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The Little Prince: A French classic with a New York accent

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-02-20

Contrary to popular belief, French author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s beloved character, the Little Prince, is not from Paris; he was born in New York.

From now until the end of April, “The Little Prince: A New York Story”, a new exhibition at the Morgan Library & Museum in Manhattan, takes visitors behind the scenes of one of the world’s favourite stories.

“The Little Prince” was written in New York City while its aviator author was in exile there during World War II. The exhibition reveals how Saint-Exupéry transformed his original doodles into a book that captured the imagination of children and adults across the globe.

“He didn’t speak English, he was far from home,” Christine Nelson, the curator of the exhibition, told FRANCE 24. “He was in absolute despair about what was going on in the world, and this book really comes out of that. And yet he managed to create a book that is infused with hope.”

The original hand-written manuscript of that book, and the accompanying watercolours, were bought by the museum in 1968, and are displayed as part of the exhibition. They reportedly have never left Manhattan.

The exhibition also features the bracelet Saint-Exupéry was wearing when his plane went down off the coast of Corsica just weeks before the end of the war. It was found by a fisherman near Marseille more than five decades later.

Nostalgia in New York

The author arrived in New York on the last day of 1940, planning to stay for a month.

He ended up staying for more than two years.

Saint-Exupéry lived for much of that time in a 23rd-floor apartment just south of Central Park, from which he is said to have routinely sent paper airplanes flying.

During the autumn of 1942, he moved into an isolated mansion on the northern shore of Long Island, far from the hustle and bustle of the big city. There, he spent long nights -- cigarette in one hand, coffee in the other – delving into his childhood memories. He is said to have called friends at two o’clock in the morning to read them passages.

Gradually, the character forming in Saint-Exupéry’s head blossomed into the hero of the book that would define his legacy.

“One of his main themes is the memory of childhood,” explained Delphine Lacroix, a researcher specialised in Saint-Exupéry’s life and work. “It’s what makes a person who they are and it’s what gives them depth. For Saint-Exupéry, that enchanted world of childhood stayed with him all his life.”

Date created : 2014-02-20

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