“Voici mon secret. Il est très simple: on ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.”
“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.”
—Le Petit Prince (1943)
Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince), written and illustrated by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, has sold more than 80 million copies worldwide since its publication in 1943. Almost 70 years after its publication, unpublished pages from Le Petit Prince have been recovered from part of a private collection of Saint-Exupéry’s writing.
The writing on the unpublished pages has been described as barely legible and exceedingly difficult to interpret. However, once experts were able to decipher the text, they were pleased to discover that the unpublished material from The Little Prince was included in the collection.
Benoît Puttemans from the French auction house, Artcurial, has said that he believes the prose in the unpublished passages is more specific than that of the novella. Some of these specifications appear to be meant for American readers, whereas the definitive edition is viewed as a universal story, giving readers new political insight into the tale.
The pages also include the introduction of a new character, a crossword enthusiast, omitted in the published novella. However, the passage ends abruptly, though seems to carry the same political significance as Saint-Exupéry’s unpublished details.
The unpublished passage reads:
“‘Where are the men?’ said the little prince to himself as he was travelling. He met the first of them on a road. ‘Ah!’ he said to himself, ‘I am going to find out what they think about life on this planet,’ he said. ‘That may be an ambassador of the human spirit…’
‘Of course he is very busy,’ said the little prince to himself, ‘he takes care of such a large planet. There is so much to do.’ And he scarcely dared disturb him. ‘Perhaps I can help you,’ he nevertheless said aloud: The little prince enjoyed being helpful. ‘Perhaps,’ said the man […]. ‘I have been working for three days without success. I am looking for a six-letter word that starts with G that means ‘gargling’.”
The page ends here, though the lack of explanation makes a variety of explications possible. Puttemans himself wagers a guess based off of biographical information of Saint-Exupéry:
“He wrote it in 1941, in New York, when he was very engaged with the war. So I think one meaning for the six letter word could be ‘guerre‘ [war]. Which changes our interpretation of the text a little bit.”
The ramifications of this reading are tremendous. The Little Prince is thought to be a universal text, but if Puttemans’ interpretations are correct, the story could be read as expressing an anti-war sentiment.
“In French, ‘to gargle something’ can also mean ‘to be proud of oneself, or of something’. This pride can be compared to a nationalism which, in 1939-1940, unleashed the conflicts in Europe which we know of,” Puttemans explained. “Obviously this is only a guess: the text does not give us an answer, and maybe it’s better that way.”
The unpublished pages will be auctioned off on May 16, 2012.