Nadja and the Quest

Andre Breton’s Nadja takes place over a 10 day span. The first 1/3 of the novel is a manifesto style. The second 1/3 is about the narrator’s obsession with Nadja. The last 1/3 is again back to that Manifesto style of writing. It is interesting that Breton, the father of Surrealism, authored a work where the narrator became obsessed with a female artist. There is reason to suspect that Breton is the narrator of this novel. Art produced by females was not often accepted in society during the surrealist movement. The narrator finds that Nadja is actually crazy. It is important to keep in mind that the story is told from the Narrator.

The narrator describes Paris. Breton, who is French and from Paris, describes a city that is associated with love. I think that this piece could be inspirational in terms of love. Breton falls in love with someone in Paris. He is the male, obsessing over a woman, which is against expectations of the reader. Did Breton want to fall in love with someone in Paris? Is this his dream?

Nadja notes that her mother was “not the kind of wife [her] father needed at all” (67). This was because Nadja’s mother did not fit the role of the traditional house mother, Nadja’s father wouldn’t “find her in an apron” (67). Nadja followed in her mother’s footsteps and was not a house wife type of person either. That is what interested the narrator so much. Surrealists, like Breton, were interested in gender (Claude Cahun’s cross dressing comes to mind). Who is Nadja? How can the narrator define the self-reliant Nadja? Are gender roles switched between Breton and Nadja in this novel?

“Is it you Nadja? Is it true that the beyond, that everything beyond is here in the life? I can’t hear you. Who goes there? Is it only me? Is it myself?” (144). The narrator is fascinated with Nadja. Does she even exist? Surrealism is associated with the unconscious and dreams. This could all be a dream in which the narrator is looking for something or finding inspiration (the quest). How does a reader differentiate between the reality and dreams through the text? Is the madness from Nadja real (sanity)? Breton could be desiring a woman through his dreams and writing about it through his surrealist lens. All in all, there are several interpretations here, I just touched on a few.

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