Belgian university enters new era with Taylor Swift course


Published: 2023-09-26 14:03

Last Updated: 2024-06-21 14:32

Belgian university enters new era with Taylor Swift course
Belgian university enters new era with Taylor Swift course

From "Alice in Wonderland" to "The Great Gatsby", "Rebecca" to "Jane Eyre", the songs of singer-songwriter Taylor Swift are filled with clear and subtle literary references.

Now, a literature professor in Belgium has seized on the bookish qualities of Swift's lyrics to launch a course using the US superstar's songs to delve into the greats of English writing and the themes of their work.

For Elly McCausland, an assistant professor at Ghent University, Swift's songs offer an opportunity to explore feminism, for example through "The Man", and the anti-hero trope through the aptly named song "Anti-Hero" from her 2022 album, "Midnights".

McCausland decided earlier this year to mastermind a course to start in September inspired by Swift's work after listening to "The Great War", also from "Midnights".

McCausland knew all too well the power of the singer's work as a "real Swiftie" herself and insists that the course, "Literature (Taylor's Version)", is a way to make literature "more accessible" and "not to create a Swift fan club".

"The whole point is to get people to think that English literature is not a load of old books from a long time ago festering in a library. But it's a living, breathing thing and it's continually evolving and changing," she said.

The academic stressed other artists and media could be used for the same goal, for example, Beyonce or even the video-sharing platform TikTok.

McCausland's course uses Swift's lyrics as a gateway into reading some of the greats of the literary canon such as William Shakespeare, Charlotte Bronte, Geoffrey Chaucer and William Thackeray.

Swift refers to the works of several more writers, including Charles Dickens and Emily Dickinson, and McCausland noted parallels also with the style of other writers including British Romantic poets of the early 19th century.

In the songs "Wonderland" and "long story short", Swift mentions going down a "rabbit hole", a reference to Lewis Carroll's 1865 novel "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland".

In a 2020 conversation with Paul McCartney published by Rolling Stone during the COVID-19 pandemic, the songwriter described her love of words and how she was "reading so much more than I ever did" including Daphne du Maurier's "Rebecca".

The course is very popular and McCausland has received requests to join from outside the university, even via private messages on Instagram.

There has been snobbery and criticism online, questioning the merit of using Swift's work in higher education.

McCausland made parallels with the skepticism singer-songwriter Bob Dylan faced after winning the 2016 Nobel Prize in literature.