Antoine de Saint-Exupery: A Real-Life Hero
Antoine de Saint-Exupery is the author and illustrator of one of the most well-known children's novels in the world: The Little Prince. What fans of the book may not know is that he was also a real-life hero and pilot!
Born in Lyons, France in 1900, Antoine-Marie-Roger de Saint-Exupery's family was filled with nobility. He was one of five children. His father, Viscount Jean de Saint-Exupery, was an executive with an insurance company who died when the author was very young. Marie de Fonscolombe, his mother, moved with the children to Le Mans a few years after her husband's death. He spent much of his childhood with his sisters, aunts, and cousins before attending a boarding school in Switzerland in 1915.
Saint-Exupery then studied architecture at ecole des Beaux-Arts before entering the military in 1921. He trained as a pilot and made his first solo flight in July of that year. The next year, after he obtained his license, he was asked to transfer to the air force. By then he was engaged to Louise Leveque de Vilmorin, and she and her family objected to the risks involved in joining the air force. Swayed by their protests, he took an office job in Paris.
Later, his engagement was broken and he had difficulty settling on a career path. In 1926, Saint-Exupery began to fly again - as a pilot who delivered mail for a commercial airline. That same year, his first short story, L'Aviateur,which means "The Airman", was published in a literary magazine. He spent the next three years flying the mail over Africa and in 1928 he became the director of a small airfield in the Sahara Desert.
Saint-Exupery loved the isolation of the desert and wrote his first novel, Southern Mail, while living there. He moved to South America in 1929 and was given the job of director of the Aeroposta Argentina Company. This gave him plenty of opportunities to fly. During this time he wrote Night Flight, an award winning novel that was made into a Hollywood movie starring Clark Gable.
In 1931, Saint-Exupery married Consuelo Gomez Carillo. He continued to fly the mail and later served as a test pilot for several airlines. He continued to write articles during this time. He had an accident when flying over North Africa in 1935, while trying to fly from Paris Saigon faster than anyone else, and ended up walking in the desert for days before being rescued by a caravan. If you have read The Little Prince, you might recognize this as the inspiration for the opening scenes.
In 1943, his most famous work, The Little Prince, was published. It is a story about a pilot who has crashed in the desert and the little prince from another planet who tells the pilot of his adventures on Earth.
Saint-Exupery left on a flight over southern France on July 31, 1944 and was either shot down or crashed - it is unclear what happened. His plane disappeared into the Mediterranean Sea. Over the years, various people claim to have found artifacts and wreckage, but none have been verified. The crash still remains clouded in mystery.