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||Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900-1944) - in full Antoine-Marie-Roger de Saint-Exupéry|
French aviator and writer, real life hero who looked at adventure and danger with poet's eyes – sometimes from the viewpoint of a child. Saint-Exupéry's most famous work is The Little Prince (1943), which he also illustrated. One of the classics of children's literature of the 20th century, it became in 2017 the most translated book in the world. During World War II Saint-Exupéry served as a pilot. He was shot down on a mission over France in 1944.
"Grown-ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them." (from The Little Prince)
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was born in Lyons into an old family of provincial nobility; one of his ancestors had fought with the Americans at Yorktown. His father was an insurance company executive, who died of a stroke in 1904. His artistic talented widow, Marie de (Fonscolombe) Exupéry (1875-1972), moved with her children to Le Mans in 1909. Saint-Exupéry spent his childhood years at the castle of Saint-Maurice-de-Rémens, surrounded by sisters, aunts, cousins, nurses, and fräuleins. He was educated at Jesuit schools in Montgré and Le Mans, and in Switzerland at a Catholic boarding school (1915-1917), run by the Marianist Fathers in Fribourg. After failing his final examination at a university preparatory school, he entered the École des Beaux-Arts to study architecture.
The turning point in Saint-Exupéry's life came in 1921 when he
started his military service in the 2ND Regiment of Chasseurs, and was
sent to Strasbourg for training as a pilot. He had flown, with a pilot,
for the first time in 1912. On July 9, 1921, he made his first flight
alone in a Sopwith F-CTEE. Next year Saint-Exupéry obtained his pilot's
licence, and was offered a transfer to the air force. However, when his
fiancée's family objected, he settled in Paris where he took an office
job and started to write. The following years were unlucky. His
engagement with Louise de Vilmorin broke off, and he had no success in
his work and business – he had several jobs, including that of
bookkeeper and automobile salesman. Saint-Exupéry's first tale,
'L'Aviateur' was published in 1926 in the literary magazine Le
Navire d'argent. His true calling Saint-Exupéry then found in
flying the mail for the commercial airline company Compagnie Latécoère. He flew
the mail over North Africa for three years, escaping death several
In 1928 Saint-Exupéry became the director of the remote Cape Juby airfield, one of Latécoère's ports of call between Casablanca and Dakar, on the southern coast of Morocco. The sea around it had an ominous reputation– in ancient times Cathagians, Greeks, and Romans did not sail beyond this section of the coast. Saint-Exupéry's house was a wooden shack, where he slep on a thin straw mattress. "I have never loved my house more than when I lived in the desert," he recalled. At that time Cape Juby was controlled by Spain. The mail passed through Cape Juby only every eight days and Saint-Exupéry had plenty of free time for flying the planes left at the station.
In this isolation Saint-Exupéry learned to love the desert, and used its harsh beauty as the background for The Little Prince and The Wisdom of the Sands (1948). During these years Saint-Exupéry wrote his first novel, Southern Mail (1929), which celebrated the courage of the early pilots, flying at the limits of safety, to speed on the mail and win a commercial advantage over rail and steamship rivals. Another story line in the work depicted the author's failed love affair with the novelist Louise de Vilmorin.
"Over and done with. Thirty thousand letters come safely through. The airline company kept drilling it into you: the precious mail, more precious than life itself. Enough to keep thirty thousand lovers going... Lovers, be patient! In the sinking fire of sunset here we come. Behind Bernis the clouds are thick, churned by the whirlwind in its mountain bowl. Before him lies a land decked out in sunlight, the tender muslin of the meadows, the rich tweed of the woods, the ruffled veil of the sea." (from Night Flight)
In 1929 Saint-Exupéry moved to South America, where he was appointed director of the Aeroposta Argentina Company.
Saint-Exupéry flew post through the Andes. This experience gave the basis for his second novel, Night Flight, which became an international bestseller, won the Prix Femina, and was adapted for screen in 1933, starring Clark Gable and Lionel Barrymore. In the story Rivière, the hard-bitten airport chief, has left behind all thoughts of retirement and sees the work of flying the mail as his fate. "We don't ask to be eternal', he thought. 'What we ask is not to see acts and objects abruptly lose their meaning. The void surrounding us then suddenly yawns on every side." (from Night Flight)
Saint-Exupéry married in 1931 Consuelo Gómez Carillo, a widow, whose other literary friends included Maurice Maeterlinck and Gabriele D'Annunzio. "He wasn't like other people," she wrote later in Mémoires de la rose, "but like a child or an angel who has fallen down from the sky." The marriage was stormy. Consuelo was jealous for good reasons and felt neglected, when her husband did not spend much time at home. He also had affairs with other women.
After the air mail business in Argentina was closed down, Saint-Exupéry started to fly post between Casablanca and Port-Étienne and then he served as a test pilot for Air France and other airline companies. He wrote for Paris-Soir and covered the May Day events in Moscow in 1936, and wrote a series of articles on the Spanish Civil War. Saint-Exupéry lived a traveling, adventurous life: he persuaded Air-France to let him fly a Caudron Simoun (F-ANRY), and had an aviation accident in 1935 in North Africa. He walked in the desert for days before being saved by a caravan. In 1937, he bought another Caudron Simoun, and was severely injured in Guatemala in a plane crash.
Encouraged by his friend André Gide, Saint-Exupéry wrote during his convalescence a book about the pilot's profession. Wind, Sand and Stars, which came out in 1939, won the French Academy's 1939 Grand Prix du Roman and the National Book Award in the United States. The director Jean Renoir (1894-1979) wanted to shoot the film and had conversations with the author, mostly about literary subjects which he recorded. At that time Renoir worked in Hollywood where everyone shot on sets. Renoir's idea was to make the film at the locations described in the text. The book had been successful in the U.S. but nobody wanted to produce its film version.
After the fall of France in World War II Saint-Exupéry joined the army, and made several daring flights, although he was considered unable to fly military planes because of his several injures. However, he was awarded the Croix de Guerre. In June he went to live with his sister in the Unoccupied Zone of France, and then he escaped to the United States. When the Vichy régime appointed him to its National Council, he protested at this "untimely appointment." Saint-Exupéry was criticized by his countrymen for not supporting de Gaulle's Free France forces in London. Flight to Arras (1942), published in New York, depicts his hopeless flight over the enemy lines, when France was already beaten. The book was banned in France by the German authorities. In 1943 he rejoined the French air force in North Africa. Also in Algiers he continued his lifelong habit of writing in the air. After a bad landing his commanding officer decided that he was too old to go on flying, but after a pause he was allowed to rejoin his unit. In 1943 Saint-Exupéry published his best-known work, The Little Prince (1943), a children's fable for adults, which has been translated into over 150 languages. It has been claimend that The Little Prince is the best-selling book after the Bible and Karl Marx's Das Kapital. Saint-Exupéry devoted to book to his friend Léon Werth. Its narrator is a pilot who has crash-landed in a desert. He meets a boy, who turns out to be a prince from another planet. The prince tells about his adventures on Earth and about his precious rose from his planet. He is disappointed when he discovers that roses are common on Earth. A desert fox convinces him that the prince should love his own rare rose and finding thus meaning to his life, the prince returns back home. The rare rose is usually interpreted as Consuelo.
On July 31, 1944 Saint-Exupéry took off from an airstrip in Sardinia on a flight over southern France. His plane disappeared – he was shot down over the Mediterranean, or perhaps there was an accident, or it was suicide. Saint-Exupéry had felt isolated and alone his squadron, and was pessimistic about the future. On one mission he had trouble with his oxygen mask and nearly passed out. Saint-Exupéry left behind the unfinished manuscript of La Citadelle (Wisdom of the Sands) and some notebooks, which were published posthumously. "Freedom and constraint are two aspects of the same necessity, which is to be what one is and no other." (from La Citadelle, 1948) The book reflects Saint-Exupéry's increasing interest in politics, and his later ideals. The author's last flight inspired Hugo Pratt's comics Saint-Exupéry (1996). In 1998, a fisherman found Saint-Exupéry's bracelet from the sea, 150 kilometers west from Marseilles. His and Conzuela Gomez Castillo's name were recognized from it. However, later news revealed, that the bracelet was probably a forgery. Eventually Saint-Exupéry plane, Lockheed Lightning P-38, was found in May 2000.
For further reading: Saint-Exupéry by M. Migeo (1932); Saint-Exupéry by P. Chevrier (1950); Saint-Exupéry par lui-même by L. Estang (1956); L'Esthétique de Saint-Exupéry by C.François (1957); Antoine, mon frère by Simone de Sait-Exupéry (1963); Antoine De Saint-Exupery by Joy Marie Robinson (1984); Antoine De Saint-Exupery: His Life and Times by Curtis Cate (1990); Saint-Exupéry by Stacy Schiff (1994); Poet and Pilot Antoine De Saint-Exupery by John Phillips and Charles-Henri Favrod (1994); Mémoires de la rose by Consuelo de Saint-Exupéry (2000); 'Writing from above: representations of landscapes, places and people in the works of Antoine de Saint-Exupery' by B. Daley, in Journal of Cultural Geography, Vol 26; Number 2 (2009) ; Dictionnaire Saint-Exupéry: sa famille, ses amis, son œuvre, préface de François d'Agay (2013) - Other pilots who became writers: Joseph Heller, James Dickey.