Antoine Marie de Saint-Exupery, a Frenchman of noble and timeless values [Archives:2007/1104/Culture]

November 19 2007

Prepared by: Eyad N. Al-Samman
Antoine Marie de Saint-Exupery was a French aviator, writer and poet. Born in 1900 in Lyon into an old family of provincial nobility, his father died in 1904, leaving the family in need of money. Consequently, his mother and her five children were forced to move in with her aunt in Le Mans in northern France.

Saint-Exupery was enrolled in Our Lady of the Holy Cross School in Le Mans in 1909 and later sent to the Jesuit School in Villefranche.

During World War I, he was sent to Fribourg, Switzerland and enrolled in Marist College. He passed his baccalaureate exam in 1917 and prepared for admittance to the Naval Academy; however, he failed his final exams and instead entered L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts to study architecture.

Saint-Exupery's dream of aviation came true in 1921 when he was called up for military service in the Air Force and sent to Strasbourg, France for training as a pilot. He made his first solo flight in a Sopwith F-CTEE aircraft on July 9, 1921.

The following year, he obtained his pilot's license, was offered a transfer to the Air Force and assigned as an assistant to landing services. His desire to fly increasing, he was sent to Rabat, Morocco, where he earned a diploma as a military pilot with a rank of second lieutenant.

However, due to familial reasons, Saint-Exupery settled in Paris in 1924 and took an office job instead of piloting, including working as a bookkeeper and an automobile salesman.

By 1926, Saint-Exupery was flying again, working for Latecoere on the famous airmail route between Toulouse and Dakar, Senegal. He was appointed director of the postal station at Western Sahara's Rio de Oro in 1928 before moving to Argentina in October 1929, where he was appointed chief manager of Aeroposta-Argentina.

In April 1931, Saint-Exupery married Consuelo Sunc”n, a temperamental Salvadoran artist who wrote a memoir after his death entitled, “The Tale of the Rose,” which was published in 2000.

After the Argentine airmail firm closed down, Saint-Exupery began flying mail between Casablanca, Morocco and Port-Etienne, Mauritania, followed by a 1934 stint in Air France's advertising department.

While attempting to break the record for flying from Paris to Saigon, Saint-Exupery and his mechanic crashed in Libya's Sahara Desert in December 1935. They walked in the desert for days before being rescued by Arab nomads.

Also a journalist, Saint-Exupery was sent to Moscow to write reports. From Barcelona, Spain, he penned a series of articles on the Spanish Civil War in 1936 for the Paris-Soir newspaper.

Purchasing another aircraft in 1937, he participated in the race between New York and Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, but his aircraft crashed in Guatemala, injuring him severely.

Saint-Exupery rejoined the French Air Force when World War II erupted in 1939. Following France's armistice with Germany, he traveled to the United States in June 1940, settling in Asharoken, New York and then in Quebec City, Canada for a time in 1942. Later, in May 1943, he went to Algeria and joined the U.S.-commanded 2/33 squadron.

Saint-Exupery's rather slim body of literary work tends toward the allegorical, with most heavily inspired by his piloting experiences. His first story was “L'Aviateur” (The Aviator) in 1926. His first autobiographical work, “Courrier Sud” (Southern Mail), was published in 1929 and subsequently filmed in 1936, while “Vol du Nuit” (Night Flight), which won the Prix Femina, was published in 1931.

Another of his autobiographical works, “Terre des Hommes” (Wind, Sand and Stars), won the French Academy's 1939 Grand Prize. “Pilote de Guerre” (Flight to Arras) in 1942 stressed Saint-Exupery's humanistic philosophy.

Banned by German authorities in France, “Lettre a un Otage” (Letter to a Hostage), published in New York in 1943, was about the great days of the past and the difficult times during the war.

Written and illustrated in the United States and first published in New York in 1943 while Saint-Exupery was living in exile from his native France, “Le Petit Prince” (The Little Prince) is his most famous and most translated book.

The novella narrates the story of an enchanting little prince who is master of his own tiny planet and who meets on Earth a crashed airman in the desert. The prince eventually chooses to die in order to free his spirit from the earthly bonds.

A 20th-century classic in children's literature, “The Little Prince” has been translated into more than 160 languages and sold more than 50 million copies worldwide.

Saint-Exupery's most monumental work is “La Citadelle” (Wisdom of the Sands), published posthumously in 1948.

Saint-Exupery took off over the Mediterranean Sea on July 31, 1944 and was never seen again. Among the most likely explanations for his vague disappearance is that he was shot down by the Germans, perhaps a technical failure caused an accident or it was suicide.

Saint-Exupery's love of aviation inspired stories that have touched – and still touch – the hearts of millions around the world.