January 2014 | Barbara Basbanes Richter

The Little Prince: Made in Manhattan

MORGAN-3. Reynal and Hitchcock_The Little Prince medium.jpgMANHATTAN - The Little Prince is most often associated with the City of Lights.  Yet Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's wartime tale took shape in a rented house on Beekman Place in the heart of New York.  In fact, the ex-pat French aviator - who spoke almost no English - spent two years in Gotham, writing and reworking what would ultimately become one of the best-selling and most-beloved books in history.  As much as the world considers The Little Prince to be a French masterpiece, it took shape and drew inspiration from the people, sights and sounds of Manhattan.

The Morgan Library celebrates the book's 70th anniversary with an impressive exhibition of the author's working manuscripts and drawings, as well as other memorabilia such as personal communications, photos, journals and books.  The show opens to the public January 24th and runs through April 27th.    

So how much did the City that Never Sleeps inspire Saint-Exupéry?  Portions of the working manuscript on display show the author referencing iconic landmarks such as Rockefeller Center.  Some of the drawings also appear to be inspired by skyline views of Manhattan.  Much was ultimately removed from the final product, but these coffee and cigarette stained documents provide a fascinating look into the creative process.  Saint-Exupéry was also notorious for working through the night, often surrounded by reams of onion-skin paper - which, when examined under proper lighting, reveals the watermark Fidelity Onion Skin. Made in U.S.A.  

Admirer and fellow aviator Ann Morrow Lindbergh's diary is also on display and open to a passage where she reflects on what she considered the  "eternal sadness - eternal hunger - eternal searching"  of the work.  Orson Welles loved the book so much that he bought the screen rights; his annoted screenplay is here as well. Perhaps the most moving object is an identification bracelet worn by Saint-Exupéry when his plane was lost at sea.  It was recovered by a Marseille fisherman in 1998.   To the end, the author embraced New York - alongside his name is engraved the Park Avenue address of his publisher.  

Image: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900-1944)
The Little Prince
New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1943
The Morgan Library & Museum, New York
Photography by Graham S. Haber, 2013