The baobab that hides the forest

Some authors seem immortal, others sink into oblivion. After a while, what remains? In his monthly series Should I re-read…?, The duty revisits one of these writers with the help of admirers and attentive observers. A global and timeless success, does “The Little Prince” cast a lingering shadow over the work of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry?

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900-1944) lived through the first half of the 20e century by plane. The second, despite her death, bears her indelible mark thanks to a tale in which young and old find themselves, recognize each other, constantly revisiting it. This is what partly explains the phenomenal success of the Little Prince, first published in English and French in the United States in 1943, then in France in 1944, rivaling the Bible as the most read work on the planet. The figures are dizzying: more than 300 translations into different languages ​​and different dialects, more than 150 million copies sold since its publication, and nearly 5 million each year even today.

The crash of an airman in the middle of the desert and his encounter with a fair-haired, mischievous, philosophical boy from another planet constitutes the backdrop of this fable loaded with enigmatic or caricatural characters, revealing the splendors and miseries of our human condition. Written and drawn by Saint-Exupéry in exile, sick and bitter, in the United States while the Second World War is raging in Europe, The little Prince would become both his testament, the diamond in his crown and quickly the baobab hiding the rest of his literary work. We also see some of them – their invading presence would evoke for Saint-Exupéry the omnipresence of Nazism – in this tale capable of arousing the most diverse emotions and analyses.

The view of an image master

For Thomas De Koninck, from his childhood to today, The little Prince is of particular importance. Invited by his father, Charles De Koninck, to give a lecture at the Palais Montcalm in Quebec in the spring of 1942, the already famous author of Courier South, night flight and Land of men spends the evening with the family and friends of the De Konincks, but prefers to play, squatting, with the children, including little Thomas, then a blond boy who kept asking questions… Many thought they recognized him in the Little Prince, something that still amuses and moves, 80 years later, the professor of philosophy at Laval University.

Praise of the dearly departed

The disappearance of Saint-Exupéry above the Mediterranean on July 31, 1944 at the controls of his Lightning P38 was a shock for the young Thomas and his family, who have been cultivating since his memory, regularly revisiting his universe… and not just The little Prince. “He built a great work while being a man of action, participating in battles, underlines the co-author, with Christine Michaud, of The Little Prince is still alive (Edito, 2020). Already in Citadelwhich makes us understand a good part of his books, including The little Prince, he writes: “The child is only the one who takes you by the hand to teach you.” »

Hugo Latulippe also learned a lot by seeing Saint-Exupéry through documentaries The invisible essence. The little Prince (2018). He invited several writers (Catherine Mavrikakis, Dany Laferrière, Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt, etc.), as well as biographers Alain Vircondelet and Stacy Schiff, “the two most solid on his work”, to revisit this fable. In the film, opinions are contrasted, Mavrikakis speaking of “moral soup”, and the actor Emmanuel Schwartz, having seen a curious cross between the life of Jesus and the wandering of the Jews in the desert, has a vision much more nuanced today.

As for that of the director ofAlpheus of stars and I lift myself up, it was enriched thanks to privileged access to the archives of the writer and his family, “so fascinating that I could have made a feature film”, regrets Hugo Latulippe. His admiration only grew when he discovered to what extent Saint-Exupéry had “pushed the limits and the borders, not a suicide bomber, but ready to face death”. As for his books, they already colored his career as a young filmmaker, that of the time of the famous Course destination monde and its multiple variations broadcast on Radio-Canada television between 1976 and 1999.

A man who divides

“Before getting interested in Little Princewhat linked me to Saint-Exupéry was night flightand Land of men… like many participants of the Race, recalls Hugo Latulippe. This importance of going out to meet peoples, of focusing on the specificity of each person encountered, was universal. However, the man who made his first flight at the age of 12 in July 1912 was unaware that his dual passion for writing and aviation would arouse animosity in both camps: the French literary community, despite the consecrations, saw in him a dilettante; Among the pilots, he was perceived as a magician lifting the veil on his tricks.

The hostility was not immediate, specifies Bernabé Wesley, professor of French literature at the University of Montreal and specialist in the French novel of the XXe century. “His comrades knew that he had been writing since the aviatorhis first big story, and Courier South. But Flight night, obtaining the Prix Femina in 1931, followed by great literary success, they will not forgive him. Saint-Exupéry will suffer because he celebrates in his books the values ​​of sacrifice and solidarity [parmi les pilotes], and he has the bitter experience of broken friendships, of rumors circulating about him. »

This will not prevent him from pursuing his two great dreams and making, “from work to work, an epic of aviation, in itself something quite unique”, underlines Bernabé Wesley. Between the painful bereavements (his father, later his brother François and great aviator friends, including Henri Guillaumet, who died in 1940, also over the Mediterranean), his unhappy loves (including his fusional and heartbreaking marriage with the Salvadoran Consuelo Suncin, who is said to be the famous rose of the Little Prince) and multiple accidents poisoning his life, Saint-Exupéry persists and signs.

This perseverance will allow him to write what many consider to be his most powerful book, war pilot, a pavement in the pond of the Second World War, “a book of resistance, politics, which raises the question of the values ​​on which France will be founded after the war, and especially how it is done”, explains Bernabé Wesley. A huge success in the United States… which tore the French apart. “The collaborationist intellectuals were indignant that it appeared in France – the hero was a Jew – and Charles de Gaulle, of whom Saint-Exupéry distrusted just as much as of Philippe Pétain, had him banned in Algeria and in Free France. »

If some prefer Citadelincluding Thomas De Koninck (“It’s a masterpiece, a high-level philosophical reflection, which is not read enough”), all agree on the inescapable and timeless character of the Little Prince, a book that takes on an almost mythical aspect since its publication in France coincides with the death of its author. And in circumstances where the gray areas are not yet all illuminated. Saint-Exupéry was already world famous, his death is a heroic mystery, and this tale will have made him eternal

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The baobab that hides the forest

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