Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
French aviator and author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry documented his adventures as a pilot in works such as 'Wind, Sand and Stars' and 'The Little Prince.'
Who Was Antoine de Saint-Exupéry?
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was a French writer, aviator, poet and author. Raised in an aristocratic family, he fell in love with aviation at an early age after took his first airplane ride at the age of 12. He received his pilot’s wings during his compulsory military service in 1922, around which time he also began to write. His adventures as a pilot would supply the inspiration for all of his literary endeavors, which culminated with the 1943 publication of the classic The Little Prince.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was born into an aristocratic family in Lyon, France, on June 29, 1900. His father died when he was a young boy, and his mother moved him and his four siblings to a relative’s château in the east. Saint-Exupéry enjoyed a mostly carefree and privileged life, and in 1912, he took his first trip in an airplane—an experience that would have a profound and lasting impression on him.
Receiving his early education at Catholic schools in France, Saint-Exupéry was sent away to a boarding school in Switzerland after the outbreak of World War I. He returned to France in 1917, and briefly attended a college prep school in Paris before attempting to enter the naval academy. However, a historically poor student, Saint-Exupéry failed the examination and studied architecture at the École des Beaux-Arts instead.
Beginning of Aviation and Writing Careers
Despite his disappointing rejection from the naval academy, in 1921, Saint-Exupéry was given the opportunity to realize his dreams of flying during his compulsory service in the military. Initially working as a mechanic in the army, he learned how to fly. Saint-Exupéry became a pilot in the air force the following year, based in North Africa. His engagement to a young woman resulted in Saint-Exupéry leaving the air force in 1922. However, when their relationship failed shortly thereafter, Saint-Exupéry returned to his first love, flying, and developed a new passion as well—writing.
While working various jobs, Saint-Exupéry began to write stories inspired by his experiences as a pilot. He published his first work, “The Aviator,” in 1926, the same year that he returned to flying as a mail pilot with the aviation company Aéropostale in Toulouse, covering routes between France, Spain and North Africa. The remainder of Saint-Exupéry’s life would be defined by the intertwining of his dual occupations as aviator and author, with the former providing the inspiration for his literary work.
'Wind, Sand and Stars' and Other Books
In 1927, Saint-Exupéry was placed in charge of an airfield in the Sahara. His experiences there informed his first novel, Southern Mail, which celebrated the courage of pilots, and was published in 1929. His similarly themed Night Flight was published in 1931 after he returned from a two-year posting in Argentina, where he had helped to establish an air mail system. Night Flight would become his first true literary success, receiving the Prix Femina literary prize and later being adapted into a 1933 Hollywood film starring John Barrymore, Helen Hayes and Clark Gable.