Friday, January 13, 2012

Adventure classics -- Little Prince, lost and found

Wind, Sand and Stars

by Antoine de Saint-Exupery


The late Curtis Cate, in his biography of French aviator-author Antoine de Saint-Exupery, remarks that virtue “is almost invariably less glamorous than vice. The warning was there, but Saint-Exupery characteristically refused to heed it. . . (devoting) all his written work to a questioning study of such basic human virtues as courage, determination, perseverance, responsibility, generosity, self-sacrifice, loyalty, and love.”

image: wikimedia commons
Not to mention that he wrote prose like a poet and lived and died like a hero. Even Saint-Exupery’s famous attraction to women, famously returned, enhanced rather than dimmed his luster.

A college roommate introduced me to Saint-Ex’s most famous work, the fable of The Little Prince. I admit finding it a bit saccharine, preferring the memoir of his days as a civilian aviator, Wind, Sand and Stars.

One of the many ironies of his life was, after serving years at a post in North Africa without mishap, to crash in the Sahara while on a flight to Saigon in 1935. He and his mechanic-navigator, Andre Prevot, survived both the crash and several days of near-death and hallucinations from thirst before being discovered and rescued by a passing Bedouin.

The experience was the basis for a prominent episode in Wind, Sand and Stars as well as The Little Prince (whose marooned aviator converses with the small visitor from a neighboring asteroid).

Some of the telegrams with the message "So terribly happy!" Saint-Exupery mentioned receiving as he recovered from his experience must surely have come from his wife. For
in 1931, he took one of the bravest (perhaps most foolhardy) actions of his action-filled life -- marriage to a young Salvadoran-born widow, Consuelo Suncin.

The twice-widowed Consuelo, as flamboyant as Saint-Exupery, wore black to their wedding. Both of her previous husband had died within a year of their marriages to her. Saint-Exupery would survive thirteen years of their tempestuous, frequently unfaithful union. After his death in a still-mysterious air crash over the Mediterranean in 1944, Consuelo never remarried.

In 1945, she wrote a lengthy private account of their love affair. Then she packed it away in a trunk, where it would not be discovered until two decades after her death in 1979. When first published as The Tale of the Rose in France in 2000, the centennial of Saint-Exupery’s birth, it caused a sensation.

And The Little Prince claimed its place, not as a children’s story, but the story of the love against all odds of Saint-Exupery and Consuelo.

All books mentioned, including Consuelo’s, are readily available at, and other sources.

(Next Friday in Adventure classics’ true stories: He flew, but she came back -- Beryl Markham’s West with the Night.)


  1. En francaise, he's a stinker. At least, that's what I thought when we were required to translate his "Little Prince" into English. But I was 20-ish. Forgive me! He ages quite well.

    As for persistence in your last post. Synchronicity, baby. I believe there is a message in the coincidence for you and for all of us. Thanks for the post.

  2. My roommate read him in French, of course. She was too perfect for words!