Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Night Flight achieved considerable critical praise when it was first published in 1931. The preface by André Gide gave Saint-Exupéry’s work the imprimatur of the Parisian literary establishment. Critical reviews of the work were overwhelmingly positive, and Saint-Exupéry was awarded one of France’s premier literary awards, the Fémina Prize, for this novel.
Night Flight is Saint-Exupéry’s second novel (Courrier sud was published in 1929; Southern Mail, 1933), and is the author’s most completely realized work of fiction, although, as with all of his writings, there are strong autobiographical elements. It is brief in scope, covering just a few hours in time, and brief in length, less than 150 pages in the original French edition. The author’s style and literary technique combine poetic elements, particularly Fabien’s struggles in the storm and in the starry skies above the clouds, with a lean, crisp narrative. The story is told in brief chapters that successfully move the narrative along by focusing on the protagonists one at a time and by including flashbacks, brief conversational dialogues, interior monologues, and the use of radio reports and telegrams. The Argentina locale is almost irrelevant; the events could have occurred anywhere.
What Gide admired in Night Flight was the heroism exhibited by Fabien and his fellow pilots in the line of duty. Flying was both dangerous and glamorous in the early twentieth century. America’s Charles Lindbergh captured the world’s attention in 1927 when he flew nonstop from New York to Paris. Saint-Exupéry himself was famous for his exploits in aviation in Africa and South America. The pilots in Night Flight rise to what Gide called “superhuman heights of valor.” The novel was highly praised in part because of its assertion that humanity could strive to overcome not only nature’s challenges in the form of mountains, seas, and storms, but also the weaknesses of human nature, not the least of which are fear and doubt. Fabien could have safely set down in advance of the worst of the storm, but he chose to continue his flight. Civilization in general, and France in particular, had succumbed to cynicism and apathy in the aftermath of the losses—physical, intellectual, and emotional—resulting from World War I. Saint-Exupéry’s novel was a reassertion of human nobility.
For all of the pilots’ bravery, however, at the center of Night Flight is Rivière, the chief operator. Modeled on...
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