Count Antoine Marie Roger de Saint-Exupéry was born in Lyon on June 29th 1900 into an old family of provincial nobility, the third of five children of Count Jean de Saint-Exupéry, an insurance broker who died when his famous son was three, and his wife, Marie de Foscolombe. One of his ancestors fought with the Americans at Yorktown.
After failing his final exams at a preparatory school, he entered the École des Beaux-Arts to study architecture. In 1921, he began his military service in the 2nd Regiment of Chasseurs, and was sent to Strasbourg for training as a pilot. The next year, he obtained his license, and was offered a transfer to the air force. But his fiancée's family objected, so he settled in Paris and took an office job. His engagement ultimately broke off, however, and he worked at several jobs over the next few years without success. He later became engaged to the future novelist Louise Leveque de Vilmorin.
By 1926, he was flying again. He became one of the pioneers of international postal flight in the days when aircraft had few instruments and pilots flew by instinct. Later he complained that those who flew the more advanced aircraft were more like accountants than pilots. He worked on the Aéropostale between Toulouse and Dakar. His first tale L'Aviateur (The Aviator) was published in the magazine Le Navire d'argent. In 1928, he published his first book, Courrier-Sud (Southern Mail), and flew the Casablanca/Dakar route. He became the director of Cap Juby airfield in Rio de Oro, Sahara. In 1929, Saint-Exupéry moved to South America, where he was appointed director of the Aeroposta Argentina Company. In 1931, Vol de Nuit (Night Flight), which won the Prix Femina, was published. He kept writing and flying until the beginning of the war.
On April 11, 1931, he married Consuelo Suncin Sandoval de Gómez, a widowed Salvadoran artist and writer who was the model for the temperamental Rose in Le Petit Prince. Theirs was a stormy union as Saint-Exupéry traveled frequently and indulged in numerous affairs.
During World War II, he initially flew in the French GC II/33 reconnaissance squadron. Then he would escape to New York City, but came back to fight with the Allies in a squadron based in the Mediterranean. Now age 44, he was about to quit but agreed to one last mission: to collect data on German troop movements in the Rhone River Valley. He took off the night of July 31, 1944, and was never seen again. A lady reported having seen a plane crash around noon of August 1 near the Bay of Carqueiranne. A body wearing a French uniform was found several days later and was buried in Carqueiranne that September.
In 1998, a fisherman found what was reported to be Saint-Exupéry's silver chain bracelet in the ocean south of Marseille. At first it was thought a hoax, but it was later positively identified. On April 7, 2004, officials confirmed that the twisted wreckage of a Lockheed P-38 Lightning, found on the seabed off the coast of Marseille in 2000, is Saint-Exupéry's. The discovery is akin to solving the mystery of where Amelia Earhart's plane went down in the Pacific Ocean in 1937. However, the cause of the crash remains a mystery. He was most likely shot down by the German Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighter of Robert Heichelle, who claimed shooting down an aggressive Lightning.
If not always autobiographical, Saint-Exupéry's work is greatly inspired by his experiences as a pilot. An exception is The Little Prince, his most famous book, a poetic illustrated tale in which he imagines himself stranded in the desert where he meets The Little Prince, a young boy from a tiny asteroid. In many ways The Little Prince is a philosophical story, with emphasis on criticizing society and the excesses of the adult world.
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