Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Little Prince—New York Roots

Drawing for The Little Prince. The Morgan Library & Museum, New York
© Estate of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Photo: Graham S. Haber
The Little Prince: A New York Story, at the Morgan Library through April 27, emphasizes the book's New York's roots. Antoine de St. Exupéry (1900—1944), who had left occupied France, lived in an apartment in New York where he drafted much of the book. He made mention of the city and of Long Island, which he summered as well, but those references were cut before the final version.

I recall the book as one of my favorites growing up. And despite a somewhat indistinct memory of the precise plot, the thought of the tri-state area's inclusion would certainly have diluted the exotic Frenchness, and other-worldliness, of it. There is a delicacy and preciousness that has nothing to do with the grit and humility of being in New York.

 Drawing for The Little Prince
 The Morgan Library & Museum, New York
© Estate of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Photo: Graham S. Haber, 2013
The book's theme of utter isolation is the one that resonates strongly in my childhood's eye. The prince standing all alone on his tiny planet, and his run-ins with others on their desolate orbs, more or less encapsulate the solitude of growing up. Childhood can be pretty lonely; in effect, you're on your own little planet until you learn how to play with all the other little (or big) aliens on their planets.

The concept drawings show the yellow-scarfed prince as angrier—eyebrows aslant, face more concerned—than the book, where he appears more placid and happy. This element of tension somehow permeated the settings, even if it was erased from the boy's personage. 

Sadly, St. Exupéry was deployed as The Little Prince was being printed. In 1944, he died on a recon mission in North Africa, shortly before the liberation of Paris. He would not see it printed in his native tongue. 

I like to think he observed the success of his book from the peace of his own little planet.

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