Today in Literary History – June 29, 1900 – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of “The Little Prince”, is born

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the aviator and author of such beloved books as The Little Prince and Night Flight, was born on June 29, 1900.

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Saint-Exupéry was born into a noble French family (his father was a viscount) and was given the upbringing expected of a young aristocrat. However, he failed to pass the acceptance exams at the colleges he was presumed to be destined for, and failed out of lesser schools.

Instead, Saint-Exupéry enlisted in the French army in 1921. He showed an interest in aviation and his family paid for private flying lessons, hoping that he had finally found a vocation.

He transferred to the French Air Force but his brief career resulted in several plane crashes, one of them nearly fatal.

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Then, in 1926 Saint-Exupéry got a job as an airmail pilot. Very quickly he was promoted to more sensitive positions, such as negotiating for the release of French airmail pilots held hostage in North Africa. In 1929 he was sent to Argentina to be the director of their new air postal service.

At the same time Saint-Exupéry began a career as a writer. His novel Vol de Nuit (Night Flight) based on his experiences in Argentina became a bestseller in 1931 and won the Prix Femina.

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In 1935 Saint-Exupéry was attempting to set a new airspeed record for a Paris to Saigon flight when he crashed his plane in the Libyan desert. He barely survived, wounded and with no water, but was rescued by Bedouin tribesmen.

This experience became a central image in his later books, including The Little Prince, which begins with an airman stranded in a desert.

At the start of Wold War II Saint-Exupéry briefly returned to the French Air Force. When Germany invaded France he and his family went into exile in the United States and Canada.

During his years in exile Saint-Exupéry wrote his iconc book, The Little Prince, which wasn’t published until after Saint-Exupéry’s death in 1944..

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In 1943 Saint-Exupéry had returned to the war as a pilot, flying reconnaissance missions for the French Resistance,

His return was partly a publicity stunt. Saint-Exupéry was a celebrity author and aviator, but he was also in poor heath, with limited mobility from previous crashes. More seriously, he had become a heavy drinker.

Ironically, the truth was that Saint-Exupéry had never been a particularly good pilot. In July, 1944 he disappeared on a reconnaissance flight, presumed to have crashed. His body was never found.

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