Saint-Exupery, Antoine de
Born June 29, 1900, in Lyon, France; shot down during reconnaissance flight over southern France and reported missing in action, July 31, 1944; son of Jean (some sources say Cesar) and Marie Boyer (de Fonscolombe) de Saint-Exupery; married Consuelo Gomez Carillo, 1931. Education: Attended École Bossuet and Lycée Saint-Louis (naval preparatory schools), 1917-19; attended school for air cadets at Avord, France, 1922.
Aviator and writer. Worked as a tile manufacturer, flight instructor, and truck salesperson, c. 1920s; Latecoere Co. (became Air France), Toulouse, France, commercial pilot flying between France and western Africa, 1926-27; commander of airport at Cape Juby, Morocco, 1927-28; directed Argentinian subsidiary of company and established airmail route in South America from Brazil to Patagonia, 1929-31; test pilot of hydroplanes over Mediterranean Sea, Perpignan, France, 1933; publicity agent and magazine writer, 1934; pilot, late 1930s; foreign correspondent for newspapers, including Paris Soir and Intransigeant, beginning 1935; lecturer and freelance writer in the United States, 1940-43. Military service: Served in French Army Air Force, 1921-26 and during World War II; became captain in Air Corps Reserve, 1939; received Croix de Guerre for courage on reconnaissance flights, 1940; instructor for flying squadron in northern Africa, 1943; reconnaissance pilot between Algeria, Italy, and southern France, 1944.
Prix Femina (France), 1931, for Vol de Nuit; French Legion of Honor Award, 1929, for peaceful negotiations with Spaniards and Moors in Morocco; Grand Prix from Academie Française, 1939, for Terre des Hommes and other writings; Prix des Ambassadeurs (France), 1948, for Citadelle; Wind, Sand, and Stars named Best Adventure Book of the Last One Hundred Years, Outside magazine, 2002; the Lyon Saint-Exupery Airport is named in his honor.
Courrier Sud (novel), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1929, translation by Stuart Gilbert published as Southern Mail, illustrations by Lynd Ward, H. Smith & R. Haas (New York, NY), 1933, translation by Curtis Cate bound with Night Flight, Heinemann (London, England), 1971, published separately as Southern Mail, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1972.
Vol de nuit (novel), preface by André Gide, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1931, translation by Stuart Gilbert published as Night Flight, Century (New York, NY), 1932, translation by Curtis Cate bound with Southern Mail, Heinemann (London, England), 1971.
(And illustrator) Le petit prince (for children), Reynal & Hitchcock, 1943, translation by Katherine Woods published as The Little Prince, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1943, translated by Richard Howard, 2000.
Terre des hommes, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1939, translation by Lewis Galantiere published as Wind, Sand, and Stars, Reynal & Hitchcock, 1939, with illustrations by John O. Cosgrave II, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1949, revised translation, Heinemann (London, England), 1970.
Pilote de guerre, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1942, translation by Lewis Galantiere published as Flight to Arras, illustrations by Bernard Lamotte, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1942, reprinted, 1985.
Citadelle, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1948, translation by Stuart Gilbert published as The Wisdom of the Sands, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1950, with introduction by Wallace Fowlie, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1979.
Carnets, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1953, revised edition, introduction by Pierre Chevrier, 1975.
Saint-Exupery par lui-meme, illustrations by Luc Estang, Seuil (Paris, France), 1956.
Un sens a la vie, compiled and edited by Claude Reynal, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1956, translation by Adrienne Foulke published as A Sense of Life, Funk & Wagnalls (New York, NY), 1965.
Ecrits de guerre, 1939-1944 (includes Lettre a un otage), preface by Raymond Aron, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1982, translation by Norah Purcell published as Wartime Writings, 1939-1944, introduction by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1986.
Lettre a un otage (also see below), Brentano's (New York, NY), 1943, translation by Jacqueline Gerst published as Letter to a Hostage, Heinemann (London, England), 1950.
(Self-illustrated) Lettres de jeunesse, 1923-1931 (also see below), introduction by Renée de Saussine, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1953, published as Lettres a l'amie inventee, Plon (Paris, France), 1953.
Lettres a sa mere (also see below), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1955, revised edition, 1984.
Lettres de Saint-Exupery: Lettres a sa mere, Lettres de jeunesse, Lettre a un otage, Club du Meilleur Livre, 1960.
Airman's Odyssey (omnibus volume; contains Wind, Sand, and Stars; Night Flight; and Flight to Arras), Reynal & Hitchcock, 1943, with introduction by Richard Bach, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1984.
Oeuvres completes (complete works), illustrations by the author and others, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1950.
Pages choisies (selected works), introduction by Michel Quesnel, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1962.
Oeuvres completes de Saint-Exupery, Volume 1: Courrier sud [and] Terre des hommes, Volume 2: Vol de nuit [and] Pilote de guerre, Volume 3: Lettre a un otage [and] Un sens a la vie, Volume 4: Lettres a sa mere [and] Le petit prince, Volumes 5 and 6: Citadelle, Volume 7: Carnets, Club de l'Honnete Homme, 1985.
A Guide for Grown-ups: Essential Wisdom from the Collected Works of Antoine de Saint-Exupery, edited by Anna Marlis Burgard, Harcourt, 2002.
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Courrier Sud (screenplay; adapted from author's novel of the same title), released in France, 1937.
Contributor to periodicals, including Harper's, New York Times Magazine, Senior Scholastic, and Navire d'Argent.
Night Flight was adapted into a motion picture of the same title, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1933; The Little Prince was adapted into a motion picture of the same title, Paramount, 1975, with a screenplay and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner published by Paramount, 1974. The Little Prince was read in English by Peter Ustinov and recorded by Argo, 1972; Le Petit Prince was read in French by Gerard Phillipe and Georges Poujouly and recorded by Everest, 1973.
"There are certain rare individuals … who by the mere fact of their existence put an edge on life, their ceaseless astonishment before its possibilities awakening our own latent sense of renewal and expectation. No one ever stood out more conspicuously in this respect than the French aviator and author Antoine de Saint-Exupery," extolled Nona Balakian in the New York Times Book Review. A pilot before and during World War II, Saint-Exupery was praised for the lyricism with which he describes the exhilaration of flight, the wonder of childhood, and his visions of both personal and global peace. Throughout his writings, which include two novels and several essays, Saint-Exupery expresses the "paradoxical truth," as noted French author André Gide wrote in his preface to the pilot's novel Vol de Nuit—Night Flight—that an individual's contentment "lies not in freedom but in his acceptance of a duty." Even Saint-Exupery's children's tale, Le Petit Prince—The Little Prince—for which he is probably best known among English-language readers, depicts responsibility as a necessary element of love.
In both his personal and professional life, Saint-Exupery lived according to the principles he espoused in his writings. Having developed a childhood interest in flying during family vacations near the French airport at Bugey, he became a military aviator soon after failing his exams at naval school—perhaps intentionally, some biographers speculate. Saint-Exupery combined his enthusiasm for flying with a strong sense of duty to his country by serving as an air force pilot in the early 1920s and in World War II, and as a pioneering long-distance airmail pilot in Africa and South America during the interim. In 1929 he received the French Legion of Honor Award for bringing about peaceful negotiations with feuding Spaniards and Moors during his command of an airport in Morocco, and in 1940 he was awarded the Croix de Guerre for the bravery he demonstrated on reconnaissance flights during the Battle of France. He insisted on serving in the air force during World War II even when told he was too old to fly, working as an instructor when necessary and as a pilot when allowed. He began his final mission—one of a series of reconnaissance flights over northern Africa, southern Italy, and
southern France—on July 29, 1944. He was reported missing two days later and was shot down over southern France. The search for his plane ended in 1998 when a bracelet engraved with the name of the author's wife was found off the coast of Marseille; the wreckage of his plane was discovered and retrieved in 2003.
Both Pilot and Writer from the First
Saint-Exupery began recording his piloting experiences during the 1920s, and he had his first book published in 1929. Courrier sud—Southern Mail—a semi-autobiographical novel about an airmail pilot's failed romance, describes the glory of flight, the potential sadness of love, and the comfort found in attending to one's responsibilities. Night Flight, a novel published two years later, concerns the director of a postal airline and includes descriptions of Saint-Exupery's pioneering—and often hazardous—night flights across South America. "For the most part," wrote M. Parry in Modern Language Review, Saint-Exupery "deals with individuals who are prepared to risk their lives for something which will endure beyond themselves."
In response to critics who accused Saint-Exupery of portraying aviators as unrealistically heroic, the author's admirers asserted that he considered pilots no better than any other people. Rather, he used his often mystical airborne experiences and the ideal qualities he saw in good pilots to illustrate the spiritual contentment people sought and the ideal qualities he believed everyone could possess. "Saint-Exupery's characters are not interested in the plane as machine," observed Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor Catharine Savage Brosman, "but in what it allows them to do." Similarly, Saint-Exupery was not interested in his characters and stories as simply pilots and events, but as metaphors to help him describe ideas he found otherwise indescribable. "The most significant passages" of Southern Mail, according to Parry, "deal indirectly with metaphysical ideas such as time, change and movement, and the desire to penetrate beyond the surface appearance of reality to discover an underlying essence."
In an essay in the French Review, Bonner Mitchell observed that Saint-Exupery "was venturing upon largely unbroken ground in choosing to write directly about 'man's fate' while remaining in the realm of belles-lettres. Like [French authors André] Malraux, [Jean-Paul] Sartre, and [Albert] Camus after him, he achieved his first successes in the novel, but his message fitted less and less well into that form." Saint-Exupery's writings after Night Flight took the form of essays and vignettes, this time frankly autobiographical. Terre des hommes—Wind, Sand, and Stars—conveys the joys and perils of flight and of life itself in its many anecdotes, including one of a desert crash in which Saint-Exupery nearly perished. In 1935 he and a friend had entered a contest sponsored by the French Air Ministry to break the time record for flying from Paris to Saigon, Vietnam. More than two hundred miles into the Libyan desert they crashed and, with almost no water or food, remained for three days before being rescued by a passing Bedouin. For its combination of realistic description and philosophic discussion, Wind, Sand, and Stars was awarded the Grand Prix from France's Academie Française.
Duty to Country and Humanity
Reviewers consider Saint-Exupery's essay collection Pilote de guerre—Flight to Arras—more cohesive than Wind, Sand, and Stars. The author based Flight to Arras on the 1940 reconnaissance mission over German territory for which he received the Croix de Guerre. The text begins by describing Saint-Exupery's preparations and contempt for the mission, which he considers needlessly dangerous. In the course of the flight, however, his contempt gradually transforms into an acceptance of his duty, and possible hazards concern him less as his acceptance strengthens. Brosman praised the lyricism with which Saint-Exupery camouflages potential dangers: "Literary transformations—that is, metaphors—by which he depicts the sky and earth in poetic terms disguise the treachery of the experience, in which a blue evening sky and peaceful countryside below conceal mortal danger." Saint-Exupery ultimately embraces the assignment, pointless and dangerous as the task may still be, as a selfless and patriotic act that he must perform for himself, for his countrymen, and for all of humanity, if only to demonstrate that such selflessness and loyalty are possible. "The pilot before the flight was only conscious of himself as an individual," explained Richard Rumbold and Margaret Stewart in their portrait The Winged Life, "but [he] achieves during it a new sense of 'belonging' which is expressed in almost mystical terms."
Some commentators have considered the author's conclusion in Flight to Arras almost unbelievably patriotic and self-sacrificing, while others have admired Saint-Exupery's ideals. Rumbold and Stewart, for example, described Flight to Arras as "a
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record, sincere, passionate, heart-searching, of Saint-Exupery's own reactions to the disaster to his country which he sees, in a … theme fundamental to the book, as part of the deeper crisis of our times…. In the modern world, he believed, man has lost an essential quality, described variously as a common incentive, a sense of mutual brotherhood, and what he calls the life of the spirit as opposed to the life of the intellect." In dutifully performing his mission as a French military pilot, Rumbold and Stewart suggested, Saint-Exupery was attempting to help restore that "common incentive" among his fellow citizens. The author's success in his attempt was evidenced by the admiration and reverence with which he was regarded by his fellow pilots and compatriots.
The Little Prince
Soon after his flight over Germany, Saint-Exupery traveled to the United States, where he remained three years and wrote The Little Prince, his most popular work among English-language readers. Of all of Saint-Exupery's writings, The Little Prince is often said to provide the most accurate and personal portrait of its author. Philip A. Wadsworth, writing in Modern Language Quarterly, observed that the author frequently recalled his happy childhood in his other writings, though "he never turned to childhood as an escape; for him the past was not another world but was still alive as part of his present." The author was frequently known to doodle whimsical sketches of a small child, and at the urging of friends he drew more sketches and created a story about them. Maxwell A. Smith, writing in his Knight of the Air: The Life and Works of Antoine de Saint-Exupery, described the story The Little Prince as "a delicate and ethereal fairy tale apparently addressed to children," but he added that "its wide philosophical overtones as a parable will be understood only by adults."
The Little Prince is narrated by a pilot who has crashed in the desert—as Saint-Exupery had done in 1935—and is attempting to repair his plane before his provisions run out. Before him appears a child, the Little Prince, who has traveled to earth from his own tiny planet, and who immediately asks the pilot for a drawing of a sheep to take back home. He also requests a muzzle for the sheep, so it won't eat the beautiful rose he has cultivated and grown to love. The Little Prince tells the pilot that when he first arrived on earth he entered a garden containing hundreds of roses identical to his own, and he was filled with sadness as he suddenly realized that his rose was not unique. A fox he befriended, though, told the Little Prince that it was
the time he spent loving and caring for his rose, and his responsibility for keeping the rose alive, that would make his rose special to him. The Little Prince returns to his planet—with the sheep but without the muzzle, which he has forgotten—by asking a poisonous desert snake to bite him. The pilot hopes, as he gazes toward the sky and remembers the Little Prince, that the prince has been able to prevent the sheep from eating his beloved rose.
P. L. Travers believed The Little Prince's interpretation of love and responsibility would "shine upon children with a sidewise gleam." As Travers explained in the New York Herald Tribune Weekly Book Review: "It will strike them in some place that is not the mind and glow there until the time comes for them to comprehend it." Praising The Little Prince's "poetic charm, … its freshness of imagery, its whimsical fantasy, delicate irony and warm tenderness," Smith predicted in Knight in the Air that The Little Prince would "join that select company of books like [Jean de] La Fontaine's Fables, [Jonathan] Swift's Gulliver's Travels, [Lewis] Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and [Maurice] Maeterlinck's Blue Bird, which have endeared themselves to children and grown-ups alike throughout the world." Book sales of The Little Prince over half a century after its initial publication more than substantiated Smith's prediction.
An Unfinished Masterwork
In 1943, after completing The Little Prince, Saint-Exupery returned to his old flying squadron as an instructor and pilot in northern Africa, southern Italy, and southern France. For several years he had been working on his lengthiest and most ambitious writing project, but he had not completed it by the time of his death in 1944. The book, Citadelle—The Wisdom of the Sands—was published in 1948 with few editorial revisions, and it received that year's Prix des Ambassadeurs for exemplifying the spirit of France. "A huge tapestry, woven across the years in hours of solitude and leisure," according to Wadsworth, The Wisdom of the Sands "incorporates every thread of [Saint-Exupery's] thought and serves as a mighty backdrop for his other works." Although the book encompasses Saint-Exupery's main themes, it never mentions flying or pilots; instead, it concerns a society of desert dwellers and the reminiscences and proclamations of their leader. The French title, which means "citadel" or city fortress, noted Brosman, refers simultaneously to "the desert city which is the [book's] geographical center … ; the city of God … ; and the fortress within each man." Saint-Exupery's intent is to depict the "responsibility and interdependency," in Brosman's words, of the city's chief and his people—his responsibility for them, theirs for him, and theirs for each other—just as he emphasized his own country's and all of humanity's responsibility and interdependency in his earlier writings.
The Wisdom of the Sands has often been compared with the Christian Old Testament and Friedrich Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra because of its length and its weighty, majestic tone. Some critics, including Rumbold and Stewart, lamented the fact that Saint-Exupery could not revise The Wisdom of the Sands before the volume's publication, as he had done dozens of times with his other manuscripts. "It is perhaps unfair to judge a work which was never completed or revised," acknowledged Rumbold and Steward, "but, as it stands, it is little more than a series of rambling, disconnected notes, and consequently produces, particularly when taken as a whole, an impression of verbosity and even incoherence." Reviewers such as Wadsworth, however, felt that the book's "rough-draft form … displays the author's entire and intimate expression of thought before being revised to meet his high artistic standards…. If this book lacks the nervous quality, the charged meanings, to which we are accustomed in Saint Exupery," Wadsworth declared, "it has the merit of showing us the author, pen in hand, in the act of baring his soul on paper."
If you enjoy the works of Antoine de Saint-Exupery
If you enjoy the works of Antoine de St. Exupery, you may also want to check out the following books:
Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn, 1968.
Clyde Edgerton, The Floatplane Notebooks, 1988.
Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist, 1993.
For Brosman, The Wisdom of the Sands constitutes a fitting conclusion to Saint-Exupery's body of work. "The unity of Saint-Exupery's work derives from his style, his poetic vision of the world, and his moral concern," asserted Brosman, "which begins in Courrier sud by focusing on the quality of the individual, seen in relation to his tasks, and ends in Citadelle by posing the principles for the city of man." Wadsworth likewise found the themes of morality and responsibility permeating Saint-Exupery's writings and his life. Saint-Exupery's "gift," Wadsworth declared, "was that he saw no frontier between art and life, that he identified in his personality and in all his writing the artist, the thinker, and the man of action."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Breaux, Adele, Saint-Exupery in America, 1942-1943: A Memoir, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press (Rutherford, NJ), 1971.
Chadeau, Emmanuel, Sainte-Exupery, Plon (Paris, France), 1994.
Children's Literature Review, Volume 10, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1986.
DeRamus, Barnett, From Juby to Arras: Engagement in Saint-Exupery, University Press of America (Lanham, MD), 1990.
Des Vallieres, Nathalie, and Roselyne de Ayala, Saint Exupery: Art, Writings, and Musings, translated by Anthony Zielonka, Rizolli (New York, NY), 2004.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 72: French Novelists, 1930-1960, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1988.
Drewermann, Eugen, Discovering the Royal Child Within: A Spiritual Psychology of the Little Prince, Crossroad Publishing, 1993.
Forsberg, Roberta J., Antoine de Saint-Exupery and David Beaty: Poets of a New Dimension, Astra Books (New York, NY), 1974.
Harris, John R., Chaos, Cosmos, and Saint-Exupery's Pilot-Hero: A Study in Mythopoeia, University of Scranton Press (Scranton, PA), 1999.
Higgins, James E., The Little Prince: A Reverie of Substance, Twayne (Boston, MA), 1996.
Masters, Brian, A Student's Guide to Saint-Exupery, Heinemann (London, England), 1972.
Migeo, Marcel, Saint-Exupery: A Biography, Macdonald (London, England), 1961.
Robinson, Joy D. Marie, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Twayne (Boston, MA), 1984.
Rumbold, Richard, and Margaret Stewart, The Winged Life: A Portrait of Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Poet and Airman, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 1953.
Saint-Exupery, Consuelo de, The Tale of the Rose: The Passion That Inspired "The Little Prince," Random House (New York, NY), 2001.
Schiff, Stacy, Saint-Exupery: A Biography, Knopf (New York, NY), 1994.
Smith, Maxwell A., Knight of the Air: The Life and Works of Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Pageant Press, 1956.
Atlantic Monthly, November, 1995, Nancy Caldwell Sorel, "Anne Morrow Lindbergh and Antoine de Saint-Exupery," p. 121.
Economist, December 5, 1998, "Hunting for Saint-Exupery: France's Superboy," p. 104.
French Review, April, 1960.
Horn Book, January-February, 1994, p. 95; July, 2000, review of The Little Prince, p. 429.
Insight on the News, February 6, 1995, p. 27.
Modern Language Quarterly, March, 1951.
Modern Language Review, April, 1974.
New York Herald Tribune Weekly Book Review, April 11, 1943.
New York Times Book Review, August 31, 1986.
School Library Journal, September, 2000, Molly Connally, review of The Little Prince, p. 259.
Time, August 4, 1986.
Washington Post Book World, July 27, 1986.*