Friday, October 2, 2009

Saint-Exupery and his little prince.

(For Erin and Rachel.)
  • Saint-Exupery was born in Lyon, France in 1900.
  • Flying was his earliest ambition.
  • He was not the most studious of children and failed the examination that would have allowed him to enter the French naval academy, so instead studied architecture at a renowned art school before joining the military in 1921.
  • It was in the military that he first learned how to pilot.
  • He had to give it up for a time to appease his then-fiance's father, who believed it was too dangerous of a career.
  • When the relationship fell apart he returned to the air, this time to carry mail to distant lands.
  • At the Parisian home of a distant relative, Proust, the secretary of a French magazine asked him to write something. He did so.
  • It was a short story, largely autobiographical in nature about a pilot who became depressed each time he left his plane.
  • It was published in the April edition of that year, and was met with success and also surprise.
  • From that time forth Saint-Exupery continued to write about aviation.
  • Other pilots became distrustful of him, and felt like he was betraying secrets they didn't know they had.
  • He was not always the most careful flyer, and had some very serious accidents, many of which were his own fault.
  • In 1935 he crashed in the Libyan desert. He and his copilot wandered for three days without water and suffered many hallucinations before being rescued and given a native restorative treatment.
  • In 1938 a crash put him in a coma for several days, fractured his skull in seven places, and almost robbed him of an arm.
  • Shortly thereafter he moved to New York with his wife--to heal, and also to escape German occupied France.
  • His American publishers were also influential in this move: they got his visa, booked his boat ride, found him a flat overlooking Central Park, and commissioned him to write a book on his philosophy of the war, which they hoped would explain French defeatism to an American audience who didn't understand.
  • The book, Flight to Arras, originally received approval by the Germans, but that approval was quickly rescinded.
  • Around this time Saint-Ex began work on The Little Prince.
  • A story suggests that one of his publishers caught him drawing a small child on his table cloth and asked who it was. He answered, "Nothing much. It is the child in my heart." The publisher then requested he write the tale of this child.
  • Another proposes it was the wife of the publisher, who wanted him to write a fairy tale before that coming Christmas.
  • Still another story says Saint-Ex was sitting on the idea for seven years or so, and that he received further inspiration by hearing Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid while lying in a hospital bed in New York. This version also mentions the gift of a watercolor set received around the same time.
  • Whatever its inception, The Little Prince was written during the course of a summer and most of a fall, almost entirely at nighttime, on a diet of coffee and cigarettes.
  • He frequently called his friends during all hours of that nighttime to discuss what he had just written.
  • He also employed their services for his illustrations. "The son of philosopher De Konnick supposedly served as the model for certain poses. Sylvia Reinhardt's boxer dog for the tiger, and a friend's poodle provided the inspiration for the drawing of the famous sheep," and so forth.
  • It came out April 6, 1943 in both French and English and was given a lot of press from the New York Times.
  • People were not quite sure what to make of it. It was so different than what he'd written before, and it was unclear whether it was a fable for children or adults.
  • The aviator-turned-poet died just one year later on July 31, 1944 while on a reconnaissance mission for the allies. He was 8 years older than the standard age limit for pilots at that time.
  • An unsent letter was found in his barracks: "I do not care if I die in the war...but if I come back alive...there will be only one question for me: What can one say to mankind? What does one have to say to mankind?"
  • It is estimated that over 80 million copies of The Little Prince have been sold worldwide. Another claim states that it "is the best best-selling book after the Bible and Karl Marx's Das Kapital."
  • The Little Prince has been translated into over 210 different languages and dialects, including Latin.
  • First edition prints generally range from $2,000-$20,000.


bing said...

Very recently I found The Little Prince, like an old friend, in a drawer. I read and remembered it while on my breaks at work. It brought me back to Klamath Falls. It gave me not only things remembered, but things previously unnoticed. I treasure the old and the new of it. Love the warmth Th Little Prince brought me.

Rachel. said...

You read it in K Falls? How did I not know that? And how did I not read it until college? Anyway, it is like an old friend. I love that little prince, and that fox, and that flower.

L'homme pressé said...

Why am I seeing this everywhere right now. I just bought this book for a friend's birthday two weeks ago and then its everywhere I look.

Merinmel Caesg said...

"Nothing much. It is the child in my heart."

beautiful. Thanks for sharing :)

Rachel. said...

David, I like that it is everywhere you look.

Erin, you are welcome. I love you.

Joe C said...

David: if you are somewhat of a mystic, as I am, you may consider that Saint-Exupéry is looking out for you, perhaps praying for you. There's something meaningful to be learned and I believe many recurrences are clues, not necessary coincidence.

My older brothers and I have had recurrences of the number 44 in our lives and curious about Saint-Exupéry, I just found out he died at 44 in 1944.

Just an aside: I came here by searching "it is the child in my heart," curious about the origin (I read that here:

Back to adulthood. :)