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Booknews: 'Prince' and the Revolution
Edited by Judy Quinn -- 3/13/00
Harcourt commissions new translation, color printing rehaul for Saint-Exupery classic

First published in 1943, Antoine de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince is a bread-and-butter backlist performer of which Harcourt is particularly proud. After all, Saint-Exupery's original American publishers, Eugene Reynal & Curtice Hitchcock, whose company would soon fold into Harcourt, found U.S. sanctuary for the aviator and author when he sought haven from the Nazi occupation of his homeland France. They also urged him at this time to set about to writing a tale to accompany the charming self-portrait-inspired doodlings they discovered on the margins of his most recent aviation book manuscript.

The resulting tale, of a most extraordinary interplanetary little fellow was, of course, The Little Prince, which has gone on to become the beloved classic now available in 62 countries and translated in 95 languages. For Harcourt alone, the book still sells close to 200,000 copies a year, impressive frontlist-like numbers for a 50-plus year-old title.

So why is Harcourt messing with success and bringing out a new English translation of the classic this summer?

It's a question asked even by National-Book Award-winning p t and translator Richard Howard when he was approached about the project.

"They called me and I asked, 'Wasn't the old translation satisfactory?,' " he recalled to PW.

Not completely, discovered Beverly Fisher, director of publicity and advertising for Harcourt's Harvest paperback line when planning a repromotion of the book to tie into celebrations surrounding the 100th anniversary of Saint-Exupery's birth on June 29.

"You have to remember it was wartime. Saint-Exupéry soon after writing The Little Prince went off to war again [ultimately vanishing over the Mediterranean and presumed dead in 1944]," she said. "The translation [by Katherine Woods] was a bit rushed, and scholars have always complained the language was a bit stilted."

Howard, whose recent new translation of Stendhal's The Charterhouse of Parma was a sleeper hit for Modern Library, returned to Saint-Exupery's original French manuscript and created a new English version he believes is "much more faithful to the original." The big difference, he said, is in overall tone, and in its early promotional materials of his new translation Harcourt provides some illustrative examples (as at left).

To give the best showcase for the new translation, Harcourt also went back to Saint-Exupery's original drawings and watercolors and discovered there had been "less artful interpretations by printers throughout the years." Saint Exupery's originals were digitally remastered to create more faithful reprints for the new edition.

Given the different audiences for the book, it's a popular children's title, is studied in schools and is also a nostalgic pleasure for adults, Harcourt is producing three versions of the new edition: a keepsake hardcover picture book ($18, a 100,000 first printing), a paperback picture book ($12, a 75,000 first printing) and a smaller sized paperback picture book to match the one now used in course adoptions ($8, a 125,000 first printing). Aware that some academic institutions may not want to switch over to the new translation quite so quickly, the publisher will also keep the old translation available for some time.

Fisher said many booksellers, including Barnes & Noble, are buying the new translation and programming events around it through their children's departments, although she expects the title to be double shelved into adult sections as well. A particular aid to the children's angle of marketing is the creation a one-of-a-kind Saint-Exupery estate-sanctioned Little Prince doll, and the doll will be on a "Grand Tour," sponsored by Air France and Luis Vuitton, throughout the birth anniversary year. Annapolis, Md.-based Theriault's, an auction firm that deals with antique and collectible dolls, is eager to work with booksellers on programs (such as a doll-making class) that could be tied into the tour. The company also expects to introduce a retail edition of the doll, most likely next year.

The France-based Saint-Exupery Society is also planning a host of international events to tie into this beloved French author's birth centennial, although at a pace that seems to be exasperating its potential American partners. One definite tie-in will be a new Da Capo Press paperback reprint of Stacy Schiff's 1994 biography. And, Fisher notes, buyers have expressed enthusiasm and interest in Saint-Exupéry's aviation books, including Night Flight, Southern Mail, Wind, Sand and Stars and Flight to Arras, as perfect for the current hot adventure genre. Harcourt has inventory on these titles, but chances are good that some new printings may take flight this summer as well.

Harcourt's new edition of The Little Prince has a new translation by Richard Howard and digitally remastered art.


"I am very fond of sunsets. Come, let us go look at a sunset now."

"But we must wait," I said.

"Wait? For what?"

"For the sunset. We must wait until it is time."

At first you seemed to be very much surprised. And then you laughed to yourself. You said to me:

"I am always thinking that I am at home!"

Just so. Everybody knows that when it is noon in the United States the sun is setting over France. If you could fly to France in one minute, you could go straight into the sunset right from noon. Unfortunately, France is too far away for that. But on your tiny planet, my little prince, all you need to do is move your chair a few steps. You can see the day end and the twilight falling whenever you like¦

"One day," you said to me," I saw the sunset forty-four times!"

And a little later you added: "You know--one loves the sunset, when one is so sad..."

"I really like sunsets. Let's go look at one now."


"But we have to wait¦"

"What for?"

"For the sun to set."

At first you seemed quite surprised, and then you laughed at yourself. And you said to me, "I think I'm still at home!"

Indeed. When it's noon in the United Sates, the sun, as everyone knows, is setting over France. If you could fly to France in one minute, you could watch the sunset. Unfortunately France is much too far. But on your tiny planet, all you had to do was move your chair a few feet. And you would watch the twilight whenever you wanted to¦

"One day I saw the sun set forty-four times!"

And a little later you added, "You know, when you're feeling very sad,.sunsets are wonderful..."

Taking Time to Reflect

Like the rest of the world, University of Chicago professor Leon Kass watched the marriage meltdown following Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire? with some bemusement. But he also can point to this overexposed media event as the perfect example of why University of Notre Dame's new five-part Ethics of Everyday Life series, launched with Kass's own Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar, Readings on Courting and Marrying last month, is so greatly needed.

"Some of these bizarre things that happen really reveal the hunger for instruction," he said.

Kass hopes his book, written with his wife Amy Kass, a professor who assists him in teaching a course on courting at the University of Chicago, provides that instruction, although not in any quick-fix maxims symptomatic of self-help guides. "The reader will find here no rules for catching a husband," the Kasses note in their introduction, "but rather explorations of the purposes of courting and marrying."

The Kasses, along with colleagues involved in New York's Institute of Religion and Public Life, created the series largely in response to the concerns about lack of moral reflection in ethics courses.

Appropriately, the group, funded by a grant from the Lilly Endowment, spent some five thoughtful years before completing the anthologies focused on their five key topics: courting and marrying; teaching and learning; working; leading; and dying. Kass believes the series harkens back to the manners and conduct guides of the early part of the 20th century.

The debut volume already struck a major chord with readers early in the 21st century. Thanks in part to New York-based publicity firm Rentsch Associates, hired by Notre Dame to fan the flames of breakout, Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar not only got book-page consumer coverage (particularly around Valentine's Day) in such high-profile publications as the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and the L.A. Times, but NBC Nightly News also brought a camera into the Kasses' courting classroom, with the segment expected to air soon.

All the buzz has prompted the press to go back for a second printing of Wing to Wing to bring the book to what is for the house very respectable mid-four figure numbers. It has also led to increased initial printings for the titles in the rest of the series. Next up: The Eternal Pity: Reflections on Dying and Working: Its Meaning and Its Limits, both scheduled for April; Leading and Leadership and Everyone a Teacher, are scheduled for June. --J.Q.
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