Let’s talk a little more about aviation with Antoine de Saint-Exupéry! We started last week with Amelia Earhart, we continue today with this French aviator and writer, known for giving The Little Prince to the public. Saint-Exupéry died on July 31, 1944, under mysterious circumstances, very similar to those of Earhart. Fly with us on this journey, we will tell you everything about his biography and the work that consecrated him to posterity.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, from birth to flight
Antoine Marie Jean-Baptiste Roger de Saint-Exupéry, was born on June 29, 1900 in Lyon into a family of the French nobility.
He shared a happy childhood between five brothers and sisters. But in 1904, his father died accidentally hit by a train, leaving Marie de Saint-Exupéry to raise her five children alone.
Antoine’s mother saw this premature widowhood more or less well, but her optimistic character enabled him to meet his obligations. Very sensitive, she formed a special bond with Antoine and offered him an excellent education, which was difficult at the time for a single woman.
She passed on to her beloved son the values that she would maintain throughout her life: honesty, respect for others, no social exclusivity.
At the end of the summer of 1909, his family moved to Le Mans, his father’s home region. Antoine entered the college of Notre-Dame de Sainte-Croix on 7 October and in 1912 spent his summer holidays in Saint-Maurice-de-Rémens. Fascinated by airplanes, he often went by bicycle to the Ambérieu-en-Bugey airfield, located a few kilometers away, and stayed there for hours questioning the mechanics about the functioning of the planes.
One day he turned to the pilot Gabriel Salvez, claiming that his mother had authorized him to make a first flight. He thus made his baptism on a Berthaud-Wroblewski, a plane manufactured in Villeurbanne by the Lyon industrialist Berthaud based on designs by Pierre and Gabriel Wroblewski-Salvez. He wrote a poem that testifies to his new passion for airplanes.
From adolescence to adulthood
In 1917 Antoine de Saint-Exupéry received his baccalaureate despite poor academic results. During the summer, suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, François, Antoine’s younger brother, playmate and confidant, died of pericarditis.
This event marks Saint-Exupéry’s transition from adolescence to adulthood. War will also contribute to this.
In 1919 he failed the competition for the Naval School (his results in scientific subjects were excellent, but those in literary subjects were insufficient) and he enrolled as a free auditor in the architecture section of the École nationale supérieure.
His mother helped him as she could, despite her financial worries. Antoine therefore benefits from the hospitality of his cousin Yvonne de Lestrange and also accepts several small jobs: with his friend Henry de Ségogne, he would appear for several weeks in Quo Vadis, a work by Jean Noguès. In 1918 he met Louise de Vilmorin, who inspired him to write romantic poems.
However, during this period, his intense activity inspired him with rather melancholy poems, sonnets and quatrain suites (Veillée, 1921) which show that he was experiencing a difficult period, because he found himself without a life plan and without any prospects. Some of his poems are handwritten and illuminated with ink drawings. He offers two of the notebooks of poems to his friend Jean Doat.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in the aviation
In April 1921 he was assigned for military service as a mechanic in the 2nd Strasbourg Air Force Regiment. Antoine de Sain-Exupéry is brilliant but also a sometimes distracted aviator.
His career “takes off” (sorry for the pun!) and he became a second lieutenant. In his spare time, he sketched his roommates with charcoal pencil and turquoise ink. His drawings are grouped in his Les Copains notebook.
In October, as a reserve second lieutenant, he held a post in the 34th aviation regiment at Le Bourget. In the spring of 1923, he had his first plane crash in Le Bourget: a fractured skull. After this serious accident, he was demobilized but still wanted to work in aviation.
But the family of Louise de Vilmorin, his girlfriend, is against it. A long period of boredom of office work begins for him. In September, the engagement with Louise ends.
In 1926 he was hired by Didier Daurat, director of scheduled operations for the Latécoère company (future Aéropostale) and joined the Toulouse-Montaudran airport to carry mail on flights between Toulouse and Dakar.
At the end of 1927, he was appointed stationmaster at Cap Juby in Morocco with the mission of improving the company’s relations with Moorish dissidents on the one hand and with the Spaniards on the other. There he will discover the burning solitude and magic of the desert.
In 1929 he published his first novel at Gallimard, Courrier Sud, in which he recounts his life and his emotions as a pilot while in 1931 he published his second novel, Vol de nuit, a huge success, in which he spoke of his years in Argentina. and the development of the verses in Patagonia. This travel story reminds us of Kerouac’s On the Road stories.
Travels in the Thirties
Also in 1931, he married in Agay with Consuelo Suncin Sandoval de Gómez (who died in 1979), Salvadoran writer and artist.
Since 1932, when the company, undermined by politics, did not survive its integration into Air France, he remains with difficulty, devoting himself to writing and journalism. Saint-Exupéry remained a test pilot and raid pilot at the same time that he became second-hand journalist for the main services.
Reporter for Paris-Soir, he traveled to Vietnam in 1934 and to Moscow in 1935. On December 29, 1935, accompanied by his mechanic Prévot, he attempted a Paris-Saigon raid aboard a Caudron-Renault Simoun, to beat the record of André Japy who a few days earlier it connected Paris to Saigon in 3 days and 15 hours.
On the night of December 31, he was forced to land his plane in a disaster in the Libyan desert in Egypt. He then went through four days of wandering without water or food before an unexpected rescue. The 58-page manuscript chronicling his adventure was auctioned off in 2009 and 1936.
From all these trips he accumulates a very important sum of memories, emotions and experiences, which serve to feed his reflection on the meaning to be given to the human condition. His reflection culminated in the writing of Terre des hommes, published in 1939. The work received the Prix de l’Académie française. It is in this novel that we find the famous phrase pronounced by Henri Guillaumet after his accident in the Andes: “What I did, I swear to you, no animal would have done”.
Second World War
In 1939 he was mobilized in the Air Force and assigned to an air reconnaissance squadron. On 23 May 1940 he flew over Arras despite his Bloch 174 plane being riddled with bullets from the German DCA, he managed to return to base with his passengers unharmed, which earned him the War Cross.
In May 1942 he stayed in Canada. While his stay was supposed to last a few days, he eventually spent nearly five weeks in Quebec due to visa problems. With a mission to bring Americans to war, he published Pilot of War in 1942 to remind Americans how hard the battle of France had been, before publishing the poetic and philosophical short story The Little Prince a year later.
In April 1943, although considered a mediocre pilot by the Allies, he resumed active service in the air force in Tunisia thanks to his connections and pressure from the French command. Relegated from hunting, he carried out some reconnaissance missions, but was the victim of several accidents.
He then stayed in Algeria and Morocco. On July 17, 1944 he moved to Borgo, in Corsica. It is from the nearby Poretta airport that it takes off on July 31st at 8:25 am, for a cartographic mission to draw precise maps of the country, very useful for the subsequent landing in Provence, scheduled for August 15th.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is alone on board, his plane is unarmed and carries fuel for six hours of flight. At 8:30 the last radar echo was reported. His plane would crash not far from the coast of Provence. However, it is impossible to carry out field research in wartime. Officially disappeared. His memory was solemnly celebrated in Strasbourg on July 31, 1945. In 1948 he was recognized as “Dead for France”.
The Little Prince
The Little Prince is the best known work of Antoine de Saint Exupéry. This short story was published in 1943 in New York City. It is a poetic, symbolic and philosophical tale that appeared as a children’s story illustrated with watercolors and a simple and orderly language. It is a children’s book written for adults, it can be read at different levels and by readers of all ages. Think that it is the most translated book in the world after the Bible, over 140 million copies sold.
An aviator, the narrator of the tale, crashes his plane in the middle of the Sahara desert after an engine failure. As he tries to fix his plane, a little boy appears and asks him to draw a sheep.
Day after day, the narrator uncovers the story of the Little Prince who says he comes from another planet: “the asteroid B 612“, a very small planet little bigger than a house where he left behind three volcanoes and a rose, he is in love with. The little prince tells the aviator that he fears that the sheep he designed for him could damage his rose.
The little prince also tells him that he visited other planets before arriving on Earth. From one planet to another, he has met bizarre people: a king who claims to rule over everything with absolute power, a conceited man who considers himself the most beautiful and intelligent man while alone on his little planet, a businessman who has stars who spends his time counting, a drunkard who drinks to forget about drinking, the lamplighter who does absurd and uninterrupted work and an old gentleman geographer who writes, in enormous books, the information brought to him by the explorers.
On Earth the Little Prince met a fox, he taught him that it is important to make friends. Every day the aviator learns new things about the little prince, his feelings, his fears, his doubts, his departure, his journey and his planet.
Eight days after disembarking in the desert, it was time for the two friends to separate. The little prince returns to his planet, leaving the narrator alone. Finally, the aviator manages to repair his plane and also leaves the desert, hoping to see the little prince again one day.
Themes and curiosities
The main theme of the novel is the contrast between adults and children. Children are considered the most natural form of humanity that is not yet influenced by society, they have a vast imagination and a love of things that don’t always have to be practical. On the other end of the spectrum are adults who have lost their sense of imagination and exploration and wander aimlessly through life seeing things on the surface and overwhelmed by greed and materialism.
Regarding the relationship between the child protagonist and strange adults, this book is reminiscent of “Alice in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll.
The story of the Little Prince is written by the pilot to preserve the memory of the prince so that he does not forget and become like adults, with no friends around him.
In addition, the rose character is said to have been based on Saint-Exupéry’s wife, Consuelo, who later wrote an autobiography called The Tale of The Rose.
The narrator’s plane crash in the Sahara was based on the Saint-Exupéry plane crash in a desert near Cairo.
The disappearance of the Little Prince at the end of the novel recalls that of Saint-Exupéry in 1944, which we now tell you about
Saint-Exupéry did not live to see The Little Prince published in his home country as he had been banished due to his exile.
The mystery of the death of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
For almost 60 years, despite multiple attempts, the mystery of this disappearance has never been cleared up.
In 1994 a controversy arose around new testimonies, disputed by the family, according to which the writer was buried in a cemetery in Carqueiranne, a small town on the Var coast. It is the body of a man who was saved from outside the city in 1944. The family of the writer had always refused to have him exhumed.
In 1981, aviation historian Daniel Décot discovered a Luftwaffe report in which Ensign Robert Heichele claimed that he was attacked on July 31, 1944 by a plane like that of today’ protagonist. The German is said to have shot down his enemy in single combat, before seeing him crash into the sea at 12:05, about ten kilometers south of Saint-Raphaël.
Robert Heichele’s testimony reopens investigations; a research expedition, in 1992, was financed by the Louis Roederer studio – not far from Nice. On board the Suroît, the companions of Saint-Exupéry, René Gavoille and Jean Israël, as well as Frédéric, the great-grandson of the aviator. For fifteen days the most sophisticated means are used to locate the plane. Without success. A second campaign in the Gulf of Giens is another failure.
Discovering the writer’s jewel by chance, Jean-Claude Bianco, a fisherman from Marseille who owns the fishing boat Horizon, relaunches the case in spite of him. On September 7, 1998, his nets go up a strange limestone concretion where the silver chain shines. In addition to the name and surname of the missing pilot and that, in brackets, of his wife, we read on two other lines: “c / o Reynal & Hitchcock”, then “386, 4th Ave. NYC USA,” the publisher and the address of the author.
Research in the 2000s
After much hesitation, he decided to show it to one of Marseille’s most famous maritime authorities, Henri-Germain Delauze, head of Comex, a company specializing in underwater engineering. For a month and a half Comex will work discreetly to explore a hundred square kilometers without finding the plane. The writer’s descendants are furious at not having been warned earlier.
In 1999, debris was found that seemed to match that of the Saint-Exupéry plane. At the end of 2003, Henri-Germain Delauze, the head of the Comex, finally obtained clearance to bring the debris to the surface and evaluate it.
A few weeks later, Philippe Castellano (president of Aéro-relic, an organization specializing in the search, localization and identification of accidents) and Brian Cyvoct found a serial number in the fold of a sheet but no mark or trace of perforation by a possible hit was not detected on the small percentage of aircraft recovered. Indisputable proof.
In 2021, almost 80 years after his death, it is not really known what happened to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, however the most beautiful works of him remain to console us.
His hometown, Lyon, in homage to the writer and in homage to the pioneer of the Aéropostale, renamed Satolas airport into Lyon Saint-Exupéry international airport and Lyon-Saint-Exupéry TGV station. On the walls of the Pantheon in Paris, a inscription honors his memory.
Streets of various cities and a large number of schools throughout France and abroad were named after Saint-Exupéry. And then cinemas, restaurants, libraries, an Argentine peak.
He was represented by several artists. There is a statue in Toulouse in the center of the Jardin Royal. And one is on display in the Santiago-du-Chili square in Paris.
A statue of The Little Prince was inaugurated on Saturday 16 September 2006 in Northport (United States), the city where he wrote it in 1942-43.
A couple of films were made, including one by Jean-Jacques Annaud from 1995. Numerous films have also been dedicated to the Little Prince, the most recent from 2015.
Let’s not forget also The Little Prince, Original Adaptation and Screenplay by Orson Welles. An unpublished text everywhere, neglected and re-emerged only thanks to a fleeting bibliographic clue. Orson Welles, created a project for a film based on this enchanted story that struck him is about to take shape. Eventually, Welles gives up making the film. We are left with this opportunity to reinterpret in a cinematic key, albeit unrealized, of a story that now belongs to every generation.
And the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Youth Foundation belongs to every generation, created in 2009 under the aegis of the Fondation de France by the heirs of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. It supports projects aimed at young people, in France and around the world, bearers of the values of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
I like to remember him with this song (and its beautiful video)