70 years of Le Petit Prince

July 2014 marked the 70th anniversary of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s death – or, more precisely, his still-debated disappearance while flying over the Mediterranean. The legendary French aviator and writer needs no introduction, nor does his most famous work, Le Petit Prince. The internationally successful novella was first published in 1943 (in the USA initially, rather than Saint-Exupéry’s native France) and is now the most-read and most-translated book in the French language. The significance and influence of this author and work are reflected in the UL’s holdings: our catalogue lists well over 100 titles either by or about Saint-Exupéry, in most of the major languages we cover.

Le manuscrit du Petit Prince d’Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (S950.b.201.1914)

Le manuscrit du Petit Prince d’Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (S950.b.201.1914)

Le manuscrit du Petit Prince d’Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (S950.b.201.1914) is one of our most recent acquisitions relating to the author. This handsome edition – which contains the novella’s manuscript, both in facsimile and fully transcribed – has been compiled by the book’s original French publisher, Gallimard. Sadly, Saint-Exupéry did not live to see Le Petit Prince officially published in his home country. Although the 1943 US edition was issued in both French and English translation, the author’s outspoken anti-collaborationist views led to his work being banned under France’s wartime Vichy government. Therefore, Gallimard had to wait until after the war (and Saint-Exupéry’s death) to release the title.

The only existing manuscript of the Le Petit Prince is held by the Morgan Library & Museum in Manhattan. Its location is fitting, as Saint-Exupéry wrote the novella (and saw it first published) whilst living in exile in New York City and Asharoken, Long Island. Gallimard’s new facsimile edition was published to coincide with an extensive exhibition at the Morgan earlier this year, focussing on the creation of the book and its often-forgotten American origins – Saint-Exupéry actually referenced several New York locations by name in parts of the manuscript that he later excised.

A page showing sketches and a draft. (S950.b.201.1914)

A page showing sketches and a draft. (S950.b.201.1914)

The manuscript is particularly fascinating to devotees of Le Petit Prince, as it shows the extent to which the author rigorously edited and refined his work (often ruthlessly crossing out whole passages of text). It also contains numerous sketches, some of which formed the basis for the book’s famous and beloved watercolour illustrations. 70 years on from its creator’s still-mysterious death, this is the first time the general public has been granted such an insight into the development of this seminal work.

Christopher Greenberg

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