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About the Author: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was born in Lyons on June 29, 1900. He flew for the first time at the age of twelve, at the Ambérieu airfield, and it was then that he became determined to be a pilot. He kept that ambition even after moving to a school in Switzerland and while spending summer vacations at the family's château at Saint-Maurice-de-Rémens, in eastern France. (The house at Saint-Maurice appears again and again in Saint-Exupéry's writing.)

Later, in Paris, he failed the entrance exams for the French naval academy and, instead, enrolled at the prestigious art school l'Ecole des Beaux-Arts. In 1921 Saint-Exupéry began serving in the military, and was stationed in Strasbourg. There he learned to be a pilot, and his career path was forever settled.

After leaving the service, in 1923, Saint-Exupéry worked in several professions, but in 1926 he went back to flying and signed on as a pilot for Aéropostale, a private airline that flew mail from Toulouse, France, to Dakar, Senegal. In 1927 Saint-Exupéry accepted the position of airfield chief for Cape Juby, in southern Morocco, and began writing his first book, a memoir called Southern Mail, which was published in 1929. He then moved briefly to Buenos Aires to oversee the establishment of an Argentinean mail service; when he returned to Paris in 1931, he published Night Flight, which won instant success and the prestigious Prix Femina.

Always daring, Saint-Exupéry tried in 1935 to break the speed record for flying from Paris to Saigon. Unfortunately, his plane crashed in the Libyan desert, and he and his copilot had to trudge through the sand for three days to find help. In 1938 he was seriously injured in a second plane crash, this time as he tried to fly between New York City and Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. The crash resulted in a long convalescence in New York.

Saint-Exupéry's next novel, Wind, Sand and Stars, was published in 1939. A great success, the book won the Académie Française's Grand Prix du Roman (Grand Prize for Novel Writing) and the National Book Award in the United States. At the beginning of the Second World War, Saint-Exupéry flew reconnaissance missions for France, but he went to New York to ask the United States for help when the Germans occupied his country. He drew on his wartime experiences to write Flight to Arras and Letter to a Hostage, both published in 1942. His classic The Little Prince appeared in 1943. Later in 1943 Saint-Exupéry rejoined his French air squadron in northern Africa. Despite being forbidden to fly (he was still suffering physically from his earlier plane crashes), Saint-Exupéry insisted on being given a mission. On July 31, 1944, he set out from Borgo, Corsica, to overfly occupied France. He never returned.


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Goodreads rating: 4.27

Paperback, by Wordsworth Editions Limited

ISBN10: 1853261580 | ISBN13: 9781853261589

Page count: 109

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry first published The Little Prince in 1943, only a year before his Lockheed P-38 vanished over the Mediterranean during a reconnaissance mission. More than a half century later, this fable of love and loneliness has lost none of its power. The narrator is a downed pilot in the Sahara Desert, frantically trying to repair his wrecked plane. His efforts are interrupted one day by the apparition of a little, well, prince, who asks him to draw a sheep. "In the face of an overpowering mystery, you don't dare disobey," the narrator recalls. "Absurd as it seemed, a thousand miles from all inhabited regions and in danger of death, I took a scrap of paper and a pen out of my pocket." And so begins their dialogue, which stretches the narrator's imagination in all sorts of surprising, childlike directions.

The Little Prince describes his journey from planet to planet, each tiny world populated by a single adult. It's a wonderfully inventive sequence, which evokes not only the great fairy tales but also such monuments of postmodern whimsy as Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities. And despite his tone of gentle bemusement, Saint-Exupéry pulls off some fine satiric touches, too. There's the king, for example, who commands the Little Prince to function as a one-man (or one-boy) judiciary:

I have good reason to believe that there is an old rat living somewhere on my planet. I hear him at night. You could judge that old rat. From time to time you will condemn him to death. That way his life will depend on your justice. But you'll pardon him each time for economy's sake. There's only one rat.
The author pokes similar fun at a businessman, a geographer, and a lamplighter, all of whom signify some futile aspect of adult existence. Yet his tale is ultimately a tender one--a heartfelt exposition of sadness and solitude, which never turns into Peter Pan-style treacle. Such delicacy of tone can present real headaches for a translator, and in her 1943 translation, Katherine Woods sometimes wandered off the mark, giving the text a slightly wooden or didactic accent. Happily, Richard Howard (who did a fine nip-and-tuck job on Stendhal's The Charterhouse of Parma in 1999) has streamlined and simplified to wonderful effect. The result is a new and improved version of an indestructible classic, which also restores the original artwork to full color. "Trying to be witty," we're told at one point, "leads to lying, more or less." But Saint-Exupéry's drawings offer a handy rebuttal: they're fresh, funny, and like the book itself, rigorously truthful. --James Marcus

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