sabato 22 febbraio 2014

The Little Prince: the 70th anniversary and a great exhibit!

The Little Prince is a book that, in spite of the fact that everybody seems to appreciate, I learnt to know pretty late and I didn't love particularly. That doesn't, of course, change the fact that it's a fascinating book with contents that, in my opinion, aren't for children: it's not a children'ìs book, although it's often read or given to children.

It's a difficult book also for some adults: its philosophical contents aren't easy for many and even though I don't love it as a children's book, I find it fascinating as a grown-up.

WE have to take into consideration the fact that Alexandre de Saint-Exupéry was not a children's book writer, this was his one and only book for children: while leaving for a military mission, he rang Silvia Hamilton's door bell and gave her as a personal gift all the originals of the book, beacause he didn't have anything else that was extraordinary and precious to give her.

What many people ignore is the fact that the book was written not in France, but in New York and Long Island, even though the original was anyway in French, as Saint-Exupéry never mastered English.

The writer lived for two years in New York, after leaving France at the maximum height of the tension with neighboring Germany, but in 1943 he was asked to join the Free French Air Force as a military pilot and to leave for some reconaissance flights in North Africa.
Being eight years older than allowed in such mission, he petitioned for exemption but didn't obtain it. r. On July 31, 1944, he left on a reconnaissance mission, never to return. Right before leaving (he was 43), he appeared at his friend's Silvia's door, as mentioned before, and left on her entrance hall table a paper bag containing the original manuscripts and watercolors of The Little Prince, with all of their coffee stains and cigarette burns.

The Morgan Library of New York bought the manuscripts and watercolors in 1968.

In 1944, Saint-Exupéry left on a reconaissance flight never to come back:he was 44 years old when he died and this detail lends an eerie halo to the fact that the Little Prince watched the sun set exactly 44 times.

The Little Prince was published in France only two years after his death. To be honest, also in the USA at the beginning it had a modest success: it remained in the New York Times best seller list for only two weeks, fact that, if compared to the permanence of his diaries, that remained in the same list for over 20 weeks, tells us something about its initial success. Possibly the fact that, as I think, it was in a sort of limbo between a children's book and a philosophical tale for adults, didn't help its success.  But possibly the magic of the book lies exactly here: today it's translated into 260 languages and dialects and it is constantly re printed. 

For the 70th anniversary of its first publishing, the Morgan Library organizes an exhibit that explores the creative process adopted by Saint-Exupéry through its original manuscripts and watercolors, those that he personally gave to Silvia Hamilton in 1943, including all of the materials that he later excluded from the publication. Keeping in mind that the original manuscript contains double the words of the published books, you can imagine the richness of the contents of the exhibit and the complexity of the creative process that led to the final decision. 

The Exhibit The Little Prince: A New York Story also includes the last photographs of Saint-Exupéry, taken by John Phillips, one of the photographs working for the famous magazine LIFE, and he's the only person telling something that is considered to be the only record of the real inspiration of the book: 

When I asked Saint-Ex how the Little Prince had entered his life, he told me that one day he looked down on what he thought was a blank sheet and saw a small childlike figure. “I asked him who he was, ” Saint-Ex said. “I’m the Little Prince,” was the reply.

One of the most interesting materials in the exhibit, apart from the originals, of course, is a recension of the book written in 1943 by P.L. Travers for the New York Herald Tribune in which the journalist, sensibly, made clear the reason why the book is so attractive and timeless: 

Children quite naturally see with the heart, the essential is clearly visible to them. The little fox will move them simply by being a fox. They will not need his secret until they have forgotten it and have to find it again. I think, therefore, that The Little Prince will shine upon children with a sidewise gleam. It will strike them in some place that is not the mind and glow there until the time comes for them to comprehend it. Yet even in saying this I am conscious of drawing a line between grown-ups and children. . . . And I do not believe that line exists.

Oh, finally someone thinks what I think: it's not a proper children's book and a line between the grown-ups' and the children's worlds shouldn't exist. 

For the 70th anniversary a Special Anniversary Edition has been published, and it includes all of Saint-Exupéry's original watercolors: at the moment it exists in English and French, with audio CD, and it can be bought here: The Little Prince 70th Anniversary Gift Set

The marvelous exhibit at the NY Morgan Library will be open until April 27, 2014, if you're lucky enough to be in NY by then, go and have a look!

Feltrinelli, in Italy, dedicates to the Anniversary a series of events in variuos towns: 
Events dedicated to the Little Prince:  

Presentations: "Fire The Little Prince's 70 years anniversary with Grom" in the laFeltrinelli stores in:

  • Milano piazza Piemonte - Tuesday May 21, 18.00
  • Firenze Via de’ Cerretani, 30/32 - Friday  May 24, 18.00
  • Mestre Piazza XXVII ottobre 1 - Monday May 27, 18.00
  • Genova Via Ceccardi, 16r - Wednesday May 29, 18.00

In Torino when the Book Fair Salone del Libro will be on :

  • Saturday, May 18: "Happy Birthday, Little Prince! Happy Birthday Grom!" with Oliver d’Agay, Guido Martinetti, Federico Grom Arena Bookstock at 15.30 - 16.30

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