Background information

The novella The Little Prince was written by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in 1942 and published in 1943. Its origins will be presented in detail in the following pages.

When the novella appeared, many of Exupéry’s readers had been expecting more of a reflection on the events of the war and were initially disappointed when the book turned out to be a fairy tale for children. The Little Prince did not initially seem to be the successful work it is now. The reception of the work is presented in the following pages. 

The historical background is important for the understanding of the novella, as are the political and religious allusions that readers today might not be familiar with.

Origins

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry began work on The Little Prince in 1942. The question of the genesis of Saint-Exupéry's most successful work has often been discussed and has led to various answers. 

According to the most common explanation, Saint-Exupéry met with his American publisher named Curtice Hitchcock for dinner in the spring of 1942. Saint-Exupéry had a habit of drawing fantasy figures on the tablecloth and sketched a little prince that evening. When Hitchcock asked what it was all about, Saint-Exupéry is said to have replied: "Not much, just a little fellow I carry around in my heart." 

Hitchcock is said to have been so taken with the little figure that he spontaneously suggested to Saint-Exupéry that he write a children's book that he wanted to publish for Christmas. In another version, it was the wife of Hitchcock's partner Reynal who became fascinated with the drawing of the little boy and came up with the idea of the children's tale.

It is also possible that Saint-Exupéry himself had been playing for several years with the idea of writing a fairy tale whose main character would be a child. He may have been inspired to do so by the death of his younger brother François. The author's emergency landing in 1935 in the middle of the Libyan Desert, after which he wandered for five days before finally encountering a nomadic caravan that rescued him, probably also influenced the story.

Although Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's greatest priority was flying, and he did not consider himself a professional writer, he did not mind writing and began working on the story of the Little Prince. Saint-Exupéry wrote the work in the summer and fall of 1942. It was particularly important to the author to illustrate the book himself. In the spring of 1943, he handed it over to his publisher who arranged for the translation of the text and published the original version on April 6, 1943.

However, the story of the little blond boy who leaves his planet because of an argument with a flower and goes on a great journey across different planets did not conquer the hearts of the readership from the beginning. In 1943, no one had any idea that the work would sell over 80 million copies and be translated into over 180 languages.

Historical background

The history of aviation

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the author of the novella The Little Prince,  was born in 1900 and died in 1944. The early 1900s were a difficult time to grow up in, as Saint-Exupéry had to witness the First World War.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was an enthusiastic pilot. Already in his childhood he designed a bicycle airplane, which he proudly presented to his siblings. Even at that time his enthusiasm for flying, which followed him throughout his life was evident. Despite several serious crashes both during the war and during peacetime, he continued to work as a pilot until his death. Saint-Exupéry was a passionate pilot who was only a part-time author.

The history of aviation begins with man's desire to be able to fly, a desire that already inspired Icarus. In the Renaissance period, Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) designed various flying machines. Even though none of the models was airworthy, Da Vinci is considered a pioneer of aviation history .

In the 18th and 19th centuries, numerous scientists tried their hand at constructing models capable of flight, especially so-called gliders. The German mechanical engineer Otto Lilienthal is one of the first to succeed in flying a distance between 50 and 250 meters in gliding flight. Lilienthal died in 1896 when he was caught by a gust of wind during an attempted flight and crashed from a height of 15 meters. At that time, pilots were considered heroes, and sometimes even madmen, because flying was considered a very risky undertaking.

The first proven successful powered flight is attributed to the Wright brothers in 1903. In 1908, they demonstrate their first public powered flight in Le Mans and later also open their workshop there. As Saint-Exupéry was living in Le Mans at the time, this further increased his enthusiasm for flying. Aviation fascinated more and more people at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1909, for example, the first International Airship Exhibition was held in Frankfurt.

After the use of machines in World War I brought a break...

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