The Little Prince, originally published in 1943, is a universally-celebrated tale written and illustrated by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, a French aristocrat, poet, writer, and aviator. What is less known about the novella is that its origins trace back to New York, where it was written and first published.
The poetic tale of philosophy and societal criticism, featuring illustrations by the author, focuses on a pilot stranded in the desert. He meets a young prince fallen to Earth from his tiny asteroid planet.
Saint-Exupéry was exiled to the U.S. following the fall of France in the Second World War. He traveled to America on a personal mission, trying to persuade the government to quickly take action against Nazi Germany. During his two year stay, he experienced personal turmoil and health problems, but produced his best works. In his travel preparations, before returning to the war effort as a pilot, he visited his friend Silvia Hamilton. Dressed in his military uniform, he tossed her a paper bag and said, “I’d like to give you something splendid, but this is all I have.” Inside the bag was the manuscript and drawings for The Little Prince. The Morgan Library acquired the materials from Hamilton in 1968.
The original manuscript and drawings are on display at the Morgan now until April 27, 2014. There are 25 manuscript pages and 43 drawings, complete with cross-outs, cigarette burns, and coffee stains. The exhibit’s curator, Christine Nelson, spoke to NPR about Saint-Exupéry’s working habits, “Wherever he went, he had stacks of onionskin paper with him, and always a cup of coffee or tea by his side, always a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.” Other personal affects of Saint-Exupéry are on loan from the author’s estate, including letters, photographs, and artifacts.
The Little Prince is the most read and most translated book in the French language. More than a million copies are sold each year, translated into braille and over 250 languages. At the end of the story, we never find out if Le Petit Prince makes it back home or not. Saint-Exupéry’s life imitated his art in this respect; one year after his novella was published, he disappeard during a flight mission on July 31, 1944.
Years later, a fisherman near Marseilles found a silver bracelet in his net, which is included in the Morgan’s exhibit. Engraved on the bracelet is Saint-Exupéry’s name, the address of his publisher, and the letters NYC USA.
To learn more about The Little Prince‘s NYC origins, visit the exhibition at the Morgan Library & Museum, January 24- April 27