Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (sahn-tayg-zew-pay-ree), born in Lyons, France, on June 29, 1900, joined the French Army Air Force in 1921. After serving as a pilot, he left the Air Force in 1926 and became a commercial pilot, flying routes from France to West Africa and South America. At the same time, he began to write about flying, producing a novel, Southern Mail, in which a young French aristocrat, full of impossibly romantic notions, faces the realities of life and an unhappy love affair through the discipline of flying. In his next novel, Night Flight, Saint-Exupéry further emphasized the importance of flying by establishing a conflict between the questlike dangerous missions that characterized night flying and the sheltered comforts of home and domesticity. These novels showed his mastery of a rich, dense, powerfully poetic style well-suited to conveying his thoughts about flying and humankind.
For several years during the mid-1930’s, Saint-Exupéry had difficulty getting a job flying. He became a foreign correspondent, covering the 1935 May Day celebration in Moscow, the 1936 start of the Spanish Civil War, for L’Intransigeant, and the 1937 siege of Madrid for Paris-Soir. These experiences deepened both his political and religious interest so that by the time he began to write Wind, Sand, and Stars he had switched from the novel to an autobiographical essay form. André Gide, who was a strong admirer of Saint-Exupéry, is believed to have suggested this change in form. Wind, Sand, and Stars is more political and religious, more thoughtful and metaphysical, than his earlier work, yet it still reflects his direct experiences, particularly his account of a plane crash in the Sahara Desert, and flying still provides both the form for the book and the necessary function for the author.
When World War II began, Saint-Exupéry returned to the Air Force. Shot down, he managed to escape through Portugal to the United States. He then wrote Flight to Arras, an account of his wartime experiences widely read in the United States as evidence that not all Frenchmen had succumbed to complacency and indifference in the face of the Nazi invasion and Vichy collaboration. He remained in the United States, writing, voicing his convictions about his responsibilities to his fellow human beings and his feelings of unity with his flight crew, his country, and all people, until he was able to rejoin the French forces. In his last days he wrote The Wisdom of the Sands, published posthumously in 1950. This book, though not always smooth or coherent, stands as the most complete account of his ideas. It is a long “prose poem” meditation on God and death and love and humanity’s fate, stressing (in a manner some critics have called Nietzschean) the human need for discipline and creativity engendered by an activity like flying.
Saint-Exupéry has been widely admired for his rich, poetic style and his insight. He received the Prix Femina-Vie Heureuse in 1931 and the Grand Prize of the French Academy in 1939. In the United States and England he was even more famous as a spirited, authentic, and articulate voice of the French Resistance, and as a writer who used creative forms to reveal a sense of purpose and discipline beneath a superficially impersonal human technology. He is perhaps best known internationally as the author and illustrator of The Little Prince, a popular children’s book that many adults have also appreciated through the years.
His death remains a mystery of the war. He was presumed shot down over southern France on July 31, 1944.
Scion of an old, distinguished, and noble Limousin family, Antoine-Marie-Roger de Saint-Exupéry was born in Lyons on June 29, 1900. It might reasonably be said of him, and without insult, that he was surely among the most successful failures of his generation,...
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