Ever since Taylor Swift broke out with her Romeo and Juliet-inspired hit ‘Love Story’ back in 2008, it’s clear she has been consumed with her love of literature. Not only setting the airwaves (and cinemas) alight, she’s also had them raising their voices in the libraries. Famous for baring her soul, Swift shows that words are of vital importance to her creatively.
So here we’ll take a look at some of the books she’s referenced, and how her passion for the classics has inspired her work in the context of her songs.
And with that, let’s get out of this town…
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll (1865)
View on Amazon.comHere’s where it all began with a childhood classic.
Mentioned several times, the story’s themes of becoming lost in fantasy have been a staple of her work. From evermore’s ‘Long Story Short’ in 2020, to 1989’s ultimate belter ‘Wonderland,’ it’s clearly an important work.
“We found Wonderland, you and I got lost in it
And we pretended it could last forever
We found Wonderland, you and I got lost in it
And life was never worse but never better” – are lines from ‘Wonderland’ on the album ‘1989’ (2014) that encapsulate themes of fleeting romance.
Pretty straightforward and instantly conveys the early stages of a relationship that might not be built to last (but aren’t they always the most fun?).
‘Long Story Short’ later delivered the line ‘And I fell from the pedestal, Right down the rabbit hole.’ Referring to her fall from grace following a series of highly publicized feuds (and if you know you know), she’s again referencing getting lost in it all.
Getting lost in fantasy and facing reality is definitely a recurring theme in Taylor’s work.
View on Amazon.comTaylor’s appreciation for Hemingway could never be overlooked.
“And isn’t it just so pretty to think
All along there was some
Tying you to me?” – Invisible String: Folklore (2020)
In the East Asian legend ‘Red String of Fate,’ a metaphorical string crossed boundaries bonding strangers. Eagle-eyed readers will notice not just one literary reference in ‘Invisible String’s’ chorus, but two. Charlotte Bronte mentioned a string in ‘Jane Eyre,’ connecting the left rib and frame of two lovers. Then there is –
“‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Isn’t it pretty to think so?'”
These final words from Jake to Brett Ashley in ‘The Sun Also Rises’ are also referenced directly. Two lost generation lovers in Paris who never got to consummate following Jake’s life changing war injury. And the idea that the two of them could have been together is ‘pretty,’ but it is not one grounded in reality.
Still, there’s that string bonds them, and it’s this love Taylor relates to.
View on Amazon.comNo prizes for guessing which line is referenced here.
‘It was the best of times, the worst of crimes’ – Getaway Car: reputation (2017)
Giving the classic opening lines a twist of her own, Swift takes the often quoted opener and references a relationship of her own (many speculate it’s Tom Hiddleston). She describes how she essentially used their relationship as a ‘getaway car’ from her previous relationship (likely Calvin Harris), feeling remorse while also experiencing the elation of the initial romance rush.
They’re not going anywhere, but who hasn’t wanted to briefly live in the moment?
Dickens’ classic novel also opens with the line ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times,’ relating to the contradictions between the classes. Everything was shifting. London was facing a huge inequality of wealth, while Paris was facing a revolution. Some things never change.
And so it goes…
Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut (1969)
View on Amazon.comThis one’s pretty straightforward. Taylor Swift wrote the song ‘So It Goes…,’ again from her 2017 album reputation. The song itself tells of Taylor getting it on with her partner.
‘So it goes
I’m yours to keep
And I’m yours to lose
You know I’m not a bad girl, but I
Do bad things with you
So it goes’
In Kurt Vonnegut’s 1969 novel ‘Slaughterhouse-Five,’ he’d use the refrain ‘so it goes’ as a way of commenting on how life continues regardless. A way of detaching himself from the traumatic events that he witnessed during the Second World War (seeing the fallout of the Dresden bombing first-hand), transitioning from one life event to the next.
Here Taylor recognizes the fleeting nature of her passion, enjoying it for what it was.
And so it went.
View on Amazon.comYou can’t please everyone, especially the ones you most want to care about you.
This notion is the driving theme of Swift’s ‘Tolerate It’ from her 2020 album evermore, and is reflected in the marriage of Rebecca’s narrator, Mrs. de Winter, to her considerably older husband, Maximilian (“You’re so much older and wiser” echoing the sentiment in the lyrics). Initially seen as ‘tolerating her,’ there’s a distance between them.
In the words of Taylor herself at the Apple Music Awards 2020:
“When I was reading Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, I was thinking, “Wow, her husband just tolerates her. She’s doing all these things and she’s trying so hard and she’s trying to impress him and he’s just tolerating her the whole time.” There was a part of me that was relating to that, because at some point in my life, I felt that way.”
Sometimes you just have to shake it off.
So, from one one-sided relationship to another…
View on Amazon.comBut of course, how else were we going to end this?
This one was kind of difficult though, as we could’ve mentioned any number of lyrics throughout her party-studded lyrics and career. Showing a real fascination with the work, Swift continues drawing from the doomed love Jay Gatsby has for Daisy Buchanan.
And we’ll just sum it up with this one:
“Feeling so Gatsby for that whole year” – This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: reputation (2017)
The book itself is a reflection of the hollowness of the Roaring Twenties, with capitalism and the American Dream put under the microscope — and Fitzgerald was right; a financial crisis and global depression saw it all collapse. The good times can’t last forever.
Everything comes at a price that must be paid eventually.
Shaking It Off
The key takeaway with Taylor’s music is that you don’t need a major in English Literature to appreciate what she’s saying. What makes her music work is that it’s so personal yet accessible to everyone. Just ask any Swiftie—there’s always more meaning to be found for those willing to dig deeper.