Surrealism in English Literature – Meaning and Characteristics


Surrealism is a literary movement that emerged in Europe during the early 20th century at the end of the Victorian era. Being a movement that came after World War I, it wanted to go beyond rationality and logic and tapped into fantasy and surreal reality. 

Characteristics of Surrealism

The Unconscious

Surrealists were fascinated by the unconscious mind and what lay within it. They were quite taken by Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis and wanted to use the same to produce art.


In the quest to unravel what was hidden in the unconscious part of the brain, Surrealists often used automatic writing techniques that aimed to create art creatively and spontaneously via the subconscious. 

Dreamlike Imagery

This fascination of theirs extended to dreams and the irrational meanings they stood for. Poetry of this period thus had a lot of dreamlike imagery that was often strange and bizarre.


Surrealists often employed juxtaposition as a literary device. They used it to bring together rather contrasting ideas that teased the reader’s intellect by going against logic and reason. 

Surrealism Major Poets’ List and Their Important Works

André Breton

Breton is known as the founder of the Surrealist movement. Famous works of his include “The First Surrealist Manifesto”, and “Nadja”. 

Paul Éluard

Éluard is again a prominent member of the movement, known for his surrealistic poetry and exploration of the human mind. Famous works of his include his collection “The Love Poems” and “The Capital of Pain”.

Robert Desnos

Yet another eminent member of Surrealism would be Desnos, who was renowned for his dreamlike poetry that often came about with automatic writing techniques. Famous works of his include “Liberty or Love!” and “The Night of Loveless Nights”.


Surrealism thus was an important movement that came with the end of the Victorian era– after movements that explored the dark side of humans, this was one that directly tapped into the human psyche in itself.