Knight of the Air
Maxwell A. Smith
Cassell, London 1959
(revised and expanded edition)

note by the Countess de Saint-Exupéry
author's note

To : Dr. Maxwell A. Smith

Cher Monsieur
J'aime votre livre; ce n'est pas une sèche biographie, mais la comprehension d'un ami fervent, qui suit son ami, pas à pas, et le juge avec la même qualité d'ame—alors je vous envoie le merci de sa Maman.
Marie de Saint-Exupéry

To my friend
whose encouragement is largely
responsible for this book
and to
the close friend of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
this book is affectionately dedicated


I am grateful to these British, French, and American publishers for permission to quote from the following basic works by and about Antoine de Saint-Exupéry:

From Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's books — Night Flight (1932), Desmond Harmsworth; Wind, Sand and Stars (1939), Flight to Arras (1942), The Little Prince (1945), A Letter to a Hostage (1950), William Heinemann, Ltd.; Wisdom of the Sands (1952), Hollis & Carter, Ltd.; Southern Mail (1933), Harrison Smith & Robert Hass, Inc. (reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc.).

From Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1949) by Pierre Chevrier, La Ligne de Mermoz (1939) by Jean Girard Fleury, Librairie Gallimard.

From La Vie de Saint-Exupéry (1948) edited by René de Lange, Editions du Seuil.

From articles printed in Confluences, the editor, René Tavernier.



Almost from the beginning of his literary career, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry has seemed to this writer the bearer of a new message in French literature. As his books have appeared it has been my privilege to review most of them for the press and my admiration for the writer and the man, therefore, goes back many years. In this study, for both biographical and critical parts, I have not hesitated to quote extensively from Saint-Exupéry's books in the hope that the reader not already acquainted with him may wish to know him at first hand, rather than merely through the eyes of the critic. For the passages from Wind, Sand and Stars, and Flight to Arras, I have taken the liberty of using Mr. Lewis Galantière's beautiful translations; which seem to me to recapture admirably the spirit of the original; for Night Flight, the translation by Stuart Gilbert; and for The Little Prince, the translation by Katherine Woods. The translations from Southern Mail, Letter to a Hostage and Citadelle are my own and I trust not too inadequate in rendering the thought of the author. It is with sincere appreciation that I wish here to acknowledge my debt to all those who contributed so much to making this study possible.

First of all, I wish to thank the University of Chattanooga which made available a grant-in-aid, partly from its own funds, partly from a grant for research provided by the Carnegie Foundation, for research in France. To M. Julien Cain, Director of the Bibliothèque Nationale and to Mme Genet, in charge of the periodical room, the Salle Ovale, I am indebted for many courtesies which facilitated my research.

In this connection it may not be without interest to relate a circumstance which has ironic overtones. During the occupation the Nazis tried to send as many able-bodied Frenchmen as possible to forced labour in Germany. The French Government, therefore, allocated a sum of money to the National Library to employ extra assistants who were set to work making dossiers on the leading contemporary writers of France. Obviously the Nazis, with their mania for precise documentation, must have found these young men too indispensable for deportation. Although Saint-Exupéry was on the proscribed list as a result of his Pilote de guerre, they must have failed to notice that his dossier was among those being prepared. Although I never expected to find anything for which I could be even remotely grateful to the Nazis, it was with a feeling of delighted amazement that I found awaiting me two voluminous files containing the clippings of every newspaper and magazine article on Saint-Exupéry from 1929 to 1944. Since the Salle Ovale does not have a periodical catalogue, it would have taken me, not one summer but several, to have unearthed this material, as I discovered when I undertook the task of bringing the bibliography up to date. In this connection, I wish to acknowledge with gratitude also my debt to the excellent bibliography on Saint-Exupéry published in the March, 1946 issue of the French Review by Professors Miller and Fay, whose list of articles published outside France was especially helpful to me. I am grateful likewise to Mr. Gilbert Govan, Librarian of the University of Chattanooga, and to Mr. Eugene Reynal, Saint-Exupéry's American publisher, for their helpful comments on the manuscript.

Finally I wish to thank the many friends and relatives of Saint-Exupéry whose encouragement and advice aided so much. Among the latter I am especially indebted to Madame Emery, his cousin, and to the late Madame Churchill of Carnac, Brittany, his aunt, for details concerning his early life. Among the former I wish to thank his friends Madame René Batigne, la Comtesse de Toulouse-Lautrec, la Comtesse de Voguë, and Professor Montagne, who, as an officer in Algiers, knew Saint-Ex well in the period when he was temporarily grounded and separated from his beloved squadron.

My greatest debt, however, is to Léon Werth and his noble wife, a true heroine of the Resistance movement, who received personal letters of commendation from General de Gaulle, from Air Marshal Tedder and from General Eisenhower, for her dangerous work in rescuing British and American airmen shot down over France. It is a matter of profound grief to me that Madame Werth has since died and will not see these lines of appreciation. I shall never forget the precious evenings I spent with the Werths, listening to their recollections of their happy hours with 'Tonio' and looking at his sketches and letters which they kept enshrined in their hearts. If I had not already discovered it in the author's writing, I should have found in their memories and in the articles, the radio address of July 21, 1944, and the commentary of Léon Werth which serves as an epilogue to the recent Vie de Saint-Exupéry, the proof that Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was not only one of the most gifted of twentieth-century French writers, but also the most charming, modest, and courageous of men, a true Knight of the Air who like a bright meteor has flashed across the darkness of our tragic times.

Resembling in his diversified gifts as airman, novelist, poet, scientist, inventor, artist and philosopher the men of the Renaissance such as Leonardo da Vinci, Saint-Exupéry is with Sir Winston Churchill and Albert Schweitzer one of the universal geniuses of our age. Though he loved his country passionately, and though his work is perhaps the greatest rallying force of encouragement and unity among his compatriots, he belongs in a larger sense to humanity as a whole.