In the central chapter of Mad Love (L’Amour fou), Breton (1896–1966) narrates the uncanny encounter of the ‘Sunflower Night’ which underpins the book as a whole. His account is prefaced with the following authorial remarks:

Several times I have recounted a series of facts relating to some intimate circumstances of my life [here, a footnote refers the reader to Breton’s earlier works, Nadja and Les Vases communicants], strange enough to deserve attention. Only a precise and absolutely careful reference to the emotional state of the subject to whom such things happen can furnish any basis for their evaluation. Surrealism has always suggested that they be written like a medical report. 1

The quasi-medical discourse in which Breton writes is specified in Nadja (1928, revised for a new edition in 1963) to be modelled on the plain and objective style of the neuropsychiatric report. 2 Breton’s use of the term subject in this quotation to refer to himself is a striking instance of this. I have adopted it as the title of this chapter not only because it testifies to Breton’s medical background and war-time experiences in psychiatry and neurology, but also because it shadows the practice of another quasi-medical discourse on the mind, psychoanalysis. Breton and Surrealism find their place in this investigation first and foremost from the importance of the movement in the literary representation of dreams, madness, and the irrational, and for their unstinting efforts to access and express the unconscious mind. They also earn our attention for being the first point of contact between French literary culture and Freudian psychoanalysis, and for being the most sustained fellow-travellers of psychoanalytic theory in a century which has seen no shortage of Freudian fictions. With Breton we have the opening chapter in the story of a mutual infatuation between psychoanalysis and French literary culture which will last for the whole of the twentieth century, and recur throughout the remainder of this book. Breton’s long engagement with the psychoanalytic model of the mind is fundamental to his work, yet, as we shall see, he is no slavish disciple of Freudian theory, as his prickly relationship with Freud himself demonstrates. Breton’s interest in the occult, his belief in prophetic dreams and malignant auras, orient his representation of the mind in a distinctly different direction from Freud’s sober materialism, and create some unlikely parallels between the determinedly impious Surrealist and the religious novelists of the previous chapter.