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André Breton

André Breton (1896–1966), the son of a Norman policeman and a seamstress, studied medicine in Paris and was drafted to serve in World War I in 1915. While working on a neurological ward, he met Jacques Vaché, a devotee of Alfred Jarry, and Vaché’s rebellious spirit and suicide at the age of twenty-three would powerfully shape Breton’s sensibility. Thanks to the auspices of Paul Valéry, Breton worked as an assistant to Marcel Proust, and in 1919, along with Philippe Soupault and Louis Aragon, he founded the journal Littérature. The Magnetic Fields, the first book of automatic writing, appeared in 1920, and in 1924, having broken with Tristan Tzara and the Dadaists, Breton issued the Surrealist Manifesto. A Marxist, an atheist, and always a surrealist, Breton was a prolific author and a pugnacious controversialist whose works include the collection of poems Claire de terre and the novel Nadja.