12 Charming Facts About The Little Prince

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s beloved tale of a pilot and a young alien prince has been delighting readers since it was first published in 1943. Even if you know The Little Prince (or Le Petit Prince in its original French) by heart, there are probably a few things you may not know about the novella.

1. Saint-Exupéry Knew a Thing or Two About Desert Plane Crashes.

When he depicted the novel’s narrator crashing in the Sahara at the opening of the book, Saint-Exupéry was writing what he knew. While today he’s largely remembered for The Little Prince, before World War II Saint-Exupéry was celebrated as an aristocratic aviator and writer who had flown mail routes in Africa and South America and even worked as a test pilot. During an attempt to break the record for the fastest trip between Paris and Saigon, Saint-Exupéry crashed his plane in the desert 125 miles outside of Cairo.

2. "The Little Mermaid" may have inspired Saint-Exupéry to write The Little Prince.

Although the true origin of the story is widely debated, one common theory is that Saint-Exupéry was inspired by this Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. In the early 1940s, Saint-Exupéry was stuck in a hospital while he recovered from various injuries that had piled up from his plane crashes, and he was bored out of his mind. His friend Annabella decided to read him a story—"The Little Mermaid"—that got Saint-Exupéry thinking about writing a fairy tale of his own. 

3. Saint-Exupéry wrote while in a self-imposed exile in the United States during World War II.

Saint-Exupéry had been a pilot in the French Air Force until the armistice between France and Germany in 1940, which resulted in the demobilization of the French forces. Having a poor opinion of Free French leader Charles de Gaulle, Saint-Exupéry refused to join the Royal Air Force and left for the U.S. instead, where he unsuccessfully tried to get the government to enter the war against Germany. 

4. Saint-Exupéry’s wife, Consuelo, likely inspired the Prince’s Rose.

Antoine and Consuelo had a volatile relationship, living apart for most of their lives, but she always remained his muse. Just as Saint-Exupéry held Consuelo close to his heart, the Prince protects his rose, watering her and shielding her from the elements. Although the Prince encounters other roses (in Saint-Exupéry’s case, other women) on his journey, the fox reminds him that his rose is unique to him because "you become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed." This theory is further supported by the title of Consuelo’s autobiography, The Tale of the Rose. 

5. Saint-Exupéry both wrote and illustrated The Little Prince.

Saint-Exupéry himself painted all of the story’s simple watercolor illustrations. He did not consider himself an "artist," but he had been a lifelong doodler and was always sketching little people on scraps of paper. 

6. He had to improvise on some of the illustrations’ models.

Saint-Exupéry didn’t have access to a vast menagerie, so he based the illustrations on what he could find. Pulling inspiration from his own life, he modeled many of the characters from real figures—a friend’s poodle became the sheep, while his own pet boxer became the tiger. 

7. One of the main characters is never actually shown to the reader.

Curiously, the pilot—the narrator and one of the main characters—is never depicted in the book. A 2014 exhibit at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York showcased many of Saint-Exupéry’s unpublished drawings, including one depicting the narrator sleeping beside his plane. Christine Nelson, curator of literary and historical manuscripts at the Morgan, shared her thoughts on the piece: "We can only speculate about why [he] decided to remove that image. But he was very good at excising what was not essential to his story." A fitting analysis, considering that the story famously says, "L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux." ("What is essential is invisible to the eyes," a line that itself went through many revisions.) 

8. Orson Welles wanted to adapt the novella into a film, with help from Walt Disney.

Welles was apparently so taken with the story that he purchased the film rights the day after reading it. He wanted to work with Walt Disney and even asked Disney to handle the special effects, but the two brilliant artists did not work brilliantly as collaborators. Disney felt that such a film would upstage his own work, and reportedly stormed out of a meeting shouting, "There is not room on this lot for two geniuses." Welles’s original screenplay was showcased during the Morgan exhibit.

9. Saint-Exupéry dropped his manuscript off at a friend’s before rushing off to rejoin the military.

One of the most famous books of all time had an unassuming trip to its publisher. Saint-Exupéry tossed a "rumpled paper bag" containing his draft manuscript and original illustrations onto a friend’s entryway table and immediately took off for France again. The 140-page handwritten draft was a mess of struck-through prose, illegible handwriting, coffee stains, and even cigarette scorch marks. He left it as a parting gift, saying, "I’d like to give you something splendid, but this is all I have."

10. Saint-Exupéry never saw the book published in his home country.

First published in 1943, The Little Prince was released in French and English, but only in the United States. Due to his controversial political views, Saint-Exupéry‘s works were not easily available under the Vichy regime, so it wasn’t until the liberation of France that the book was made available in the author’s homeland. 

11. Saint-Exupéry mysteriously disappeared after finishing the book.

By the time his work was available in France, Saint-Exupéry had already been presumed dead for a year, and his death was every bit as mysterious and fascinating as his life. After making his way to Algiers and talking his way into the Free French Air Force, he was once more able to fly even though both his physical and mental health were questionable. On a 1944 reconnaissance mission, his plane disappeared, and he was never seen again. Whether he was shot down by an enemy or perhaps crashed the plane in a suicidal maneuver remains unclear. The author’s body was never recovered, and it wasn’t until 1998 that a clue to his fate was found in the form of his silver identity bracelet, which was discovered by a fisherman off the coast of Marseille in the Mediterranean. The remains of his plane were found there by a diver in 2000.

12. The Little Prince has been translated into over 250 languages.

One of the most-read and most-translated books in the world, the story is often used in schools as a teaching tool for learning other languages. The book’s crisp style makes it a particularly good choice for translation into small and endangered languages. In 2005, it was translated into an Amerindian language of northern Argentina called Toba—a real distinction since up to that point the only other book translated into Toba was the Bible.

10 Amazing Facts About Harriet Beecher Stowe

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Over 41 issues, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom's Cabin was published as a serial in the abolitionist newspaper The National Era, the first installment on June 5, 1851. It was first followed by a only small group but its audience steadily grew as the story unfolded.

“Wherever I went among the friends of the Era, I found Uncle Tom’s Cabin a theme for admiring remark,” journalist and social critic Grace Greenwood wrote in a travelogue published in the Era. “[E]verywhere I went, I saw it read with pleasant smiles and irrepressible tears.’” The story was discussed in other abolitionist publications, such as Frederick Douglass’s Paper, and helped sell $2 annual subscriptions to the Era.

The popularity of Uncle Tom’s Cabin exploded once it was made available in a more accessible format. Some publishers claim the book edition is the second best-selling title of the 19th century, after the Bible.

1. Harriet Beecher Stowe's father and all seven of her brothers were ministers.

Harriet Elisabeth Beecher was born on June 14, 1811, in Litchfield, Connecticut. Her mother, Roxana Beecher, died five years later. Over the course of two marriages, her father, Calvinist preacher Lyman Beecher, fathered 13 children, 11 of whom survived into adulthood. He preached loudly against slavery. All seven of his sons followed him into the ministry. Henry Ward Beecher carried on his father’s abolitionist mission and according to legend sent rifles to anti-slavery settlers in Kansas and Nebraska in crates marked “Bibles.”

The women of the Beecher family were also encouraged to rise to positions of influence and rally against injustice. Eldest child Catharine Beecher co-founded the Hartford Female Seminary and Isabella Beecher Hooker was a prominent suffragist.

2. The Fugitive Slave Act—and a surprise $100 gift—inspired Uncle Tom's Cabin.

In 1832, Harriet Beecher moved to Cincinnati with her father, who assumed the presidency of Lane Theological Seminary. According to Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life by Joan D. Hedrick, the Ohio city introduced her to former slaves and African-American freemen and there she first practiced writing, in a literary group called the Semi-Colon Club.

She married Calvin Ellis Stowe, a professor at Lane, and eventually relocated to Brunswick, Maine, when he went to work at Bowdoin College. By then, Stowe had published two books, Primary Geography for Children and the short story collection New England Sketches. She was also a contributor to newspapers supporting temperance and abolitionism, writing “sketches,” brief descriptive stories meant to illustrate a political point.

Following a positive response to her The Freeman’s Dream: A Parable, Gamaliel Bailey, editor of the anti-slavery paper The National Era, sent her $100 to encourage her to continue supplying the paper with material. The 1850 passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, obligating authorities in free states to re-enslave refugees, took the slavery fight northward. It also encouraged Stowe to step up her game.

“I am at present occupied upon a story which will be a much longer one than any I have ever written,” Beecher Stowe wrote in a letter to Bailey, “embracing a series of sketches which give the lights and shadows of the ‘patriarchal institution’ [of slavery], written either from observation, incidents which have occurred in the sphere of my personal knowledge, or in the knowledge of my friends.” For material, she scoured the written accounts belayed by escaped slaves.

3. Uncle Tom's Cabin made her rich and famous.

According to Henry Louis Gate Jr.’s introduction to the annotated edition of Uncle Tom's Cabin, The National Era paid Stowe $300 for 43 chapters. Before the serial’s completion, Stowe signed a contract with John P. Jewett and Co. to publish a two-volume bound book edition, and that’s when it really took off. Released on March 20, 1852, the book sold 10,000 copies in the U.S. in its first week and 300,000 in the first year. In the U.K., 1.5 million copies flew off the shelves in the first year. Stowe was paid 10 cents for each one sold. According to a London Times article published six months after the book’s release, she had already amassed $10,000 in royalties. “We believe [that this is] the largest sum of money ever received by any author, either American or European, from the sales of a single work in so short a period of time,” the Times stated.

4. She went to court to stop an unauthorized translation of Uncle Tom's Cabin ... and lost.

Immediately after Uncle Tom’s Cabin became a literary sensation, a Philadelphia-based German-language paper, Die Freie Presse, began publishing an unauthorized translation. Stowe took the publisher, F.W. Thomas, to court. American copyright laws were notoriously weak at the time, irking British writers whose work was widely pirated. As someone who overnight became America’s favorite author, Stowe had much at stake testing them.

The case put her in the Philadelphia courtroom of Justice Robert Grier, a notorious enforcer of the Fugitive Slave Act. “By the publication of Mrs. Stowe's book, the creations of the genius and imagination of the author have become as much public property as those of Homer or Cervantes,” Grier ruled. The precedent set by Stowe vs. Thomas meant that authors had the right to prevent others from printing their exact words, but almost nothing else. “All her conceptions and inventions may be used and abused by imitators, play-rights and poet-asters,” ruled Grier.

5. Beecher Stowe visited Abraham Lincoln.

Though Stowe had criticized what she saw as his slowness in emancipation and willingness to seek compromise to prevent succession, Stowe visited President Abraham Lincoln at the White House in 1862, during the early days of the Civil War. Reportedly, Lincoln greeted her with, “So this is the little woman who brought on this big Civil War,” but scholars have dismissed the quote as Stowe family legend spread after her death.

Details of their conversation are limited to vague entries in their respective diaries. Lincoln may have bantered with her over his love of open fires (“I always had one to home,” he reportedly said), while Stowe got down to business and quizzed him: “Mr. Lincoln, I want to ask you about your views on emancipation.”

6. Beecher Stowe wrote a lot of things that weren't Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Stowe wrote more than 30 books, both fiction and nonfiction, plus essays, poems, articles, and hymns.

7. The Stowes wintered in the former slave state of Florida.

The influx of wealth from Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the end of the Civil War allowed the Stowes to purchase a winter home in Mandarin, Florida, in 1867. It may have seemed strange—and perilous—for a famous anti-slavery crusader to buy 30 acres in a former slave state so soon after the war, yet six years after the purchase, she wrote to a local newspaper, “In all this time I have not received even an incivility from any native Floridian.”

8. Beecher Stowe and Mark Twain were neighbors.

The Stowes’ primary residence, beginning in 1864, was a villa in the Nook Farm section of Hartford, Connecticut, a neighborhood populated by prominent citizens, including Mark Twain. The homes of Nook Farm had few fences, and doors stayed open in sunny weather, creating an air of gentility. That did not prevent Twain from writing a somewhat unflattering portrait of Stowe, as she gave way to what was probably Alzheimer’s disease, in his autobiography:

“Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe who was a near neighbor of ours in Hartford, with no fence between. In those days she made as much use of our grounds as of her own in pleasant weather. Her mind had decayed, and she was a pathetic figure. She wandered about all the day long in the care of a muscular Irishwoman, assigned to her as a guardian.”

9. Beecher Stowe outlived four of her seven children.

While continuing a lucrative and prolific writing career, Stowe birthed and cared for seven children. When she passed away in 85 in 1896, she had outlived four of them, as bad fortune seemed to follow their offspring.

Their third, Henry, drowned in a swimming accident in 1857. The fourth, Frederick, mysteriously disappeared en route to California in 1870. The fifth, Georgiana, died from septicemia, probably related to morphine in 1890. (She was an addict.) The sixth, Samuel, died from cholera in infancy in 1849. These losses informed several of Stowe’s works.

10. There are several Harriet Beecher Stowe houses you can visit.

The Harriet Beecher Stowe House of Cincinnati is where she lived after following her father to Lane. The Harriet Beecher Stowe House on the campus of Bowdoin in Brunswick, Maine, is where she wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It became a restaurant from 1946 to 1998 and is now a faculty office building, but one room is open to the public and dedicated to Stowe. The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center preserves her home in Hartford. Her home in Florida is gone but is marked by a plaque.

Letters by Otto Frank, Anne Frank's Father, Are Being Digitized for the First Time

Spencer Platt, Getty Images
Spencer Platt, Getty Images

Decades after his family was ousted from their attic hiding space, Otto Frank began corresponding with a pen pal named Ryan Cooper. Throughout the 1970s, Frank and Cooper exchanged letters, with Frank offering perspectives on his time in seclusion and captivity during World War II. His daughter Anne’s famous diary was written while the family was hiding from German forces in Amsterdam.

Now, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is making those letters available digitally for the first time to commemorate what would have been Anne’s 90th birthday on June 12.

Cooper, an artist in California who was then in his 20s, struck up a pen pal relationship with Frank. In addition to garnering advice on a variety of topics, Cooper was able to learn more about the young woman whose Diary of Anne Frank went on to become one of the best-known chronicles of the war and who tragically died of typhus while being held in a concentration camp in 1945. The letters also reveal more about Otto Frank, who appeared determined to keep the memory of his daughter alive even as his own health began to deteriorate. Frank died in 1980 at the age of 91 as the family's only survivor of the war.

Cooper amassed more than 80 letters in total, including some from Miep Gies, who protected Anne’s writings until the war ended. The museum is expected to make all of it accessible online in the near future.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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