Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was born on this day 118 years ago. He is mostly remembered as an author, but he was also an accomplished aviator and many of his books are based on his experience as a pilot. I have chosen to write a post about him because it was requested by a reader but also because I have a few connections with him.
My first connection is that he was born in Lyon, like me. However, we were born in different “quartiers”. He was born in the Presqu’île, which is the part of Lyon situated between the Rhône and the Saône Rivers, whereas I was born on the hill of La Croix -Rousse.
My second connection is that I attended the Lycée Saint-Exupéry (in La Croix-Rousse again) from the age of 16 to the age of 20. In those days, we referred to it as St-Ex, which highly irritated my history teacher, and we paid absolutely no attention to the man after whom it had been named especially since I was studying science.
My third and final connection is that when I was around 16 or 17, we decided with some of my friends to perform Le Petit Prince as a play. We would rehearse in the Roman amphitheatre in the Vieux Lyon, which at the time was a public space, so we could go there anytime we wanted. My red-haired friend , who was studying literature and was also the ‘director’ was cast as the fox but I cannot remember who was le Petit Prince. I do not remember much about the play either but I know that we never got to perform it in front of a public. My acting skills were very poor – and still are; therefore, I was cast as the Tippler (or drunkard, which my friends thought was really apt!) which is one of Le Petit Prince’s shortest encounters in the book.
I will not give a detailed biography of his life as you can check this out yourself on Wikipedia.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was born on 29th June 1900. He studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts but left without a qualification. Something which he mentions at the beginning of Le Petit Prince. At the age of 21, he began his military service. That is when he learnt how to fly. In 1926, he became a pilot for international postal flights, mainly working between Toulouse and Dhakar. When France entered the war in 1939, he joined the French Air force and after France signed the armistice in 1940, he joined the French Free Air Force in North Africa to continue fighting Nazi Germany. He disappeared while on a reconnaissance mission and was presumed dead on 31st July 1944.
I read quite a few of his books when I was younger: Terre des Hommes. Vol de Nuit, Citadelle (which strangely enough is apparently known in English as Wisdom of the Sands). They are all very good books but I recommend that you read Vol de Nuit. The language is not too difficult and it is a beautiful story of courage and heroism.
My favourite book of all though is Le Petit Prince. It was published in 1943, just a year before the author’s disparition. I re-read it (devoured it really!) today in about 1 hour while travelling on the train to and back from work. It is such a marvellous story! A beautiful allegorical tale about the absurdities of life. It it said that it was inspired by The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen and it is easy to understand why. The princess and the prince share the same innocent and childlike view of the world.
I leave you with the fox’s secret: “On ne voit bien qu’avec le coeur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.“ (It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.)
And the scene that I never got to perform!
“La planète suivante était habitée par un buveur. Cette visite fut très courte, mais elle plongea le petit prince dans une grande mélancolie : – Que fais-tu là ? dit-il au buveur, qu’il trouva installé en silence devant une collection de bouteilles vides et une collection de bouteilles pleines. – Je bois, répondit le buveur, d’un air lugubre. – Pourquoi bois-tu ? lui demanda le petit prince.– Pour oublier, répondit le buveur. – Pour oublier quoi ? s’enquit le petit prince qui déjà le plaignait. – Pour oublier que j’ai honte, avoua le buveur en baissant la tête. – Honte de quoi ? s’informa le petit prince qui désirait le secourir. – Honte de boire ! acheva le buveur qui s’enferma définitivement dans le silence. Et le petit prince s’en fut, perplexe. « Les grandes personnes sont décidément très très bizarres », se disait-il en lui-même durant le voyage.”
“The next planet was inhabited by a tippler. This was a very short visit, but it plunged the little prince into deep dejection. “What are you doing there?” he said to the tippler, whom he found settled down in silence before a collection of empty bottles and also a collection of full bottles. “I am drinking,” replied the tippler, with a lugubrious air. “Why are you drinking?” demanded the little prince. “So that I may forget,” replied the tippler. “Forget what?” inquired the little prince, who already was sorry for him. “Forget that I am ashamed,” the tippler confessed, hanging his head. “Ashamed of what?” insisted the little prince, who wanted to help him. “Ashamed of drinking!” The tippler brought his speech to an end and shut himself up in an impregnable silence. And the little prince went away, puzzled. “The grown-ups are certainly very, very odd,” he said to himself, as he continued on his journey.”
I hope you enjoyed this post. A bientôt!