(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Colette once again provides an indirect comment on contemporary France. With Paris occupied and in the grip of war, readers of Colette’s Gigi are transported to a less complicated and painful time. Set in 1899, the story once again orchestrates a small but intimate cast of characters in a personal drama with a twist. The plot focuses on the “gamine” character of Gigi (a nickname for Gilberte), a young woman who has been reared by her grandmother and great-aunt to follow in their profession as a courtesan. They hope to make her the mistress of Gaston Lachaille, but Gigi instead becomes his wife. This conclusion introduces an ironic twist. In the conventional love story, the resolution of the plot through marriage is usually the desired outcome, but in Gigi marriage appears as a frustration rather than a fulfillment of plans. The story serves as a lighthearted reminder that the best laid plans may go astray, especially if love is involved.

In once again portraying the charm and humor of an independent and mischievous adolescent, Colette comes full circle in her career, ending her writing with a character very similar to the one who made her reputation, Claudine. It is through her ebullience and love of life that Gigi wins Gaston’s true affection, a message of optimism and faith in the power of love.


(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

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...

(The entire section is 554 words.)