Connor McCabe

By some, Nadja is considered to be a great surrealist romance.  This is probably due to the fact that one of the few linear things a reader can grasp onto with this piece is that some sort of romantic relationship exists with Breton and Nadja.  Is this book a true romance?  Is this a love story between two people?  In reading the book, one immediately sees a relationship between Nadja and Breton, but in the ends it seems as though there is no true romance between the two of them.  Somehow the book takes a turn in it’s conclusion and we are left feeling as though love some how transcends everything that came before the conclusion.  Does this make Nadja a romance?

In the scenes between Breton and Nadja, one can see a clear power that Breton has over her.  He continually reminds us of that saying things such as, “she tells me of my power over her, of my faculty for making her think and do whatever I desire” (79).  It seems that there is an imbalance of power within the relationship; Nadja appears to be much more in love with Breton than he is with her.  He seems to revel in this fact, enjoying that Nadja “take[s] me [him] for a god, she thinks of me [him] as the sun” (111).  Breton paints the picture of a woman who cannot exist without the presence and adoration of the man she loves.  It is hard to say though, whether or not this is an accurate depiction of Nadja at all.  One cannot truly say whether or not Breton is a reliable narrator.

This ultimately leads us to wonder what Breton’s point of view is on this woman.  Is Breton truly in love with her, or does he simply enjoy being so adored?  In one passage, Breton seems to ask himself the very same question.  Here, he admits that he has at least some fascination with her and possibly “observe[s] her too much” and wonders “How does she regard me, how does she judge me” (90).  This section here does seem to show that Breton at least cares about Nadja’s opinion of him at least.  He then, shows quite plainly that he is not sure about his opinion towards her when he literally asks himself the question of whether or not he is in love with Nadja.  From this moment on, one begins to continue to wonder about Breton’s feelings toward Nadja.

From certain accounts later in the piece, it can be drawn that at some point Breton felt strong emotion for her.  He admits to reacting “with terrible violence against” stories she told and at times “wept a long time after hearing” her accounts (113,114).  It seems that this relationship did reach a point of high emotional intensity for him, but eventually he realized he “shouldn’t see Nadja again, not that I [he] couldn’t” (114).  Though he does not do this immediately, Nadja evaporates from his life.  He hints at the fact that he wants her to evaporate from his mind as well when he says, “I no longer wish to remember, as the days go by, any but a few of her sentences” (115).  Then why has he set out to attempt to compile so many memories he has of this woman?  It seems as if Breton is possibly attempting at some sort of freedom from this woman by writing this piece.

Towards the end of the novel, it seems that maybe Breton has attempted at some sort of redemption from Nadja.  He begins to address someone directly, calling them “you.”  It is in this passage that it seems as though we truly begin to witness Breton reveal deeper depths of emotion.  He spends a great deal of the book explaining how he compels Nadja to act in certain ways and here, he explains how this other does that to him.  He says, “You make me so greatly regret,” and says that we are “the most vital of beings” (156,157).  Furthermore, he goes on to flatter us as well we are called “ideally beautiful” and that we “do so wonderfully all that you [we] do” (157).  From this passage one can possibly say that it seems as if Breton is really in love with this person, not Nadja.

In a way, he goes on to admit this. He says: “Without doing it on purpose, you have taken the place of the forms most familiar to me, as well as of several figures of my foreboding.  Nadja was one of these last, and it is just that you should have hidden her from me” (157).  This new being has come in and taken the place of Nadja and they will be the last person to replace anyone because “nothing can be substituted for you” (158).  These statements seem to be more definite than anything he spoke of Nadja.  He appreciates this new love for being anything but “an enigma” which Nadja most certainly was (158).  He attributes the writing of the novel and the finishing of it to this new lover.  It seems as if Breton has almost find some sort of peace by meeting this person and coming to the end of his writing.  Who is this person?  It doesn’t seem as though it can be said definitively.  At first, one almost thinks he is speaking to his audience.  Who other “you” could there be?  But then, when he mentions how the person has smiled at him “through thickets of tears” it seems as though it may actually be another person (158).

So, with all this in mind, is this book a romance?  Does it exist between Breton and Nadja, Breton and this mystery woman or Breton and the reader?  It’s difficult to say, because it is difficult to say exactly what a surrealist romance is.  The novel is certainly a chain of associations regarding a relationship.  However, it is a relationship that failed and the memories that Breton has of it now are not loving ones.  In the end, it seems that he arrives at a place of romance with some other figure, but it is not Nadja.  At some point, maybe he was once in love with Nadja, but clearly he no longer feels that way.  His retelling of his memories of her are too tainted by his present feelings for her.  Because of this, it really could never have been a love story; he no longer loves her.  It seems, as if he knew from the beginning that he would not end this book thinking highly of Nadja.  He does, however, seem to concede to the fact that it ends differently than he anticipated.  He attributes this to his new found love: “This conclusion has its true meaning and all its strength only through your intercession” (158).  The course of the novel does not seem to tell a love story, but it certainly ends in romance.  Maybe this is what a surrealist romance is, a book that shows free associations of love throughout its contents ending with some sort of revelation regarding the emotion itself.

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