For today’s quote, an excerpt from a Saint-Exupéry novel, Flight to Arras.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, most famous for his lyric children’s book The Little Prince, was a pilot by profession. Most of his novels are based in his own life experiences; Flight to Arras, set during World War II, is no exception.
Today’s quote is longer than usual: it’s an excerpt from Flight to Arras, a novel by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and it captures the utter exhaustion of a squadron of French pilots during the German offensive on France in June 1940.
Like all Saint-Exupéry novels, Flight to Arras too was inspired by the author’s own experiences. Saint-Exupéry served in the French air force and continued to fight after the fall of France. He disappeared during a reconnaissance flight over the Mediterranean Sea in 1944; his identity bracelet was finally recovered from the sea in 1998. He’s the author of such classics as The Little Prince, Night Flight and Wind, Sand and Stars.
Each burst of a machine gun or a rapid-fire cannon shot forth hundreds of these phosphorescent bullets that followed one another like the beads of a rosary. A thousand elastic rosaries strung themselves out towards the plane, drew themselves out to the breaking point, and burst at our height. When, missing us, the string went off at a tangent, its speed was dizzying. The bullets were transformed into lightning.
And I flew drowned in a crop of trajectories as golden as stalks of wheat. I flew at the centre of a thicket of lance strokes. I flew threatened by a vast and dizzying flutter of knitting needles. All the plain was now bound to me, woven and wound round me, a coruscating web of golden wire.
Thirty-odd years ago I thought that the French author Montesquieu was enlightened, witty and clever. I based this opinion on reading his Persian Letters, an epistolary novel which details the experiences of two Persian travellers, Usbek and Rica, in France in the early part of the 18th century. Last month I picked up Persian Letters again… and found out what a change thirty-odd years made.
In 1900, sponge divers discovered the wreck of an ancient Greek galley off the Aegean island of Antikythera more than fifty metres deep under the surface. As usual, the find threw up a load of questions: Where did the galley come from? Where was it going to? Why did it sink? Who were the passengers? And what is that mysterious, complex mechanism found in the wreck?
The first way was – as you hopefully read in the previous post – with precision. Well, the second way is…
The Second Way: With a Bang
Or How to Get Confused by the French
To dock a boat with a bang takes a bit more effort than the first method. To begin with, it requires involvement from somebody else on shore (although I suppose somebody else in the same boat might do just as well).
This book made it – at the last minute – on to my recent list of books that transport you, despite the fact that it’s not one of the best written books ever. In fact, the best piece of writing in it, easily, comes from the pen of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry who wrote the introduction and who smuggled the book out of war-torn France for publication in America. But although Léon Werth, Saint-Exupéry’s best friend (to whom he dedicated The Little Prince) lacked his friend’s brilliance as a writer, he was an excellent observer and wrote a perfectly clear and lucid description of what it was like in those 33 days when he fled Paris with his wife from the advancing German army in June 1940.
Paris, the city of light… Paris, home to the Louvre and the Notre-Dame. A great capital city whose fame and influence spread well beyond the city limits, well beyond the borders of France. In fact, at certain points in its history, Paris was quite simply the place to be for any intellectual. Famous writers and philosophers have been inspired by Paris: Dickens and Balzac, Montaigne and Nietzsche.
Whoever does not visit Paris regularly will never really be elegant. (Honoré de Balzac)
What an immense impression Paris made upon me. It is the most extraordinary place in the world! (Charles Dickens)
An artist has no home in Europe except in Paris. (Friedrich Nietzsche)
I love Paris tenderly and am French only by this great city: the glory of France, and one of the noblest ornaments of the world. (Michel de Montaigne)
Today I want to write about a French book; I want to hold up the humanity of a French writer, who fought and died for the freedom of France in 1944, against the mindless hatred of those who committed the terrorist attacks in Paris last Friday. I want to talk about a book for children that should be read by adults: a book about human nature, of love and friendship and, inevitably – given the author – the Sahara. I want to talk about The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Flight to Arras, or to give it its original title Pilote de guerre, ‘Pilot of War’, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery is set during the German invasion of France in 1940. In other words, it’s a war story. But if this makes you think you’re in for a cracking adventure, some kind of adult version of Biggles, think again. To take Flight to Arras for simply the story of a dangerous reconnaissance mission is falling wide of the mark. More than anything else, this book is a brilliant and moving description of the collapse of France fused with a philosophical discussion on the nature of war and defeat – told by a man in the cockpit of an aeroplane; a man who lived the story he’s recounting. Continue reading “Glassfuls of Water into a Forest Fire (Flight to Arras)”→