Who was Antoine de Saint-Exupery?
Antoine de Saint-Exupery was a famous French writer and an aviator whose image is carved in the French literary world as a legend and a cultural hero who merged action with reflection. As a young boy, Antoine possessed and projected an unusual combination of poetic sensibility and mechanical inventiveness. He was quite fascinated by engineering and engineering drawings. As he grew up, he soon found his vocation as a pilot of a famous airmail line and was promoted to the post of ‘Compagnie Generale Aeropostale’. During his stint as the pilot, he discovered the explorer in himself, and thrived in that atmosphere to emerge as an avid voyager. It was during this period that Antoine began to write again extensively as he found the inspiration in the surroundings and in that desolate area. One of his most famous literary works, ‘The Little Prince’, boosted his status in the worldwide literary circle posthumously and earned him the national hero status in France. In July 1944, he set out from Borgo, Corsica to overfly occupied France and never returned. Sixty years later wreckage found from the seabed near Marseille was identified as that of his plane but the cause of the crash is still unknown.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born into an poor aristocratic family of Count Jean de Saint-Exupery and his wife, Countess Marie de Fonscolombe. He was the third of their five children. His father’s untimely death, plunged the whole family into financial hardship.
He spent his childhood at the castle of Saint-Maurice-de-Remens and had his early education at Jesuit Schools in Montgre and Le Mans.
In 1915, he went a Catholic boarding School in Switzerland which he had to leave in 1917 due to his bad performance in final examination.
He joined a naval preparatory academy, which he had to leave due to his successive failure in the final examinations. He got admitted at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts to pursue a course in architecture but later gave it up as a result of failure in examinations.
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In 1921, he began his military training and was conscripted into the French air force near Strasbourg a little later. He left the service after two years due to few personal issues and took up odd jobs for the next few years.
In 1926, he returned to his earlier profession of a pilot and joined a private airline Aeropostale, which flew mail from Toulouse, France to Dakar, Senegal. In the following year, he got appointed as an air field chief for Cape Juby in Southern Morocco, in Sahara Desert.
In 1929, he got transferred to Argentina where he was appointed as a director of Aeroposta Argentina Company, which was the subsidiary of French airmail carrier ‘Aeropostale’.
In 1935, he survived a plane crash in the Sahara Desert along with the mechanic navigator Andre Privot while flying from Paris to Saigon. They wandered in the desert for 3-4 days and were about to die of dehydration before they were miraculously saved by the native tribes. He mentioned about his 1935 plane crash near-death experience in his 1939 memoir ‘Wind, Sand and Stars’.
During Second World War he was initially with the French Air force but after France’s 1940 armistice with Germany, he escaped to New York
He lived in New York between January 1941 and April 1943 and it was during this period that he wrote extensively and emerged as a prolific writer. Some of his major works during this period include: 'Pilote de guerre', 'Lettre � un otage', and 'The Little Prince'
In 1943, he served in the Second World War along with the United States of American’s troop and flew a famous French reconnaissance bomber, Bloch MB.170. In the same year, he joined Free French Air Force and fought in a Mediterranean based squadron after which he got promoted to the commandment rank.
On the night of July 31, 1944, he set out from Borgo, Corsica in an unarmed P-38, from where he never returned, disappearing without a trace.
The remains of his plane were found in September 1998 in south of Marseille and in 2004, the French Ministry of Culture confirmed that the wreckage was of Saint-Exupery's P-38 reconnaissance variant.
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In 1929, he published his first book, ‘Courrier Sud’ (Southern Mail), which was later adapted into a French film.
In 1931, he came out with his second book, ‘Vol de Nuit’ (Night Flight), which became an international bestseller the moment it arrived in the market. It was one of his critically acclaimed novels which reflected his service as a mail pilot.
In 1942, he published his memoir, ‘Pilote de guerre’ (Flight to Arras) which recounts his role in the French Air Force during the Battle of France in 1940. In the same year, he published ‘Lettre a un otage’ (Letter to a Hostage) which were all about the French living under Nazi oppression. Later this year, he wrote ‘The Little Prince’, which was published in early 1943 and is regarded as one of his best classics.
Awards & Achievements
He earned a full ‘Prix Femina’, a French literary prize, in 1931 for his book ‘Vol de nuit’ (Night Flight). The book was also made twice as a motion picture as well as a TV film in English.
In 1939, he won a French literary award, ‘Grand Prix du roman de l’Academie francaise’, for his book ‘Terres de hommes’. In the same year, he received a US National Book Award for his book, ‘Wind, Sand and Stars’.
In 1942, he won the ‘Grand Prix Litteraire de l'Aero-Club de France’, for his book ‘Pilote de guerre’ (Flight to Arras). The book recounts his role as a pilot in French Air Force during the Battle of France in 1940.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1931, he married a widow, Consuelo Gomez Carillo, a Salvadoran-French writer and artist. Their marriage was a stormy one and they broke up eventually due to his involvement with other women after marriage.
In 1993, until the introduction of Euro in market, French government issued a commemorative bank note of 50-franc comprising of his portrait and several of his drawings from ‘The Little Prince’. They also issued a 100-franc commemorative coin in his honor.
In 1999, Quebec government put a plaque at family home of Charles de Konick, head of the Philosohy department at Universite Laval, to commemorate the stay of Saint-Exupery during May-June 1942 when he lectured in Canada.
In 2000, on his birth centenary, the Lyon Satolas Airport was renamed in his honor as ‘Lyon-Saint Exupery Airport’. A bullet train station in the same city was also renamed after him as ‘Gare de Lyon Saint-Exupery’.
A Street in Montesson in North-central France was named after him as Rue Antoine de Saint-Exupery.
In 1975, Asteroid #2578 was named after this great personality.
Google celebrated his 110th birthday with a special logotype depicting The Little Prince being hoisted through the heavens by a flock of birds.