Monday, July 8, 2013

Author Bio: Antoine de Saint-Exupery

If you think the author of this week's review book, Le Petit Prince (or The Little Prince) has a mouthful of a name, consider that his full name is Antoine Marie Jean-Baptiste Roger, comte de Saint-Exupery.

Born June 29, 1900, Saint-Exupery was not only a writer but a French aristocrat (thus the long, fancy name) and a pilot, too. He failed his finals at the Naval Academy twice (though it was rumored that this was intentional) and went to study architecture, but didn't finish that program either.

In 1921, he joined the military service in the French Army. While deployed, he took private flying lessons and was transferred to the French Air Force the next year. After a crash, his fiance's family (a girl he, subsequently never married) insisted that he leave the service and take an office job, and he did.

But by 1926, he was back in the sky, paving the way in the field of international postal flight. Also that year, he published his first novella, L'Aviateur (The Aviator).

In 1929, he published his first novel, Courrier Sud (Southern Mail), but he didn't begin to be recognized for his writing until he published Vol de Nuit (Night Flight), about his experiences flying for Aeropostale (not the clothes company) Argentina in 1931.

On December 30, 1935, Saint-Exupery crashed his plane in the Sahara Desert while trying to break a speed record between Paris and Saigon. He and his mechanic-navigator survived the crash, but became dangerously dehydrated. 

Big place... kinda hot and dry.
On their fourth day stranded, a Bedouin on a camel found them and saved their lives. Saint-Exupery wrote about this harrowing experience in his memoir, Wind, Sand and Stars (1939). There are also references to this experience in Le Petit Prince (1943).

He lived in New York City from 1941-43 (which is actually where he hyphenated the "Saint-Exupery," after great frustration over Americans calling him "Mr. Exupery"). While in America, he wrote Pilote de guerre (Flight to Arras) and Lettre a un otage (Letter to a Hostage), the latter written for the French living under Nazi occupation at the time.

In 1942, he met a precocious little boy in Canada, who inspired him to write Le Petit Prince, published in 1943. It was published in French and English, but only in America, until after the liberation of France, at which point it was published there as well. Today, it is published worldwide, in many different languages. 180 languages to be exact, on of with is Toba, and obscure northern Argentinian language. 

Saint-Exupery returned to his piloting in 1943 with the Free French Air Force to fight alongside the Allies in the Mediterranean. He was assigned to a recon mission around the Rhone Valley, on which he disappeared. A French woman reported seeing a plane crash, and an unidentifiable body was found wearing French colors several days after his disappearance.

In September of 1998, a fisherman found Saint-Exupery's identification bracelet hooked on a piece of cloth (presumably his flight suit), but it was far from the flight path he should have been on, bringing many to doubt its authenticity. Nevertheless, it was an emotional discovery for France, as they revere Saint-Exupery for both his writing and his piloting.

In May of 2000, a diver found the remains of Saint-Exupery's plane (which was recovered in 2003). There is much speculation about the circumstances of Saint-Exupery's disappearance and subsequent death, but not much is for certain.

Much of his writing was published posthumously, many of which are written as a series of letters.

There are monuments and historical markers everywhere he lived. He is recognized in a number of museums, in theater and film and music, in the naming of schools, streets, and buildings, and his face appeared on the 50-franc banknote.  In 2003, a small asteroid moon was named "Petit-Prince" after the book. He is well-beloved by French and others alike.


  1. I don't know if either of you are aware, but this book is referenced on Lost. It is the name of an episode in which baby Aaron's parentage is questioned. Also, according to the internet, the book begins with the author's plane crash, which is how Lost began. Also, the ship Besixdoux is used for a ship name in the show too. Dunno if you guys care at all, but I thought I would share.

    1. I never watched past the first episode of lost, but that's really fascinating that there are that many references to it.

      I wonder why the writers decided to do that. Were they The Little Prince fans, or did they just have kids?

  2. Lost actually referenced several pieces of literature over the course of the series. All the episodes with Alice in Wonderland related titles for example, were about the character Jack. And several characters were named after philosophers or historical figures. It was totally intentional for the really geeky fans, to place the connections. The books referenced always had parallels between the characters on the show and the characters in the book.