André Breton

André Breton Library Guide

André Breton, born on February 18, 1896 in Tinchebray, France, was a French writer and poet, and recognized as the co-founder, leader, and principal theorist of Surrealism. He was the only son in a family of modest means with a good-natured father, who was a policeman, and a domineering mother. While a respectable medical school student, his education was interrupted by World War One, working in the psychiatric ward of military hospitals. A turning point in his life was meeting the poet-dramatist Apollinaire during the war as he encouraged Breton to examine the philosophical relationship between poetry and painting. Another important influence on his life was Jacques Vache, whose anti-social attitude and disrespect for established artistic tradition impacted Breton’s career.

Returning to Paris after the war, Breton abandoned medicine for literary pursuits and joined the Dada movement in 1916. However, Breton established his definitive break with Dadaism with the release of his Surrealist Manifesto in 1924, in which he defined Surrealism as “pure psychic automatism.”  This ground-breaking treatise established Breton’s position as the leader of Surrealism, earning him the support of many who previously comprised the Paris Dada faction.  Simply put, Surrealism aimed to eliminate the distinction between dream and reality, reason and madness, objectivity and subjectivity.  Also, Breton promoted visual artists such as Picasso, Chirico, Miro and Ernst, reproducing their work as editor of his magazine La Revolution Surréaliste (The Surrealist Revolution), which was published from  1924 to 1929.

Eventually, the surrealist movement became politically involved in the tumult of the 1930’s, and Breton plus several colleagues joined the Communist Party. However, Breton broke with the Communist Party in 1935, yet managed to meet Leon Trotsky in Mexico in 1938, collaborating on a manifesto that explored art’s connection to social upheaval.  That same year, Breton arranged an exhibition of surreal artists on Paris, including Marcel Duchamp as curator, and Salvador Dalí and Max Ernst as technical advisers. During the German occupation of France, Breton escaped to the United States in 1941, organized a signature exhibition of Surrealist art at Yale University in 1942, and settled in New York for several years. He returned to Paris in 1946 and continued to foster a second generation of surrealists until his death at the age of 70 in 1966.

Sources in The Dalí Museum Library:

Balakian, Anna. André Breton – Magus of Surrealism. Oxford University Press, 1971.

This biography is the first complete analytical review of the life and work of André Breton, one of the most original and controversial figures of modern French literature, not to mention a legend in his lifetime. Breton’s career is traced through all its phases and clarifies his elusive, often mysterious ideas. With the benefit of personal encounters with Breton himself, his friends and his three wives, the author offers a unique perspective on his poems, prose, manifestoes, and critical works in detail.

  • Call Number: PQ 2603 .R35 Z59 1971


Couston, Victoria. André Breton in Exile – The Poetics of “Occultation,” 1941-1947. Routledge, 2018.

This volume focuses on Breton’s journey into exile during World War Two and beyond, following the trajectory of his thought and poetic output from 1941 through 1948. By examining his works from these years, the author demonstrates his interest in hermeticism, myth, and the occult. This pioneering study establishes Breton’s profound intellectual debt to 19th century Romanticism and its linkage to his understanding of hermeticism and the occult.

  • Call Number: PQ 2603 .R35 Z652 2018


Polizzotti, Mark. Revolution of the Mind – The Life of André Breton. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995.

This major, full-length biography of André Breton reveals the intellectual, artistic, and personal life of one of the 20th century’s most influential and charismatic cultural icons. Breton’s career is meticulously traced from his participation in the Paris Dada group in the 1920’s, through his experiments with automatic writing, to the development of Surrealism as a movement. Breton’s compelling friendships with Dali, Duchamp, Man Ray and Miro, are reconstructed as well as his marriages and love affairs, all supported with previously unpublished material and anecdotes.

  • Call Number: PQ 2603 .R35 2888 1995


Breton, André and Parinaud, André. Conversations: The Autobiography of Surrealism. Marlow, 1993.

This volume presents the most accurate history of the Surrealist movement from its evolution to its political misadventures to the scandals that dot its duration. It is based on a series of radio interviews conducted with Breton in 1952. Particular attention is devoted to the Surrealists’ ideological debate with communism and their opposition to Stalin.

  • Call Number: PQ 2603 .R35 E713 1993


Breton, André. Communicating Vessels. University of Nebraska Press, 1990.

This book is Breton’s effort to demonstrate how the discoveries and techniques of surrealism could lead to recovery from despondency. He lays out the problems of everyday experience and of intellect. Mary Ann Caws, the translator, writes to the point as follows: “The whole history of surrealism is here, in these pages.”

  • Call Number: PQ 2603 .R35 V313 1990


Breton, André. Earthlight. Sun & Moon Press, 1993.

In this volume, André Breton, universally recognized as the mastermind of the Surrealist movement, through the comprehensive translation by Bill Zavatsky and Zack Rogow, introduces the English-language audience to the charms and complexities of his poetry. The poems in this collection date from 1919 to 1936, spanning Breton’s involvement with Dadaism and his development of Surrealism, revealing his compositional methods and styles. American readers will be electrified by his mind-blowing, hallucinatory imagery.

  • Call Number: PQ 2603 .R35 A29 1993


Breton, André. Arcanum 17. Sun & Moon Press, 1994.

Part prose and part poetry, part reality part dream, Breton considers in this book issues of love and loss, aggression and war, pacifism, feminism and the occult. His themes are hope, renewal and resurrection. While considered radical at the time, Breton’s ideas today seem prophetic, yet still powerful in their passionate underlying belief in the indestructability of life and the freedom of the human spirit.

  • Call Number: PQ 2603 .R35 A8713 1994


Breton, André. Nadja, Grove Press, 1960.

This book is considered the first and perhaps best Surrealist romance ever written, defining the movement’s attitude toward everyday life. The principal narrative follows Breton’s relationship with a girl in Paris that is an obsession haunting his life. Supplementing the first-person narrative are forty-four photographs – pictures of various “surreal” people, places, and objects – which form an integral part of the work.

  • Call Number: PQ 2603 .R35 N313 1960


Breton, André. Manifestoes of Surrealism. Ann Arbor Paperbacks, 2012.

The aims, meaning, and and political position of the Surrealist movement are presented in this book, all the while capturing the timeless vitality of the Surrealist spirit. Breton sets forth the keys to freedom from the limitations of reason, morality and aesthetic concerns. The opening section of the book is the original “Manifesto of Surrealism” from 1924, considered the earliest formulation of the classical Surrealist ethos in its purest form.

  • Call Number: NX 600 .S9 B713 2012


Breton, André and Soupault, Philippe. The Magnetic Fields. Atlas Press, 1985.

This volume is the first and authorized translation by the poet, David Gascoyne, himself a member of the Surrealist group in the 1930’s.Orwiginally published in 1919, this “automatic writing” is widely recognized as the first work of literary Surrealism, and thus, one of the most influential books of the twentieth century. Gascoyne’s introduction analyzes the context of the work, its method of writing, content and aspirations.

  • Call Number: PQ 2603 .R35 C4713 1985


Breton, André, Char, Rene, and Eluard, Paul. Ralentir Travaux – Slow Under Construction. Exact Change, 1990.

This small collection of thirty short poems, preceded by three short stories prefaced by each of the authors, is the result of a collective poetic expression forged by the reunion of Breton, Chard and Eulard in Avignon in the Spring of 1930. The unity of these three-voice poems is remarkable in that the gearing of one word to another is easy.

  • Call Number: PQ 2603 .R35 R313 1990


Matthews, J.H. André Breton. Columbia University Press, 1967.

A very brief biography of André Breton’s life, beginning with his childhood and highlighting the key milestones of his career.

  • Call Number: PQ 2603 .R35 Z75 1967


Written by Ira Piller

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