Prose & Poetry - Andre Breton

Andre Breton Andre Breton (1896-1966), the poet, critic and leader of the surrealist movement, served in French psychiatric wards during the First World War.

Born in Tinchebray the son of a shopkeeper Breton's early years were spent studying medicine (although he never qualified), with the consequence that when the Great War arrived in August 1914 he found himself working in a psychiatric ward in Nantes.  During this time Breton adopted Freudian principles in an attempt to psychoanalyse his wartime (and often shell-shocked) patients.  (He was later to meet Freud in 1921.)

Among Breton's wartime patients was Jacques Voche; Breton went on to write an introductory piece to Voche's Lettres de Guerre (published in 1919).  Voche went on to commit suicide in 1919.  Breton also met with Guillaume Apollinaire before the latter's death from influenza in 1918.

Breton's first collection of poems - written before and during the First World War - appeared in 1919 as Monte de Piete ('Pawnshop').  In the post-war years he expanded upon his work as a writer, and was a pioneer of Dadaism and surrealism, both of which flourished in the disillusioned post-war years.  Breton went on to publish three surrealist manifestos in 1924, 1930 and 1942.

Sometimes viewed as perhaps Breton's best-regarded work, the semi-fictional novel Nadja was published in 1928, in part based around his own experiences.

A member of the Communist Party from 1927-35 he broke with the party in disgust at Stalinism and the Moscow show trials; he nevertheless remained committed to Marxism, founding in 1938 - with Leon Trotsky (whom he met in Mexico) - the Fédération de l'Art Revolutionnaire Independant.

With the Nazi invasion of France in 1940 Breton went into exile in the U.S., where he worked in broadcasting and arranged a surrealist expo at Yale in 1942.

Following a post-war tour of the West Indies Breton returned to his homeland in 1946 and continued to publish widely (including Arcane 17 in 1945 and Constellations in 1959).  A collection of Breton's poetry was published in 1948 as Selected Poems.

He died in Paris on 28 September 1966.

In slang a "beetle" was a landing craft for 200 men.

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Prose & Poetry