Consuelo and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s graphic novel, The Little Prince, has been called the fairy tale of our age. After his tragic death, the author has continued to live on as a legend. Several years ago, the idealised image of him was reassessed and clarified when the memoirs of his wife Consuelo were found and published. Some of their personal correspondence has also been published and give evidence of the complex nature of their marriage. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s personality was contradictory. He did not want to grow up. His childhood memories and relationship with his widowed mother affected his whole life. In their marriage, he expected his wife Consuelo to give him the same kind of emotional shelter his mother had provided before. In reality, Consuelo might have been the rose of the Little Prince, but according to psychoanalyst Eugen Drewermann, on a much deeper level the rose symbolized the author’s mother. We can find the same falsetto tone in the son’s letters to his mother as in his correspondence with his wife. For some deeply personal reason, Antoine was never able to break free from the emotional pattern established with his mother. This unconscious inner conflict weighed heavily on the writer and made him both careless and self-destructive. The fox in The Little Prince speaks wistfully of friendship and longing for real love, but in the author’s own conflicted and accident prone life we can detect manifestations of a death wish.
An evening in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1930. A beautiful young lady is about to leave a big party. In the hallway she is stopped by a dark, tall gentleman, who pushes her into a large armchair like a big bear and contemplates her as if she were an exotic flower. Another gentleman, their mutual friend, hurries to make the introductions, full of excitement. “This is the man you were supposed to meet. On the cruise I promised to introduce you to an aviator you would like, because he loves Latin America as much as you do.“
The pilot is the French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and the lady Consuelo Suncin de Sandoval, who was born in El Salvador. Impulsively Saint-Exupéry invites the lady and her friends to join him on a flight. Up in the air he daringly demands a kiss from Consuelo – or else he would plunge the plane into the sea, he even turns off the engine. He starts writing long, passionate letters to Consuelo and soon asks her to marry him.
Fourteen years later he and his plane plunge into the Mediterranean Sea. He was self-destructive and melancholic at the time. Their marriage had been stormy and almost half of the time the couple had spent separated from each other. Saint-Exupéry wrote his most famous book, The Little Prince, not long before he died, when they were again living together. He admitted he had written it “in the blaze of Consuelo’s grand flames“. She was the rose of the Little Prince. What had happened to them?
Two Significant Figures in the French Cultural Life
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900-1944) worked as a pilot in different parts of the world, in France, Africa and Latin America. He wrote six books: Courrier Sud (Southern Mail, 1929), Vol de Nuit (Night Flight, 1931), Terre des Hommes (Wind, Sand and Stars, 1939), Pilote de Guerre (Flight to Arras, 1942), Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince, 1943) and Citadelle (Wisdom of the Sands), 1948. His favourite topic was flying, but there is also a lot of philosophic discussion on life in his books.
Saint-Exupéry was a colourful and charming but also contradictory person. He disappeared during a reconnaissance flight over the Mediterranean Sea in July 1944. His body was never found. He lived on as a legend, the Little Prince who tragically had plunged into death – he became a myth.
It is not easy to connect his wife and the odd phases of their relationship to this myth, and in some biographies Consuelo has been undervalued or almost forgotten. Since Consuelo’s memoirs and part of the personal correspondence between Antoine and his wife were published in the 21st century, it has been possible to piece together a new picture of their life.
Consuelo Suncin de Sandoval (1901-1979) was born in El Salvador. She was first married to the famous Guatemalan writer Enrique Gomez Carillo and was widowed in 1927. The couple had moved around in the artist circles of Paris, because Gomez Carillo served as the ambassador of Guatemala and the consul of Argentina in France.
Consuelo was very beautiful. She was also a natural storyteller. “You are a great poet, Consuelo. If you wanted, you could be a better writer than your husband,” wrote Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. She was a conspicuous character, “a little El Salvadorian volcano that spread its blaze over the roofs of Paris.” She had high-flying imagination and it is hard to tell which ones of her stories are really true.
Consuelo describes her native country as a land of volcanoes and roses, which makes one think of the star in The Little Prince. On the star, there were also baobab saplings, and baobabs grow in Africa, where Saint-Exupéry had often been flying above the desert.
The Power of Childhood
We cannot talk about the writer of The Little Prince without discussing his childhood, the real kingdom of the Little Prince. Antoine’s childhood home was the castle of Saint-Maurice near Lyon in France, and as a child he had blond hair like the Little Prince. Antoine lost his father at the age of only four years, when Antoine’s mother was expecting her fifth child. Antoine had a brother and three sisters, and together they used to play endless fantasy games in the castle and its garden.
Antoine’s mother Marie de Fonscolombe (1875-1972), countess of Saint-Exupéry, was widowed after eight years of marriage. Most of the castle’s residents were women; there were cousins, aunts, governesses and nannies. Antoine, the eldest son of the family, acquired a special position in his mother’s world, as did the mother in Antoine’s world. They took the place of the father in each other’s lives. Marie was a dedicated Catholic, who self-sacrificingly devoted her life to the good of other people and the church. Perhaps she was also contradictory – she was flirtatious but still read the Bible to her children.
She was the leading force in Antoine’s life until he died. “Nothing can be understood about Saint-Exupéry’s often misplaced choices or hesitations without reference to his mother’s influence which he tried to bend without ever breaking,” writes his biographer Paul Webster.
Antoine did not, however, adopt his mother’s religiousness. The mother also opposed to his becoming a pilot – but he could feel free only in the air. He tried several other professions as well, with little success. He flew postal flights to northern and western Africa and was transferred to Argentina to manage the airline Aéropostale Argentina in 1929. He fell in love with the open landscapes of South America – and in 1930 also with Consuelo.
In the spring 1931 Antoine and Consuelo travelled to France. His book, Night Flight, had attracted attention there, and it received the notable Prix Femina award the same year. This was, however, the start of an arduous phase in the couple’s life. There were interviewers and eager admirers swarming around the author. He had setbacks in his flying career, and due to financial difficulties Antoine’s mother had to sell the castle of Saint-Maurice, so he never inherited it.
The Charming and Impossible Author
The myth of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry portrays him in an idealised and biased light. Anyway, his image is no longer as glorious as before. It seems the writer was a hypersensitive and extremely difficult person. There were contradictions especially in his relationships with other people.
According to Webster, Antoine suffered from an inability to accept adult values for his entire life. This can be seen most clearly in The Little Prince, which deplores the fact that the transition to adulthood stifles the unique atmosphere of childhood. Antoine never wanted to grow up. For example, he regarded his mother and other relatives as an endless source of money long into his adulthood.
Towards his friends the writer was loyal but also very demanding. He would often call them in the middle of the night and demand them to listen to his concerns. Chain smoker that he was, he reached for the phone as often as he lit up a cigarette which resulted in huge phone bills. He had an endless need for company and audience. His emotions were rather unpredictable. He might suddenly go into a sulk or fly into a rage. His clothes and belongings were always untidy and chaotic; only his papers were well-organized.
According to Webster, Saint-Exupéry might sometimes behave like a spoiled child still at the age of 40. After his visit to the film director Jean Renoir in Hollywood, the director said he was charming as a person but impossible as a house-guest. During the visit the writer had been hospitalised and Renoir had to be his interpreter, for instance, when Saint-Exupéry insisted that carrots be withdrawn from his meals, because their colour made him sad.
Antoine’s attitude towards women is a completely different story. He could never find a woman as good as his mother, who was perfect, warm and self-sacrificing. The problem can be seen already in the first novel Courrier Sud (Southern Mail, 1929). Its main character, a pilot, tries to get a woman to give up her own way of life and devote herself to him alone. The pilot would have been happy only with a completely submissive woman.
It has been said about Saint-Exupéry’s books that it is impossible to find dialogue between a man and a woman that would be even remotely true.
What about the letters of the writer and his wife? You can find praise, great declarations of love and promises of being together forever, but the tone suggests he is talking to a little child rather than a grown woman.
Could Consuelo give up her own way of life and become completely submissive? She was bohemian and had many artist friends. She too could be impulsive, but maybe not to the same extent as Antoine. Once, for example, the writer decided to take a young puma from South-America to France on a ship, but he had to give up the animal during the journey. “Consuelo may have asked herself whether Antoine had given as little reflection to ‘taming’ her and attaching a tight conjugal leash,” biographer Webster writes.
Consuelo and Antoine’s marriage had its rough patches but lasted till the writer’s death. Antoine thought that two people in love should devote themselves to each other completely, but in reality he could not do so himself. Yet he was jealously possessive and demanded Consuelo to obey his smallest whim. Life with him was full of waiting. In the foreword to Consuelo’s memoirs Alain Vircondelet writes, “From the beginning to the end the book is a story about a man who leaves, escapes, eludes, takes hold again, disappears and appears and looks for himself, yet never finds.“
And in the background there is always the patronizing mother. She was very jealous of her daughter-in-law, even though Antoine used to assure her in his letters that Consuelo held only the second place in his life, after his mother. In her memoirs Consuelo does not, however, criticize her mother-in-law even once, on the contrary.
Like her mother-in-law, Consuelo was religious and often went to church to pray, and perhaps she and Marie were childlike in a similar way. Consuelo writes about Antoine in her memoirs: “Why was my childlike soul allowing itself to be tempted by his promises of clouds and tomorrows full of rainbows? --- His only schedule was set by the storms in the sky and the tempest in his heart.“
Antoine had written once: “You are my freedom. You are the land where I want to live for the rest of my life.“
And Consuelo wrote later: “A flower, a white tablecloth, and the sound of your footsteps are enough for me. I like to hear them as much as the music of your Bach. They speak to me, they explain life to me. You are my key of sol, my key of fa.“
Antoine: “But you mustn’t act like a frail child who weeps and gazes at its guardian with sobs and tears. I have to leave, leave, leave…“
And Consuelo describes: “He was my star, my destiny, my faith, my end.“
But Antoine bursts out, “Oh, women never want to understand men!“
Marriage Was Falling Apart
Antoine left more and more often and stayed away longer and longer. First, he would go out to eat and party with his admirers. There were lots of friends coming to their house as well and the parties lasted till late at night. Consuelo served as the hostess but started to get tired and jealous. Antoine criticized her and the arguments were rending their marriage.
Consuelo had been wealthy at the beginning of their life together. She owned a villa, El Mirador, near Nice, for example. The villa was beautiful and more like a little palace. Anyway, the couple’s lifestyle was so spendthrift that her fortune dwindled away in no time. Some biographers have criticized Consuelo for her love of celebrating and buying expensive clothes, but what about her husband? He wanted to drive fast sports cars and bought several new airplanes.
When Consuelo ran out of money, Antoine started to spend more time with Nelly de Vogüé, a wealthy heiress. She was his understanding companion and mistress the rest of his life. She was not the only one, however, he had many admirers and an endless need for admiration.
From 1938 the couple lived mostly apart and they both had lovers. Antoine was inconsistent and sometimes wanted to live with his wife again – and, to her disappointment, he would change his mind the next moment. Some of the time Consuelo lived in the countryside in a rented house that Antoine often visited.
The couple could not let go of each other. Antoine had some serious flight accidents and after them it was always Consuelo who was sent for to take care of him and calm him down. During the years of separation Antoine repeatedly said that he could not stop loving his wife. He wrote her long letters, which annoyed his girlfriends. In the letters he begged for Consuelo’s forgiveness on one hand, on the other hand endlessly criticized her for not having devoted herself completely to her husband and his work. During his last years Antoine wrote his wife at least one letter every day.
Paul Webster claims that Antoine continuously longed for something miraculous, and this longing made him attach a mysterious and magic aura to his wife. Sometimes he used to leave their home just to go to a café around the corner, sit there and write a flaming love-letter to her. This makes one think that in his mind she represented someone else, she was some kind of a dream, out of reach.
On one hand, we get the impression that in his letters Antoine was addressing a little child, but on the other hand he probably thought she was stronger than she really was. Perhaps he never quite understood how frightened she was during his dangerous flights. Consuelo was suffering from a serious case of asthma and she had the attacks mostly during the night. She was afraid of being alone and sleeping alone. She had not known that flying would always be number one in Antoine’s life.
Antoine was only asking Consuelo to be the little warm oven of his childhood…
In 1940 France was drawn into World War II. Consuelo’s mother asked her daughter to return to El Salvador for her safety, and she already considered leaving. Then Antoine, once again, with tears in his eyes, begged her to stay in France – or else he would feel unprotected and lose his hold on life. Consuelo decided to stay in France. Antoine wrote her letters and he promised he would never leave her again… and she was on top of the world. She felt she had won back the love of her husband and thanked God for this blessing.
Soon, however, Antonio had to go into exile in the United States and asked his wife to follow him. There she discovered she had to live in a different apartment than her husband, although close enough to see him actively socializing with other women. “Ah, Tonio, such anguish!“
Antoine never admitted the pain he caused, “I need certain freedoms…“ Consuelo’s memoirs, “The comings and goings of my husband-neighbour, certain sounds, certain female voices, certain laughs, certain silences that I perceived through the thin wall made me shake with jealousy, asphyxiating in my solitary existence as a neglected wife.“
Consuelo sunk into depression and went on daily pilgrimages to different churches. She told her husband that she wanted to live further away from him. According to Consuelo’s memoirs he replied, “You are my wife, ma femme chérie, for I cherish you at every hour of the day. You must come to understand me as a mother understands her son. That is how I need to be loved. --- It does me good to have you there with me, not speaking or moving, asking for nothing. It may be that there’s nothing more I can give you, but perhaps you’re the one who can give me something – make me grow, plant your seeds in me, enrich me, make up for what I’m losing so that I can create, so that I can go on with my great poem, the book I want to put my whole heart into.”
They were living together again when Saint-Exupéry wrote The Little Prince in 1942.
Psychoanalytic Approach to the Little Prince
Overall, Consuelo and Antoine’s letters reflect a great confusion. These two souls did not understand the difficulties they shared. It seems that they did not realize, what kind of expectations they had for each other.
“There is no mystery about who is the hero of The Little Prince in which Saint-Exupéry, as the adult pilot, talks with the blond-haired child who was Antoine himself before he left the magic garden at Saint-Maurice,” biographer Webster writes. This is quite obvious. But he continues: “What distinguishes The Little Prince from his other works is the fact that Saint-Exupéry used a story to write of his inner distress over his marriage to Consuelo and the emptiness of liaisons with other women.“
With this I have to disagree.
Consuelo might be the Little Prince’s rose, but under the surface there is a deeper level, which the German psychoanalyst Eugen Drewermann has studied in his book Discovering the Royal Child Within. A Spiritual Psychology of The Little Prince. On this deeper level, where the adventure of the Little Prince actually takes place, the rose is in fact the writer’s mother.
Drewermann examines the picture, where an enormous boa constrictor has swallowed an elephant. He does not see it as childish and funny but thinks it shows how the writer’s mother had sort of ‘gulped down’ Antoine, and the elephant represents how he already as a little child had to be big and strong and support his mother. Mother had lost her husband and needed love but never remarried.
This kind of love must be suffocating to a child, like a “never-ending embryonic state, a revised birth,” Drewermann writes.
This makes one think about an episode that Saint-Exupéry describes at the end of his book, Wind, Sand and Stars. Once, on a train, he had seen a couple with a small child. The writer sat watching the beautiful little child, feeling anxious. He thought there could be a Mozart inside this child, but it was inevitably doomed, because the internal prodigy would not be treated with care and cherished in any way. Mozart is condemned. “In every man, there is a murdered Mozart,” he writes.
If children try to tell adults about their suffering, about the suffocating walls around them, children are not understood, maybe not even listened to. This is how the child looses his confidence in the world of grown-ups. I have dealt with this side of the story of the Little Prince in my book Elämänrohkeuden juurilla (The Fountain of Courage to Live) in the chapter Jää luokseni, Pikku Prinssi (Stay With Me, Little Prince).
Antoine lost his father when he was four years old, according to Drewermann, “in a phase of psychic development in which the bonds, conflicts, and ambivalence between a boy and his mother take on a peculiar intensity anyhow.” The psychotherapist also states that “a certain kind of overindulgence, spoiling, and pampering can make a child just as neurotic as can excessive strictness.”
In the book The Little Prince there are also pictures of a sheep the Little Prince wants to take with him to his star. He insists that the pilot draw a muzzle for the sheep to prevent it from thoughtlessly eating the rose. The Little Prince wants to return to his rose as two different characters: as himself and as the sheep. But the mouth of the sheep has to be shut – to prevent anyone from criticizing his mother.
The Little Prince does not fear even his own death as much as the fact that the poor, defenceless mother could be killed with just one false word. The whole world would die with her and all the stars would be extinguished, Drewermann says.
I wonder what the mother was really like. The rose, at least, is lovable, yet also pretentious and demandingly self-centred and does not bear the slightest draft. And Antoine is after all describing his childhood and the most important person in his life. He wonders how there can be thorns in the rose – how it can cause pain all of a sudden? The behaviour of the mother has apparently been confusing and contradictory.
The symbiosis of the mother and the son would be endangered if the Little Prince had the courage to acknowledge the existence of the thorns, but he does not let anyone else even mention them! If he talked about them “he would cease to be his mother’s dear little prince, the golden royal child,” Drewermann writes.
So the Little Prince constantly has to defend his mother, even from his own observations – “his mother is after all ‘only’ weak – guileless, defenceless, helpless.“ He is forced to assume the heavy role of defending his mother’s honour, which is ultimately the role of the mother’s spouse.
The mother has inconceivable expectations, which make the Little Prince feel guilty. The mother is easily offended by all sorts of things, she blackmails, tries to scare his son by talking about her own death, which is the worst of maternal weapons. “She makes the extravagant, totalitarian demand that he love her boundlessly,” Drewermann says.
Was it the mother’s demand for love that made Saint-Exupéry hate totalitarianism so much, and made him write of people being deprived of their creativity and having been turned into robots? According to Webster he was also terrified of the insidious hold of the western society, which he considered to be as threatening as the Soviet system. And he despised everyone who was not able to create himself an imaginary world, for the everyday world was like a pool full of stagnant water.
The demand for infinite love is also connected with jealousy. “And whenever the suspicion arises that the Little Prince might direct his attention to anything else except his rose, she is always capable of overwhelming him with the guilt feelings of a potential murderer,“ Drewermann writes.
To be able to live with the rose one shouldn’t take its words so seriously, but there is no way a child could be capable of doing so. So, the Little Prince decides to go away, but then an even greater feeling of guilt arises.
There is a lot of critique towards the world of adults in The Little Prince, vanity is criticized too – but not when it comes to the rose. Apparently all of the critique is ultimately triggered by the mother, but the muzzle of censorship suppresses it before it even begins.
Connected to Mother All His Life
Throughout his life Antoine kept in touch with his mother and wrote her numerous letters, which survive to this day. They give an impression of a peculiar dependency between a mother and a son, and their falsetto tone stays the same throughout the years. Drewermann has quoted them in his book; here are some extracts from them:
“Mama, I read your letter again. You seem so sad and weary to me – and then you reproach me for my silence – Mama. But I did write to you! You seem sad to me, and then I get melancholy….I embrace you, just as I love you, my little Mama.” (Letter from the year 1921)
“I put everything in your hands; then you’ll speak with the higher powers, and so everything will go well. I’m now like a very little boy; I fly to you for refuge.” (1923)
“And the slightest thing of yours that belongs to me warms me inside: your shawl, your gloves – they protect my heart.” (1926)
“If you want, I’ll get married…” (1928)
“I’m not quite sure whether I have lived since my childhood.” (1930)
“And still I hope so much that in a few months you can wrap me in your arms in front of your fireplace, my little Mama, my old Mama, my tender Mama. I hope I can tell you everything I think, can discuss everything with you, contradicting you as little as possible…” (1944)
The last letter was written shortly before Antoine’s death, but here too he seems to be assuring that the sheep’s muzzle will stay in its place.
What can be the consequences of a mother-relationship like this? According to Drewermann The Little Prince is a fairy tale but there is no fight with the dragon and the prince does not get the princess at the end. There is no conflict and the situation remains as it is. The consequence is a deep resignation, feelings of guilt and fear, and they will be there throughout the life. There might be also self-contempt for himself for being weak and disdain for others for their imaginary greatness.
Love is dangerous, for from Antoine’s experience it is nothing but being taken into possession, being devoured. Drewermann cites another book by the writer; the ruler of Citadelle says: “…from the moment you are loved, you begin to discover that you have been injured. And to inflict on others, all the better to enslave them, the spectacle of your suffering. To be sure, you are suffering, and it is this very suffering that I dislike; and how can you expect me to admire it?“
Drewermann did not have the memoirs of Consuelo at his disposal yet, but I think they support his views.
Can devouring love be anything other than miserable? This notion branded Antoine’s whole life and marriage. It was impossible for him to see that love is also about needing the other person, reciprocally. With these building blocks he and Consuelo had to put their marriage together and live through it.
Mother and Child Intertwined
Next I will be looking at the fate of Consuelo and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry based on everything I have read. The views and conclusions are my own.
The self-portrait drawn by Antoine at the age of sixteen has been published in Saint-Ecupéry, L’archange et l’ecrivain by Nathalie des Vallières (p. 116). It is heartbreaking in its anxiety.
I think ‘the secret of the mother’ says a lot about the unhappiness of the writer’s life. It is as if Antoine and his mother had been caught in a trap of reciprocal dependency where they both felt omnipotent with the help of each other. They formed some kind of an intertwined coil, an omnipotent duo.
Breaking away from this kind of coil means loosing the feeling of power and safety, falling into great insecurity and becoming aware of one’s own weakness. It is a plunge from the light of heaven into an empty darkness. The feeling of being in control of everything would disappear. It is as if two children were clinging to each other, thinking the other one is the strong mother. However, true growth can only start after they have broken apart.
There must have been something childlike about Antoine’s mother. Otherwise it is hard to explain how she year after year accepted the letters of her grown-up son, endlessly full of babbling and praise, and even protested if she could detect slight changes in that tone.
Shouldn’t a mother kick a son like this on the backside and tell him to take care of his own business and take care of them properly? And to stop cooing?
Apparently the mother’s own narcissism required endless reassurance and support and the son was the one to fulfil the need. The mother was a product of a chain of generations, a victim of her own tragedy. She extended the chain to her children, perhaps mostly to her eldest son Antoine, who was some kind of a ‘messiah child’ for her. From the mother’s point of view she was the child in the ‘coil of omnipotence’, and Antoine was in the role of her new mother.
The mother focused her enormous expectations on her son. Children sense things like this easily. They are loyal and do everything they can to liberate their parents of their nightmares. In this situation Antoine had to jump into boots far too big for him.
The chain of generations broke at Antoine, for he had no children.
This burden was weighing heavily on him all his life. Apparently the childhood situation, the destructive connection of omnipotence – being intertwined with a very needy mother – was always alive inside him. It was constantly consuming his will to live and joy of life, and unconsciously he tried to force his wife to take his mother’s place in this coil of omnipotence.
There is not as much information on the background of Consuelo as of her spouse. She was born in a small village in El Salvador into a big family. Her father was a colonel, who has been characterized as being cold and authoritarian. The people in the village were afraid of him. He had some healing skills, but his methods were cruel and he did not care about the pain he caused.
Undoubtedly Consuelo and Antoine were kindred spirits in many ways. There were features in their marriage that make one think of a union between two children, especially when it comes to financial matters. Consuelo must have been keenly attached to Antoine, for otherwise I doubt she would have agreed to continue the strange relationship time after time.
Antoine is not by any means the only one who carries the memory of a mother’s distressing love deep inside and transfers it to the spouse. Maybe Consuelo resembled Antoine’s mother. However, she was also strong and persistent and was not crushed completely in the turmoil of the difficult years. Antoine kept struggling away from her: the wife was supposed to be the mother who was the refuge and the safety blanket when the son went out with other women.
It Is Painful to Break Away
Would there be a way to break away from this pattern and be free? As I see it, the inner coil of omnipotence would have to be unravelled and the fact that one is no longer the pampered Little Prince would have to be dealt with. This would mean descending from the pedestal of the favourite child to the crowd of ordinary mortals. All of the life’s intimidating uncertainties and limits would have to be faced – without the feeling of controlling them like a young god.
That’s what Antoine ought to have done, and his mother, of course, would have had to do the same on her part, so that she could have stood the separation from her son and supported his independence.
Antoine’s outlook on his existence reminds me of the essay Viscontin Requiemin päätös (The Finale of Visconti’s Requiem) by Mikael Enckell, a Finnish psychoanalyst. Enckell writes about Luchino Visconti’s film L’innocente (Italy 1976), where the main character Tullio Hermil ponders over his relationship with his loved ones and his life in general, trying to achieve the perfect sense of security and to protect himself completely from being left alone. This leads to failure in love because of jealousy, and to failure in life because of death. Tullio Hermil does not want to see this trait in himself, and the cruel result is a dead end and suicide. The alternative would have been to become conscious of this intention and then go on living with this pain.
Antoine could not break away from his childhood and his mother, and the mother could not bear the separation either. A conscious separation would have also required accepting the fact that parting and growing are painful and bound with grief, too.
Antoine would have had to, at last, become aware of his inner conflict with his mother and feel the anger towards her for the pricks of her thorns. Consuelo’s part was to be an extension of the mother, and Antoine tried to break away from Consuelo and in a way revenged the pricks of the rose thorns on her.
Apparently Antoine did not understand how heavily his childhood weighed upon him and his marriage. But neither did the impulsive Consuelo, who in her memoirs describes the events as if they were a part of the literature of her continent and magical realism. The story is close to surrealism, which is not due to the narrative style but the events themselves.
If one does not have the courage to acknowledge a hidden conflict like the one between Antoine and his mother, and to express one’s true feelings, one will also turn into a rose with insidious thorns under the leaves. This is what Antoine was like at least towards his wife.
The way I see it is that in the end everything in The Little Prince is about the writer himself – the Little Prince, the aviator, the alternate personalities living on different stars, the sheep, the rose and probably the fox too, who represents wistful longing for real love, for a good relationship.
The ‘coil of omnipotence’ is not about a good relationship but about something completely different, perhaps about a vacuum of dominance and submission? Is it based on a huge illusion; as if it were possible to stop life the moment when the mother is the whole world and the almighty, who makes the child’s wishes come true? On the mother’s part, there would need to be an illusion of the child being the new mother, who at last will fulfil all her wishes.
If nothing stops this, the illusion and the expectations of fulfilment of wishes will remain there through the life, until the fantasizing finally is interrupted by death. As the aeroplane falls into the Mediterranean Sea, the inner pain stops at last.
Many people have written about Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in an admiring tone that he is still showing us the way.
What kind of way?
Again, I refer to the biography by Paul Webster. The book tells us how Antoine’s little brother François died of rheumatic fever at the early age of 14. He knew he was going to die, but did not grieve over it. On his very last minutes he said to his mother that he thought he would be happier where he was going, for “certain things I have seen or guessed at are too ugly to bear.“
Antoine took a picture of his dead brother and carried it with him all his life.
Antoine was self-destructive and played depressed games with death. In the main character of his first book, we can already detect dejection and indifference about staying alive. Antoine’s flying career included many emergency landings and crashes that were partially caused by recklessness, insufficient preparations or an error in orienteering. The knowledge of having caused the death of other people also added to his emotional burden.
Saint-Exupéry was keen to take part in the battles of the Second World War as a pilot. In the spring of 1943 he left the United States to join the air force in Africa. He was too old, his health was poor after several accidents, and the flights demanded huge efforts of him. The military commanders actually tried to think of ways to make him give up the active service, but he obstinately insisted on going on new, dangerous reconnaissance flights, including the one that was to be his last.
Webster quotes the writer’s close friend Leon Werth. According to him Antoine could not sustain a mood of happiness for long; “He was loyal to everything except happiness.”
“In 1930, writing to his mother from Buenos Aires, he told her that he had learnt of the immensity of life not from the Milky Way, the skies or the sea, but in the spare bed of her room where he slept when he was unwell as a child,” writes Webster. The last letter to the mother was dated only a few days before the son died, and that too expressed the Antoine’s nearly lifelong pain of always having had to go to sleep without a kiss goodnight.
He tried to impose the role of the mother also on Consuelo throughout their marriage. “Dear Consuelo, be my protection. Make me a mantle of your love”, he wrote a few days before his death.
The last quote is from Consuelo’s memoirs.
When he left his wife for the last time Antoine said, “Give me your handkerchief so I can write the next part of The Little Prince on it. At the end of the story, the Little Prince will give this handkerchief to the Princess. You’ll never again be a rose with thorns, you’ll be a dream princess who always waits for the Little Prince. --- My home is in your heart, and I will be there forever.“
Drewermann, Eugen: Discovering the Royal Child Within. A Spiritual Psychology of “The Little Prince”. Crossroad, New York 1993.
Enckell, Mikael: Peiliin kirjoitettu. Suomen elokuva-arkisto, Helsinki 1988.
Hendrix, Harville: Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples. Henry Holt and Company, New York 1988.
Pohjanmies, Hannele: Elämänrohkeuden juurilla. Kirjapaja, Helsinki 2002.
Pratt, Hugo: Saint-Exupéry. Le dernier vol. Préface de Frédéric d’Agay. Casterman, Tournai 1994.
Saint-Exupéry, Antoine de: The Little Prince. Harcourt Brace & Company, New York 2003 (first printed in 1943).
Saint-Exupéry, Consuelo de: Mémoires de la rose. Préface d’Alain Vircondelet. Plon, Paris 2000.
Saint-Exupéry, Consuelo de: The Tale of the Rose. Random House Trade Paperbacks, New York 2003.
Vallières, Nathalie des: Saint-Exupéry, L’archange et l’écrivain. Gallimard, Paris 2006.
Webster, Paul: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The Life and Death of the Little Prince. Papermac, London 1994.
Webster, Paul: Consuelo de Saint-Exupéry. Das Leben der Rose des “Kleinen Prinzen”. Berlin: List Taschenbuch, Berlin 2007.