A Critical Essay about “Nadja” by Andre Breton
A little girl appears in the scene of “ Nadja” and then disappears, with the mania of tearing away the eyes of her dolls just to see what’s there behind them. These silent mutilating activities lead us to that one question Breton asks: What is there that is so extraordinary in those eyes? Eyes that in, other terms-hanter, for example-come to say more than what they mean. Breton will write: “Nantes: Perhaps with Paris, the only city in France where I feel that something worth while can happen to me, where certain eyes burn all to brightly for their own sake (I noticed this only last year, the time it took to cross Nantes by car and see that woman-a working woman, I think, raise her eyes: I should have stopped”
Then, the eyes of a perturbed beauty will appear:Young, magnificent eyes that mingle languor with subtlety, cruelty,and despair. To the owner of these cruel eyes, Breton will send his inalterable words as designators: “I would have had to get closer to her…” The eyes that unlocked an entrance for Solange’s curse will close again, leaving room for the opening of Nadja’s eyes: “I have seen her fern-colored eyes open mornings on a world where the beating of hope’s great wings is scarcely distinct from the other sounds which are those of terror and, upon such a world, I had yet seen eyes do nothing but close…” And so Nadja advances, floating in a valley belonging to the night (“last year, a body was discovered in the well”).
She moves carrying her head up high, unlike everyone else on the sidewalk, and her feet scarcely seem to touch the ground, a walk so characteristic of a queen of exile.
What is surprising too, is the opposition between Solange and Nadja. The blonde of Nadja’s hair contrasts against the black in the rims of her eyes, and she has defying eyes, eyes made for being nowhere but on the streets, the only region of valid experience for her. Solange doesn’t recur to make-up, but her eyes are only defiant on a theatre stage, and not on the streets. Nadja’s walk embodies that of a wonderful heroin wrapped in an aura that protects her and keeps her distant. At the same time, it is relevant to recall an exquisite sign that Breton distinguishes with the image of Caroline de Gunderode: That distressing expression of a promised summer night, because it was her then, the woman who killed herself at the Rhin’s shore, who started the order of the nocturnal ladies. Shadows carved by the force of black thunder, these nocturnal ladies cannot find shelter in the forest, but run into another traveler, instead, who joins them, gifted with the power to provide shelter. With her they embrace, and inside her they disappear like one who enters a cave, or an enchanted opening in a forest (…and you will not have in this life other pleasures but those that only children can promise through the idea of enchanted openings and deep wells.)
The October 11 entry of a short encounter with Nadja leaves evidence of the dissatisfaction Breton feels about that day, which has been lost to the hours that pass by without a reason. “ Besides, Nadja has come late and I expect nothing extraordinary from her.” She, who was the power to define those messages sent by silence, can also define time: “ Time is a tease, time is a tease-because everything has to happen in its own time.” Her need to find a meaning to time’s inevitable limits, and to judge time, isn’t exceptional or particularly memorable but it does offer a clue to the labyrinthic adventure lived between Breton and Nadja.“ Time is a tease, time is a tease because everything has to happen in it’s own time.” And what didn’t arrive (or happen) at the time it should have arrived (or happened)? The meeting between Breton and Nadja: Meeting that didn’t take place because Nadja arrived too late. “ Nadja has come late and I expect nothing extraordinary from her”…
Nadja arrives late, not on the annotated date Breton writes about, but on that other day, when they meet and Breton is amazed by her fern-colored eyes. Because she doesn’t show up when her presence is necessary and the encounter gets delayed, instead of an “exceptional encounter”, what happens between them is merely a “late reencounter”
Before Nadja’s disappearance from Breton’s life and from the book, the author declares, within his series of observations, a wish of his: his most unsteady and inseparable desire. This wish loses currency once it is transcribed, and becomes no more than another shadow: the reminder of a wish. “ I have always beyond belief hoped to meet, at night and in the woods, a beautiful naked woman, or rather since such a wish once expressed means nothing, I regret beyond belief not having met her…”
It is true that an encounter like this one would have (and should have) happened. But, also, the opposite is true: “ Dream in her, do not seek for more answers.”
If one night, granted by the grace of chance, Breton would have found a naked beauty in the woods (if the traffic from this wish towards a reality would have taken place) Breton wouldn’t have found himself writing “ Nadja.” in the first place. It is probable that the condition of the poet is one that leads him to adopt the role of a ghost. “ Who am I? If this once I were to rely on a proverb, then perhaps everything would amount to knowing whom I haunt” One of the required duties of this ghost could consist in circling the gates of this forest without being able to get in, like if the woods were a restricted valley. “ At the end of the second quatrain, her eyes brim and are filled with the vision of a forest. She sees the poet passing near this wood, as though she could follow him at a distance: “No, he’s skirting in the forest. He cannot enter, he does not enter”
Nadja, sitting at a coffee shop table with Breton, reads with amazement a poem by Alfred Jerry about someone (a poet) who doesn’t do anything else but wonder around a forest. Suddenly, Nadja is frightened by those words and shuts the book: “-Oh, that must be death!” It is possible that the one who is sitting with Breton is the same one who wanders endlessly inside the forest of his ancient desire.
Nadja seems to know that the real place in where they should have met was there, in that forest, and at night. She also knows that this meeting will be impossible now because it is late, and any kind of connection between them will never be based exclusively on Love.
Another kind of attachment will unite them though, a beautiful one without a doubt, but inferior to any “incredible” feeling such as love. It will consist of a chase inside their childish game that alternates between two movements: One will be luminous and illicit (like all true love is) and the other one will be the opposite: a path which will lead Nadja to somersault into the frontiers of the valley of death.“ Can you see what’s going on in the trees? The blue and the wind, the blue wind. I’ve seen that blue wind pass through these same trees only once before. It was there, from a window (…) and there was a voice saying: You’re going to die. I didn’t want to die, but I felt so dizzy…”
Even if the poet were able to manage unlocking the gates of the forest and entering, he still wouldn’t be able to get rid of his role as a ghost, and besides it would be impossible for him to escape those doors once in. But, then again, what other thing does Breton do in the entire novel if it is not to escape? He runs away from Nadja, of course, and for that he has more than enough motives: Nadja’s madness is one of them. Her delayed entrance in Breton’s life is, then, a precious contribution to the ultimate mystery in the novel.
One night they take a train. When Breton proposes to get off in Veniset, Nadja accepts and suggests that they take a walk through the woods. “ No, he’s skirting through the forest. He cannot enter. He does not enter” Everything becomes a sign that points out their inevitable delayed arrival.“ At Le Veniset, where everything is closed for the night, it’s impossible to find lodgings. The prospect of wondering through the woods is no longer alluring” Nadja’s suggestion has been rejected because of black lights and sunset, and because those locked doors point out to one lonely word “impossible” and to that one term belonging to destiny and to the irremediable claim made by disaster.
For the two nocturnal wonderers there is only one possibility that remains intact and covered in irony: To return from nowhere and arrive back into nowhere. At the end of this impossible alliance, Breton will wonder about the “real Nadja.” He doesn’t forget the one who told stories of sad lovers and mercenary love, but he does dedicate his devotion to the other Nadja, her perfect opposition who “sometimes fell.” Breton’s comments about Nadja give her back her main role and make her the mediator, “the ever inspired and inspiring creature” She is an instrument of vision and, at the same time, the wonderer with violent eyes who chose the streets as her main educator.
And it is this Nadja who had narrated a story to Breton and led him in the walk through those woods. Her tale bears witness of the presence of a woman who doesn’t have room to fit inside this world. More than a walk with Breton, what she takes is the wrong path, even though it is nighttime, through Fontainebleau Forest, and with the wrong poet (an archeologist) in search of “ stone remains.” The stone and its unending representations, the word “remains” and the participation of this archeologist, in the end serve to compose a ceremony which lead to a “never more” between Breton and Nadja, such a perfect adagio dedicated to the melody of the forest and to that girl with the violently open eyes.