Gigi is a simply narrated fairy tale based on the Cinderella motif. Her maternal grandmother and great-aunt carefully control Gigi’s education, while her mother, Andree, is busy singing in secondary roles in musicals; her father has deserted the family. The two elderly sisters, both retired courtesans, seek to coach their charge in how to embark on a successful career as the kept mistress of wealthy admirers.
Gigi is taught to lower her knees, pull down her skirts, and keep legs and knees close together. She is also taught to keep her stomach in, not to wear stays because they would spoil her figure, and to be sure to wear gloves. She is taught the supreme importance of table manners: how to dismember a lobster; how to enjoy various omelets; how to eat and speak clearly at the same time. Her sophisticated great-aunt, Alicia, proffers detailed instructions on the selection of jewelry; above all, “Never wear second-rate jewels. Wait till the really good ones come to you.” Gigi is, moreover, strongly advised to avoid blackheads, uncooked pork, and too many almonds, which “add weight to the breasts.” The girl must also indulge men’s foibles and superstitions and know how to choose their cigars. Concludes Alicia, “Once a woman understands the tastes of a man, cigars included, and once a man knows what pleases a woman, they may be said to be well matched.”
Her grandmother and great-aunt both seek to impress upon Gigi the cardinal principle of a courtesan’s career, which is not to marry—or, at least, not to do so as long as she remains erotically attractive. Madame Alvarez failed a generation earlier with her daughter, Andree, who married badly; after her husband’s desertion, she perversely preferred a tiring and mediocre career onstage to the leisurely life of a kept woman. Alicia sums up the protocol of the demimonde: “Instead of marrying ‘at once’ it sometimes happens that we marry ‘at last.’”
An occasional visitor to Madame Alvarez’s apartment is thirty-two-year-old Gaston Lachaille, the bored, single, extremely rich son of one of her former lovers. When Gaston lends Gigi, with whom he plays cards, his luxurious automobile, Alicia originates the plot of having Gigi initiated into a courtesan’s career by the charming Gaston, who has just been jilted by a histrionic mistress. Madame Alvarez and Gaston agree to the plans, with the grandmother cautioning the young man, “I shall do my best to entrust Gigi only to the care of a man capable of saying, ‘I take charge of her and answer for her future.’”
Surprisingly, the usually obedient Gigi rebels at the scheme, stubbornly resisting the combined pressure of her grandmother and great-aunt. She tells Gaston that his offer “to make me my fortune” means she will sleep with him, accompany him to various pleasure spots, be photographed by the sensational press, and then be discarded when he tires of her, as he has tired of a gallery of previous mistresses. She firmly refuses him. They quarrel, and he furiously leaves her.
Gigi broods sadly. Astoundingly, Gaston reappears the next day. Even more surprising, Gigi has changed her mind: She now realizes that she loves him and would rather be miserable with him than do without him. Gaston thereupon asks for Gigi’s hand in marriage.