'The Little Prince,' by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, is one of the most popular children's books ever written, a French literary classic. An exhibition opened last week at at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York which aimed to reveal the extent of 'The Little Prince's' roots there, making the claim that it's an important part of American literary heritage, too.
According to The Telegraph, they do have grounds. Saint-Exupéry, a French Second World War pilot, moved to live in New York in 1940. Though the book was originally written in French and set in part on a variety of fantastical planets, the exhibition uses photographs of Saint-Exupéry's American home, alongside 25 original handwritten manuscripts and pieces of watercolour artwork, to show that New York was the place where Saint-Exupéry lived and wrote – and so it was crucial to the fabric of the finished book.
Saint-Exupéry returned to his squadron in 1943, the year he finished writing and published 'The Little Prince.' He was shot down and presumed killed in 1944, at the age of 44. The wreckage of the plane was not discovered until 60 years later, in 2003, seven years after a silver identity bracelet bearing his name was found off the coast of Marseille.
The book's narrator is a pilot who crashes
The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, was originally written and published in New York. But 70 years after the author's death, it still has worldwide impact
in the desert at the very beginning, and the unhappy little prince he meets lives on a planet so small ("scarcely any larger than a house!") that he is able to witness a sunset 44 times in a day (43 in the English translation, for an unknown reason). That number, the same as the age that Saint-Exupéry was when he died, is a detail that has intrigued and saddened readers ever since the book's publication and led to speculation that Saint-Exupéry ended his own life.
He died without knowing that 'The Little Prince' would become a lasting worldwide phenomenon, translated into more than 250 languages including Latin, Scottish Gaelic and Zulu. Collecting a copy in every language is a hobby for some fans, with several websites dedicated to cataloguing the thousands of editions individuals have acquired, and advertising the sale of doubles to fellow collectors.
It has also, inevitably, become a merchandising opportunity, with official toys, t-shirts, watches, napkin dispensers and jewellery for sale online and at a dedicated shop in Paris. Japan has its own Museum of The Little Prince in Hakone. It's not surprising that New York wants to make its own claim to the book's creation.
'The Little Prince' may have emerged in New York from a French writer, but its appeal – appropriately enough for a book about imagined planets – is universal. Even 70 years after the author's disappearance, adults and children around the world continue to feel a strong connection to his distinctive illustrations and the book's bittersweet philosophy of growing up.