Born in 1896 to a working-class parents from Tinchenbray (Orne), Normandy, André Breton wrote poetry and studied medicine and psychology at a young age.
During World War I, Breton worked in psychiatric units with traumatized soldiers, employing the work of Sigmund Freud, whom he had met, in his practice. It was during this time that Breton met Jacque Vaché, a rebellious soldier who would become a friend and important influence. Until Vaché's death in 1919, Breton corresponded with him for many years; those letters were published as Letters of War (Lettres de guerre) in 1919.
Although originally a Dadaist, Breton eventually broke away from this group, owing to aesthetic differences. In 1924, he published the Surrealist Manifesto (Aux Éditions du Sagittaire), which outlines Surrealist preoccupations and is considered to be the beginning of the Surrealist movement. It also established Breton as the leader of Surrealism, a role he would maintain for the entire duration of the movement. In the manifesto, Breton defined surrealism as “pure psychic automatism, by which an attempt is made to express—either verbally, in writing or in any other manner— the true functioning of thought. The dictation of thought, in the absence of all control by reason, excluding any aesthetic or moral preoccupation.”
During his lifetime, Breton produced a tremendous body of work that contained poetry, novels, criticism, and theory. Of his oeuvre, the collection of poems Mad Love (L’Amour fou) (Gallimard, 1937), the critical text Communicating Vessels (Les vases communicants) (Éditions des Cahiers libres, 1932), and the novel Nadja (Librairie Gallimard, 1928), are considered to be his most valuable contributions to the literary world.
Breton died in Paris on September 28, 1966.