It was a romance that helped inspire one of the great works of 20th-century fiction and a bitter conflict between his heirs, but a new book featuring Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s love letters suggests a reconciliation has finally been reached.
French aviator, poet and war hero Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s “The Little Prince” is said to have sold more than 200 million copies in 450 different translations since its first publication in 1943.
Much of the story revolves around the mysterious star-traveling prince’s relationship with a rose – delicate and demanding – that he nurtures on his home planet.
The real rose of Saint-Exupery was Consuelo Suncin, a Salvadoran artist who carved a job through high society in Latin America and beyond before marrying him in 1930.
Now on Thursday, more than 160 of their letters and telegrams are being published in France, adorned with dozens of their sketches, photos and other mementos.
Breakups and reconciliations
Unsurprisingly, the marriage between a moody, flirtatious adventurer and an intensely spirited and astute artist was heady.
“Consuelo my dear, you don’t understand how much you make me suffer,” he writes at one point.
“I cry with emotion, I am so afraid of being banned from your heart,” she responds.
There were many fractures and affairs, but just as much reconciliation.
“Consuelo had an exuberant temper and he was depressed. His multiple affairs were the mark not of a Don Juan, but of an emotional failure,” biographer Alain Vircondelet told AFP.
But there seems little room for doubt about their underlying feelings in one of Saint-Exupéry’s last letters, when he writes: “Consuelo, thank you from the bottom of my heart for being my wife … If I am murdered, do I have someone to wait for eternity. ”
Saint-Exupery, who had joined the French Resistance from exile in the United States, disappeared shortly after taking off on a reconnaissance flight from Corsica in July 1944.
It wasn’t until 1998 that evidence of the crash was discovered when a fisherman from Marseille pulled out a silver identity bracelet. It both had their names.
‘A fruitless war’
The aristocratic family of Saint-Exupery was never enthusiastic about Consuelo and almost took her out of his life story after his death.
“Marrying a foreigner was considered worse than marrying a Jew,” a member of the family told biographer Paul Webster in the 1990s, providing a clear picture of family politics.
She retaliated, in Webster’s words, by handing her half of the royalty rights over to her gardener-driver Jose Fructuoso Martinez when she died in 1979, along with a huge load of love letters.
In 2008, the Saint-Exupery family successfully sued him after he published a book about the relationship between Antoine and Consuelo without their consent.
Six years later, however, he successfully sued them for making them pay a portion of the income from a cartoon version of the book.
The publication of the love letters represents a reconciliation between the rival estates.
In a press release last month through French publisher Gallimard, the author’s descendants spoke of an “fruitless 18-year legal war” before agreeing to participate in the project.
French scholar Alain Vircondelet, a writer, says much more correspondence is invisible. It is now owned by the gardener’s widow, Martine Martinez Fructuoso.
“She owns a colossal treasure on Saint-Exupery, and every time she tells me about it, I am amazed,” Vircondelet told AFP.
Yet at the heart of the story is a romance that gave rise to one of the most enduring and popular stories in literature, and its roots can be traced back to the very first letter Saint-Exupery wrote to his future wife.
“I remember a very old story, I change it a little bit,” he writes, shortly after they met in Buenos Aires.
‘There was a little boy who discovered a treasure. But the treasure was too beautiful for a child whose eyes didn’t know how to understand or his arms around him. So the child got sad. ‘