Discussion Post: Gigi and My Mother’s House

July 29, 2010 at 12:00 am 5 comments

It’s that magical time of week again: Classics Challenge Discussion time! Next week, we’ll look at The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy. (There’s more information on that book and the LT Classics Challenge in general here.)

But this week we are comparing Colette’s Gigi and My Mother’s House. These two works represent the two sides of Colette’s work for which she is most well known: the more racy short stories and her strikingly different autobiographical essays. Let’s jump right in!

There are many differences between the two works, but let’s look at the one big similarity: strong women. Do you think Colette’s portrayals of Gigi’s grandmothers and Sido can be taken as a broader truth about what women were like in France at the time? Or do you think Colette’s strong women are anomalies with attention given to them by the author because of their uniqueness?

A little of both! From what little I know of Colette, I believe her to be an unusual (to put it mildly) and strong woman herself interested in showing that side of women in her work.

That said, I also think her reasons for writing these two very different stories (and throughout her career, in these two very different styles) were no doubt as divergent as the topics themselves. I should think that her stories of Sido are more likely an accurate, if slightly fictionalized, portrayal of a woman in that place at that time, whereas the grandmothers shown in Gigi are surely to be taken as unusual women hardly commonplace even in Paris at the turn of the century. Gigi’s family apparently has the rare business of grooming high-end courtesans and I think Colette is more likely to have committed them to paper because of their uniqueness than for nostalgic reasons or to show what Paris was like.

It is of course difficult to use any work of fiction as an accurate mirror of the times in which it was written, so it’s hard to say how much truth can be gleaned from either account. But in both cases, I think Colette wrote them to show that women can be strong in a variety of ways and circumstances. Even Gigi, who is the little girl being bossed around for 98% of Gigi, eventually routs her grandmothers and takes a stand of strength, ultimately getting what she wants (even if it is surprisingly traditional!).

In Gigi, Gigi’s rebellion takes the form of a desire for the more traditional life of marriage and security as she denies her grandmothers’ freer lifestyles. What do you make of the fact that, in essence, Gigi rebels by conforming?

I found this all very interesting, although I’m not sure what Colette was trying to say with it. She spent the vast majority of the story showing the ways of the grandmothers (and, we are led to believe, the many generations of women prior) in a perfectly understanding and even admiring tone. It is only at the very end that the story takes a turn for the traditional “all comedies are ended by a marriage” ending, which felt decidedly tacked on. Which is the side she is trying to prove? Is Gigi ridiculous for her choice or is she wisely choosing her own path in the face of familial disdain?

Whatever was “meant” by it, I very much enjoyed how Colette took the traditional trope of this story wherein a young girl wants to run away from her family and do something rash (join the circus, run off the Moulin Rouge, what have you) and made the young girl want to run away from her family into respectability! Even if the end didn’t seem to match the rest of the book (particularly since Gigi herself seemed as interested in the lives of the other courtesans everyone gossips about as much anyone else for the entire story), I liked the reimagining.

Favorite Part: I really liked the stories of “the little one’s” brother in My Mother’s House whose favorite pastime is creating tombstones and life stories for imaginary people. As someone who has long created family trees out of thin air with much the same intentions, I really adored it.

Least Favorite Part: I’m not sure I had one. I really enjoyed reading both, although I definitely liked My Mother’s House better. Gigi was just too short for me to really get into it or invested in any of the characters or what might happen to them. Not that My Mother’s House was particularly long, but I was still much more interested in everything going on there than at any point in Gigi.

So what do you all think? Chime in below and you’ll be entered to win a lovely Penguin Clothbound Classic!

–Corey

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Entry filed under: Classics, LT Classics Challenge. Tags: , , .

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Eva  |  July 29, 2010 at 9:41 am

    First I typed up my answers without looking at yours, then I added any comments I had to your answers. :)

    1. Colette was definitely unusual for her time! I tend to see her characters as reflections of her and the people in her circle of French society rather than reflections of all of France at the time. :) But at the same time, I think the way that Gigi’s grandmother is strong is something reflective of how women in any male-dominated society have been strong…they’re on the lookout for what’s best for their children, and they can’t afford to have a rosy, idealised view of life.

    2. I didn’t see it as a desire for tradition so much as a desire not to sell herself short. :) Gigi wants the kind of love that isn’t afraid to commit itself, and based on her experience, that meant marriage. I saw it as a triumph of idealism over her grandmother’s hard-nosed realism. It’s interesting that we read this so differently! (Isn’t that what makes books marvelous to begin with?) I do love what you pointed out about the plot being a fun inversion of the expected one. :)

    Favorite Part: I adored ALL of My Mother’s House and Sido (I wish it had been twice as long)…my favourite part was probably all the hilarious things Colette’s mother said to her. I also liked her brother’s love of cemeteries; I adore old cemeteries myself so I related. Funny that we both mentioned the same thing as our favourite part!

    Least Favorite Part: I’ve seen the old musical version of Gigi, and I hated having that creepy song “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” running through my head the whole time I was reading it! But that’s not Colette’s fault. ;)

    I’ve put a copy of The Mayor of Castorbridge on hold, although I must say I’m more than a little nervous. My only Hardy experience was reading Tess in 8th grade (not for school, just for fun), and I wasn’t a big fan. But I’m double the age I was then (eek!), so with any luck things will go better this time around.

    Reply
    • 2. Eva  |  July 29, 2010 at 9:42 am

      Just to clarify, I was 12 when I read Tess…so I’m still technically in my early 20s. *clinging to my youth* LOL

      Reply
      • 3. Corey  |  July 31, 2010 at 8:07 am

        I really like the way you read Gigi’s choice! I’m always in favor of idealism triumphing over realism, so it is definitely a great way to look at Gigi’s choice. And it makes sense since she’s supposed to be quite a young girl (16? 17?) and I think most 16/17-year-old girls fantasize more about an idealistic form of love than something so real and cold as being a courtesan! I’m assuming girls of the period were the same way. :)

        That brother and his cemeteries rocked, I totally agree! I was in a rush for time so I’m waiting when I have leisure to enjoy Sido, but My Mother’s House was so lovely. I’m happy to hear Sido lives up!

        And I had the exact same thing while reading Gigi! Stupid Maurice Chevalier…ruining Colette for generations of readers with his leering and creepy song! I wonder if everyone has that same problem…

        Good luck with Hardy! I’ve tried to start Tess so many times and never gotten into it, so I’m hoping Casterbridge is better. My friend who loves Hardy said it is. Fingers crossed!

        Reply
  • 4. Eva  |  July 31, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    I’m an idealism girl too, despite my international relations degree trying to wring it out of me. ;) I’m betting 16/17 year old girls have been the same way for quite some time now. hehe

    You get to ‘meet’ the other members of her family a bit more in Sido, which is neat. It definitely has the same feeling, so you’re in for a treat. :)

    I’m glad you have similar problems with Tess; at least we’re in the same boat! My library’s edition of Tess was actually missing the last chapter, so for a long time I thought the book ended on a MUCH cooler note than it turns out to. I was even more annoyed at Hardy when I found out the real ending. lol (Don’t want to ruin it for you if you don’t know what it is.)

    Reply
  • 5. Discussion Post: Chéri « Literary Transgressions  |  March 18, 2011 at 12:03 am

    […] guess the ending could be boiled down to a judgment of the courtesan lifestyle (à la Gigi) or it could be that Beauty will always choose its natural companion, Youth, over Love or Old Age, […]

    Reply

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