What do the novels Jane Eyre, The Great Gatsby, and Rebecca all have in common? They are all referenced in Taylor Swift’s brand new albums, of course! Taylor Swift released two records in 2020, folklore and its sister album evermore. Both releases were widely popular among fans, and some were quick to realize that there are familiar references in her new songs. Swift alludes to many novels, poems, and writers in her new albums, so these are just a few of the literary references you might have noticed.
Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre is my favorite book. So when I realized Taylor Swift hints at the novel multiple times, it made my literary heart happy. One of the most important commonalities in both albums is the reference to an ‘invisible string.’ It is seen in a couple of her new music videos, and there is a song on folklore titled “invisible string.”
In the song, Taylor Swift says, “Isn’t it just so pretty to think, all along there was some invisible string tying you to me?” In Jane Eyre, Mr. Rochester tells Jane he loves her by saying, “I have a strange feeling with regard to you. As if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly knotted to a similar string in you.”
The references to the novel don’t end there. The song right after “invisible string” is called “mad woman.” This song references the motif of the madwoman in the attic, which was common in Victorian literature to depict gendered madness, including in Brontë’s novel, where Mr. Rochester locks his wife in the attic and she is ostracized from society. The songs “invisible string” and “mad woman” being placed back-to-back highlight how being unable to control your reputation can cause a flawed perception, which is a main theme in Jane Eyre.
The Great Gatsby
The song “happiness” from evermore references F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel The Great Gatsby. While some of the lyrics allude to the themes in the book, others are direct references. The lyrics, “I hope she’ll be a beautiful fool. Who takes my spot next to you,” parallel Daisy Buchanan’s wish for her daughter. Daisy says, “She’ll be a fool— that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool,” in hopes that her child will be ignorant to life’s challenges. But Taylor Swift uses the motif of a ‘beautiful fool’ as a criticism of ignorance.
Later in the song, Taylor Swift says, “All I want from me now is the green light of forgiveness.” The green light is one of the most quintessential motifs in the entire novel. At the end of the book, Gatsby longingly looks at the green light across the water. Fitzgerald wrote, “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster.” The light symbolizes Gatsby’s love for Daisy, a signal that is just out of reach. This theme is present in the song “happiness” as well.
Taylor Swift references Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier in her songs “tolerate it” and “no body, no crime,” which are featured chronologically on evermore. Du Maurier’s novel is about a woman who marries a man that she loves, but he is still in love with his dead ex-wife named Rebecca. Although this connection has not been confirmed, many speculate that her murder mystery song was partly based off Rebecca. Rebecca is murdered in the exact same way as the husband in the song “no body, no crime.” Taylor Swift says, “Good thing my daddy made me get a boating license when I was fifteen. And I’ve cleaned enough houses to know how to cover up a scene.” In the book, the body is found on a sunken boat.
The themes in the song “tolerate it” allude to Rebecca as well. The song depicts the protagonist’s marriage with Maxim de Winter. She adores him and he simply tolerates her. This relationship is highlighted by the lyrics, “I know my love should be celebrated. But you tolerate it.” She also makes a reference to being “just a kid,” while the man is “so much older and wiser.” This also accurately portrays their relationship. In an interview, Swift talks about how her reaction to this marriage inspired the song. She wrote it because it is “all about trying to love someone who is ambivalent.”
Taylor Swift definitely succeeded for being the most productive during the pandemic. Not only are her new songs certified classics, but some of them are also based on some of the best works of literature. And these aren’t close to all of the literary connections, just my personal favorites.