Biography of Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry may not be a household name in America, but his most famous work, The Little Prince, certainly is. As for France, Saint-Exupéry is beloved by readers of all ages and famed for his other works as well.

Saint-Exupéry was born in Lyon, France in 1900 to a wealthy family. His father died when he was young and his mother took him and his four siblings to a family chateau in Le Mans. He was educated at Catholic schools but was sent away for a time due to WWI. Returning to France in 1917, he enrolled in a college prep school in Paris and then tried to enter the naval academy; his poor test skills hampered this, though, and he studied architecture at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.

From a young age, he loved flying and received his pilot's wings during compulsory military service in 1922.

Saint-Exupéry nurtured his love of flying at the same time as his love of writing. He published “The Aviator” in 1926. That year he also began flying as a mail pilot for a company in Toulouse. In 1927, he worked in an airfield in the Sahara, and his experiences there formed the basis for his novel Southern Mail (1929). Two years in Argentina led to Night Flight (1931), a novel that garnered him the Prix Femina literary prize and a Hollywood film adaptation with John Barrymore.

The aviator and author married Salvadorian writer and artist Consuelo Suncin. Their marriage was tumultuous, particularly as Saint-Exupéry was often gone. In 1935, he was attempting to break the air-speed record between Paris and Saigon when he crash-landed in the Sahara. He and his copilot barely survived, but a wandering Bedouin saved their lives. Saint-Exupéry wrote a memoir about this, entitled Wind, Sand and Stars (1939); it won numerous awards (including the National Book Award in the United States) and was very successful.

The experience in the Sahara also led, of course, to The Little Prince. Saint-Exupéry began working on this as the Second World War was heating up. He was a military reconnaissance pilot but had to flee France when the Germans occupied it in 1940. While living in New York, Saint-Exupéry published The Little Prince. It was well-received but most of its tremendous fame occurred after his death.

In 1943, Saint-Exupéry, now part of the Free French air force based out of North Africa, was anxious to return to his squadron. He left Corsica on July 31, 1844 for a reconnaissance mission but never returned and his plane was never found (wreckage of the pilot’s Lockheed F-5B was found in 2000, and evidence indicates that he was possibly shot down).

Study Guides on Works by Antoine de Saint-Exupery