Thursday, March 18, 2010

Vintage Novels {Gigi}

Colette's 1944 novella is just simply wonderful to read! It's so short (my copy is only fifty pages long) yet has five fully formed and complex characters. If it were any longer, then the character's strength wouldn't be diminished but there would be less for the reader to imagine about their thoughts. Gigi relies heavily on the imagination to picture the rooms in which Gigi and her family live and look, based on all too brief descriptions. For example, Aunt Alicia's bedroom is very plain and entirely in shades of grey (not that dreadful fluffy pink room in the movie) and shows how business-like Alicia was throughout her career. And pay close attention to the description of Gigi's hand me down dresses and Alicia's reaction to them as she is trying to teach Gigi while Gaston is in Monte Carlo.

The saddest character is Andrèe, Gigi's mother who isn't in the movie. Andrèe decided not to be a courtesan like her mother and aunt and so much suffer through being a second lead singer in the state theatres until age forces her to retire. I find Andrèe to be the saddest character because she could have been happily married to a stable member of the middle class if her family came from a better position or a talented singer and mistress to kings if her act of rebellion hadn't been to run away with Gigi's good-for-nothing father when she was a teenager. What I particularly like about Andrèe is how Colette uses her to show that Gigi could so easily follow her mother if she continues to rebel against her grandmother and aunt, since she is at that age in which she will go off with the first shop assistant who follows her home.
Unlike the film, the novel doesn't focus much about Gaston, aside from repeated how bored he is with the way in which society expects him to act, because the novel is centred around the four female characters and how careful they are to show off their best features to the world, even if they can't afford it or it is only to curl Gigi's hair just to visit Aunt Alicia.

As for the film, which I assume you've all seen since it's one of the last great musicals, I was surprised when I was watching it this week (I had only seen it once before) how explicit it was for being not only for a Code film, but an MGM musical also. (remember how clean the Mickey/Judy musicals were?) It's very clear, although it is never mentioned, that Alicia and Grandmamma were courtesans and this was how they made their living and what they are training Gigi to be, although they don't mention in the film that their family were successful because they were witty conversationalists and they didn't do silly things, like tell men's secrets or commit suicide for the attention. And Maurice Chevalier's character isn't in the novel, but no one, even someone as gifted as Coletter, could write a character with Maurice Chevalier's smile and singing "Thank Heaven For Little Girls". But other then that, the movie is a faithful adaptation and is longer then it takes to read the novel.

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