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1st edition cover

Night Flight (French title:Vol de Nuit) is the second novel by the French aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. It was first published in 1931 and became an international bestseller.[1]



The book is based on Saint-Exupéry's experiences as an airmail pilot and as a director of the Aeroposta Argentina Company, based in Argentina. The characters too are loosely based on people Saint-Exupéry knew in South America, notably the character of Rivière is inspired by Didier Daurat, operations director of the Aéropostale. More details can be found in Saint-Exupery's memoir Wind, Sand and Stars (1939).


Fabien is an airmail pilot of the Patagonia Mail. He has to deliver mail in Argentina during a thunderstorm. Riviere, his boss, who told him to fly that night and endangered him thus, radioes Fabien and feels the pressure and responsibility of having sent Fabien on this risky flight on him. Fabien's wife, too, is waiting. The situation at hand becomes more and more dangerous, Fabien is bound to die. Then the radio messages cease, and Riviere can not do more than calculate, when Fabien is going to crash. This flight disconcerts Riviere who believed until then that as to make flying more profitable no delay was allowed. The plot ends there, but one can be sure of Fabien's death.


The topic of the book is that of the Réglement being more important than a pilot's life. Riviere wants to prove airmail more efficient than steamers or trains and deliberately risks the life of pilots every day. At the beginning of the book Riviere is willing to do risk Fabien's life as to make most profitable changes. He believes that only by risking many individuals airmail will be successful. But the planes had not the technique needed to fly at night and many pilots almost died flying only to be saved by luck. Saint-Exupery himself was an airmail pilot in Argentina and writes about his own success. He questions the use of such flights. Riviere believes that it is most important Fabien be punctual as not to endanger the punctuality of the following flight. But, as he notices he has in some way killed Fabien, he becomes philosophical. "We don't ask to be eternal. What we ask is not to see acts and objects abruptly lose their meaning. The void surrounding us then suddenly yawns on every side." Albeit sure he is going to die Fabien does not show his pain. In a way Fabien does not suffer maybe due to Saint-Exupery not writing a lot about him. A feeling akin to that of compassion and understanding can be felt in Fabien. He does not fully understand or side with the Riviere, but he does not attack him either.


Vol de Nuit was translated into English by Stuart Gilbert as Night Flight (Desmond Harmsworth, London, 1932). This has appeared in many editions and is still in print. A new paperback edition was published by Kessinger Publishing on 30 April, 2005.


The book was turned into the movie Night Flight directed by Clarence Brown in 1933, with Clark Gable, Helen Hayes, Myrna Loy, John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, and Robert Montgomery.


Vol de Nuit won the 1931 Prix Femina, one of the main french literary prizes (awarded by a female jury). Saint-Exupéry was little known before this out of the literary environment (though André Gide supported him and wrote the foreword to the first edition), and as a result his name was made.

Critical reception

Although "Vol de Nuit" won the Prix Femina in 1931 many fellow pilots criticized Saint-Exupéry, because of Fabien's, according to some, too tragical and heroic part. Also Daurat's part was criticized.


  1. ^ Saint Exupéry: A Biography by Stacy Schiff, page 210

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