Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was born 120 years ago

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was born 120 years ago

Lyon, 29 June 1900 – Marseille, 31 July 1944

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of the most beloved literary tale of the 20th century

“Do not expect anything from those who work for their own lives and not for eternity.”

Anybody that can write like that is worth reading.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry sought in his short life to leave a remarkable and lasting legacy behind. His most famous and important work is The Little Prince; the heart-warming lines and timeless truths in the book should be heard both by adults and by children, especially in a cold world like today.

The world-famous French writer, essayist and aviator was born in Lyon into a noble family, third of five children. The village of Saint-Exupéry in the Aquitaine region (in the present-day Gironde department) had been owned by their ancestors in medieval times, that is where their surname came from. His old rural aristocratic family meant more to him than anything else.

He lost his father at an early age, and his deeply religious mother moved her family to a castle owned by one of her relatives. Little Antoine began writing poetry and fell in love with aviation at an early age. He was an inventive child, for example he once attached wings to his bicycle and rode it very fast, hoping to rise up into the sky. Taking his first airplane ride at the age of 12 was a profound experience for him. That was when he decided he would grow up to be an aviator. He realised his childhood dream of flying during his compulsory military service after being sent to Strasbourg for flight training. He received his wings the following year and transferred to the Air Force. He devoted every moment of his spare time to writing. He was engaged to a young noble lady who also had literary aspirations. He left the Air Force at the request of his fiancée and her family, then settled in Paris and took an office job. Their relationship failed shortly thereafter, and the couple broke off their engagement. Antoine returned to aviation in 1926, at the age of 26, by becoming a mail pilot flying between Toulouse and Dakar.

A few years later, he was made the director of an airfield in the Sahara and then of an airmail company in Argentina. He spared more and more time for writing. At this time, he was already working on his first novel Southern Mail, which, in its final form, would be published in 1928. One year later, he moved to Buenos Aires, where he spent a year and a half as the director of Aeroposta Argentina. In 1931, he married Consuelo Suncín, widow of an Argentinian journalist; some critics argue that Antoine portrayed his wife as the single rose on the little prince’s home asteroid in The Little Prince. Night Flight was his first true literary success, receiving the Prix Femina literary prize. He enjoyed the fame associated with his literary success and was awarded with several literary prizes and awards.

All his writings were inspired by his experience as a pilot. His plane crashed in the Libyan Desert in 1935, where he and his co-pilot wandered the desert for five days, without food and water, until they were discovered. This near-death experience inspired him to write Wind, Sand and Stars (Terre des hommes) published in 1939, which won the Grand Prix du Roman (Grand Prize for a Novel) of the French Academy.

From a literary perspective, his most important work, The Little Prince was published with his own illustrations in New York in 1943. The most famous line of the book has become a well-known saying: ‘It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.’ The book has since been translated into more than 200 languages 

Saint-Exupéry wrote himself into immortality with this wonderful and mystical tale. The Little Prince regularly draws new readers, which is still one of the most read books in the world, cherished by children and adults alike. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is among the most-cited authors. We quote him when we are happy, sad, long for something or look for the truth. His books are veritable gold mines of well-formulated sayings and guidance about all life situations. His writings teach generations about the importance of human purity and the power of human beauty. All books of the writer convey a pure outlook on life in relation to money, spiritual values and the purpose of life.

Saint-Exupéry’s novels feature the beauty of flight and human purity in overcoming difficulties as underlying themes. The classic story of The Little Prince, like all of his other novels, begins with a flying adventure, which continues in the world of poetic imagination, far from reality. It takes us to a real fantasy world where a mysterious and pure-hearted little boy, the owner of asteroid-planet B-612, tries to discover and understand his planetary neighbours and the adult world in a naive and childish way. After visiting six planets, he learns that many people live meaningless existences, but the fox tells him what meaning of life is, that the greatest treasure in life is love, and that people become responsible, forever, for what they ‘have tamed’.

Flying was his life and became his ultimate destiny

When the Second World War erupted, Saint-Exupéry joined the French Air Force and became a military reconnaissance pilot. The German occupation forced him to flee from the country for New York, but he returned to Europe to fight for his country. In 1944, a few weeks before the liberation of Paris, he died on a reconnaissance mission. At the age of 44, before taking him off flying status, he was assigned one last reconnaissance mission to collect intelligence on a German troop in the Rhone Valley. At night on 31 July 1944, he took off on his last flight and never returned; neither he nor his plane, a Lockheed P-38 Lightning, was found. A woman reported having watched an aircraft crash near the Bay of Carqueiranne around noon on 1 August. A few days later, an unidentifiable body in a French uniform was found and buried in Carqueiranne in September. The remnants from Saint-Exupéry’s aircraft were found in the ocean off the coast of Marseille in 2000 and raised in October 2003. The circumstances of his death remain unknown.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry revealed eternal truths, and his noble principles and moral standards made him a role model for humankind. He was awarded the French Legion of Honour posthumously.

Fantasy that became reality

As the little prince says goodbye to the pilot, he tells him, ‘In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night… you — only you — will have stars that can laugh!’

Fantasy became a reality in 1993 when an asteroid was named after the little prince’s home asteroid B-612, whose other name is Asteroid Saint-Exupéry. The airport of Lyon, along with several French language schools in Europe, Canada and Latin America, also bears the writer’s name. Before the introduction of the euro, his portrait appeared on France’s 50-franc banknote, and a rare blue coloured rose variety was also cultured in his honour. The Little Prince has been adapted to numerous art forms and media, including movies and TV films.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Museum

The Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Museum was opened in Tarfaya, Morocco — where he had been based — in 2013. In June 2014, a museum devoted to Saint-Exupéry was established in his family’s old castle in Saint-Maurice-de-Rémens, eastern France, where he had spent his childhood years. His adventurous life as a pilot is shown at the exhibition through contemporary forms of representation, such as video installations.

The Little Prince has been translated into more than 200 languages and dialects, selling 80 million copies worldwide, which makes it one of the 50 most read books in the world.

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