lyrics like, “And isn't it just so pretty to think / All along there was some / Invisible string / Tying you to me?” This literary allusion is one of Swift’s best, in my opinion, because it is clear that it is from “Jane Eyre” without being overt with the reference.
“Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier
In an interview with Paul McCartney and Rolling Stone, Swift said she had read “Rebecca” before starting “evermore.” Her inspiration from “Rebecca” is clear in her fifth track, “tolerate it.” Swift encapsulates the relationship between Maxim de Winter and his new wife, an unnamed narrator who constantly feels the pressure of living up to the expectations of Maxim’s former, dead wife, Rebecca. Throughout the entire novel, the unnamed wife does everything in her power to earn her husband’s love, yet she comes up empty every time. Throughout “tolerate it,” Swift recalls that feeling of hopelessness in verses like, “I know my love should be celebrated / But you tolerate it.” I read “Rebecca” for one of my English classes, and after learning of Swift’s allusions to the novel, I found myself forming a deeper connection with the text.
Emily Dickinson Poems
When Swift announced “evermore” on Dec. 10, 2020, Swift fans listed endless theories as to references in certain tracks. One stark theory was that Dickinson was a big influence on Swift. If you have looked into Swift, she does everything for a reason, so she did not just randomly choose to use Dickinson as an influence. Her choice was deliberate and has clear meaning in “evermore.” The “evermore” album title has clear links to the word “forevermore,” a word used by Dickinson in one of her most famous poems, “One Sister have I in our house.”
Swift’s song “ivy” was even in the show “Dickinson,” featuring Swift’s good friend Hailee Steinfeld as the lead of the show.
As I read through my collection of Dickinson poems, I found myself connecting dots between verses and lyrics to Swift’s songs. While the allusion is not as clear as others, it is apparent that Swift drew inspiration from the poet.
Swift’s creative mind and ability to incorporate literary references in her lyrics only elevate the listening experience. If you are a Swiftie, I would highly recommend checking out the four authors above and looking into their work. Swift does not include any reference by accident or for no reason, so I love finding the little details and references to literary work in her music. For anyone who wants to have a deeper connection with Swift’s music, reading the books that influenced her is a great way to find more meaning in her music.