Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett, Jane and Mr. Rochester, Edward and Bella…sigh. We love it when true love transcends social class (and species) to bring together princes and paupers. In Belle Époque France, social class distinctions mattered, and it wasn't easy to get that fairy-tale ending. Colette had overheard a story about a courtesan who actually married her lover, and she thought it was so shocking and unusual that she used it as the basis of a novel. And here we are.
In 20th century France, the social class distinctions were pretty clear. People in the haut monde—the upper classes like Gaston and Honoré—had family money, status, opportunities, and leisure. There was a working class with little chance of upward mobility—you know, the people that keep the world going like carpenters, plumbers, and servants. Then there was the demimonde—not really working people, but people not part of respectable society because they were promiscuous and led overly extravagant lifestyles. Courtesans were part of this social class. Gigi was taught the social manners of the upper class not because she could aspire to join it, but so she could please an upper-class man.
Questions About Society & Class
- In Gigi, is wealth the only signifier of class? What else might count in making that kind of judgment?
- Do you think that Gigi "passes" as high-class by the end of the movie? What allows her to do so, or not?
- Madame Alvarez seems far more aware of rudeness and polite conduct than Gaston. Why do you think this is?
- Why was it expected that rich gentlemen would have mistresses from the demimonde?
Chew on This
If you weren't born into the haut monde in this film, you were out of luck, even if you knew the proper way to eat cold lobster.
The upper classes really didn't have any freedom—they were bound by expectations of others in their own social class.