It was a romance that helped inspire one of the great works of 20th century fiction and a bitter conflict between its heirs, but a new book of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s love letters to be released on Thursday suggests that ‘a reconciliation may finally have been achieved. .
Le Petit Prince, by French aviator, poet and war hero Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, has reportedly 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-spangled traveling prince’s relationship with a rose – delicate and demanding – he maintains on his home planet.
The real rose of Saint-Exupéry was Consuelo Suncin, a Salvadoran artist who crossed high society in Latin America and beyond before marrying her in 1930.
Today, more than 160 of their letters and telegrams are published in France, adorned with dozens of their sketches, photographs and other memorabilia.
Unsurprisingly, for a marriage between a moody, temperamental adventurer and an intensely fiery, sharp-tongued artist, it was stormy.
“Consuelo my dear, you do not understand how much you make me suffer,” he wrote at one point.
“I cry with emotion, I’m so afraid of being exiled from your heart,” she replies.
There have been many breakups and affairs, but just as many reconciliations.
Biographer Alain Vircondelet told AFP: “Consuelo had an exuberant temperament, and he was very depressed. His multiple affairs were not the sign of a Don Juan, but of an emotional failure.
But there seems little room for doubt about their underlying feelings in one of Saint-Exupéry’s last letters, when he wrote: “Consuelo, thank you from the bottom of my heart for being my wife… If I am killed, I have someone to wait for eternity.
Saint-Exupéry, who had joined French resistance forces from exile in the United States, disappeared shortly after undertaking a reconnaissance flight from Corsica in July 1944.
No evidence of the accident was discovered until 1998, when a fisherman from Marseille pulled out a silver identity bracelet. He had both names.
The aristocratic family of Saint-Exupéry was never enthusiastic about Consuelo and, after her death, almost erased her from the history of her life.
“Marrying a foreigner was considered worse than marrying a Jew,” a family member told biographer Paul Webster in the 1990s – giving a clear idea of family politics.
She took her revenge, in Webster’s words, by handing over her half of the royalty rights to her gardener-driver José Fructuoso Martinez upon his death in 1979, along with a huge amount of love letters.
In 2008, the Saint-Exupéry family successfully pursued him after publishing a book about Antoine and Consuelo’s relationship without their permission.
Six years later, however, he successfully sued them to make them pay a share of the proceeds from a comic book version of the book.
The publication of the love letters represents a reconciliation between the rival domains.
In a press release last month via French publisher Gallimard, the author’s descendants referred to an “unsuccessful 18-year legal war” before agreeing to collaborate on the project.
French scholar Alain Vircondelet, an expert on the writer, says that much more correspondence remains invisible. It is now run by the gardener’s widow, Martine Martinez Fructuoso.
“She has a colossal treasure in Saint-Expury, 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 sparked one of literature’s most enduring and popular tales, and its roots can be seen in the very first letter Saint-Exupéry wrote to his future wife.
“I remember a very old story, I change it a bit,” he wrote shortly after their meeting in Buenos Aires.
“There was a little boy who discovered a treasure. But the treasure was too beautiful for a child whose eyes could not understand it or his arms to hold it. So the child became sad.