Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: the fall to earth

Stacy Schiff reflects elegantly on the recent discovery of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s downed Lockheed P-38 plane:

From his personal frustrations and his inability to make his political positions understood came “The Little Prince,” the modest volume under which has swelled a great grassy knoll of literature. Published in 1943 but a best seller only later, the text read eerily as a death foretold, its mystique enhanced by the parallel between author and subject: imperious innocents whose lives consist of equal parts flight and failed love, who fall to earth, are little impressed with what they find here and ultimately disappear without a trace….

The end shows every sign as well of having been the one Saint-Exupéry wanted. In the 1930’s he was asked if, given an already impressive catalog of close calls, he had come to prefer one death to another. Stipulating that his answer was not for publication until he was “truly dead,” he opted for water. “You don’t feel yourself dying,” he reported, on uncomfortably good authority. “You feel simply as if you’re falling asleep and beginning to dream.” And there, surely, we can leave him.