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Therese Raquin

By: Emile Zola

Thérèse Raquin is an 1868 novel by French writer Émile Zola, first published in serial form in the literary magazine L'Artiste in 1867. It was Zola's third novel, though the first to earn wide fame. The novel's adultery and murder were considered scandalous and famously described as "putrid" in a review in the newspaper Le Figaro.

Thérèse Raquin is the daughter of a French sea-captain and an Algerian mother. After her mother's death, her father takes her to live with her aunt, Madame Raquin, and Camille, her valetudinarian son. Because her son is "so ill", Madame Raquin dotes on him to the point of spoiling him, and he is very selfish. Camille and Thérèse grow up side-by-side and Madame Raquin marries them to each other when Thérèse turns 21. Shortly thereafter, Camille decides that the family should move to Paris so he can pursue a career.

 

Thérèse and Madame Raquin set up shop in the Passage du Pont Neuf to support Camille while he searches for a job. He eventually starts working for the Orléans Railway Company, where he runs into a childhood friend, Laurent. Laurent visits the Raquins and, while painting a portrait of Camille, contemplates an affair with the lonely Thérèse, mostly because he cannot afford prostitutes anymore.

 

It soon becomes a torrid love affair. They meet regularly and secretly in Thérèse's room. After some time, Laurent's boss no longer allows him to leave early, so the lovers must think of something new. Thérèse comes up with the idea of killing Camille, and they become infatuated with the idea of being able to be together permanently while being married. It seems Camille is the only obstacle in this. They eventually drown him during a boat trip, though in defending himself Camille succeeds in biting Laurent on the neck. Madame Raquin is in shock after hearing of her son's disappearance. Everybody believes that the drowning was an accident and that the couple actually tried to save Camille. Laurent is still uncertain about whether Camille is truly dead and frequently visits the mortuary, which he persists in although it disturbs him, until he finally finds the dead body there. Thérèse becomes far more nervous and has nightmares; the previously calm and centered Laurent also becomes nervous. Their feelings toward each other are greatly changing, but they still plot to marry without raising suspicion and therefore reap the rewards of their actions. Thérèse acts very subdued around family and acquaintances and Laurent publicly shows great concern and care for her, so Michaud, one of the family's regular visitors, decides that Thérèse should remarry and her ideal husband should be Laurent. They finally marry but they're haunted by the memory of the murder; Laurent's bite scar serves as a constant reminder for them both. They have hallucinations of the dead Camille in their bed every night, preventing them from touching each other and quickly driving them even more insane. They vacillate between trying desperately to rekindle their passion to get rid of the corpse hallucinations (and trying to 'heal' the bite scar), and despising each other. Laurent, previously an untalented artist, is suddenly struck with surprising talent and skill, but he can no longer paint a picture (even a landscape) which does not in some way resemble the dead man. Sickened by this, he gives up art. They must also tend Madame Raquin, who suffered a stroke after Camille's death. She suffers a second stroke and becomes completely paralyzed (except for her eyes), after which Thérèse and Laurent accidentally reveal the murder in her presence during one of their many arguments.

Madame Raquin, previously blissfully happy, is now filled with rage, disgust and horror. During an evening game of dominoes with friends, Madame Raquin manages to move her finger with an extreme effort of will to trace words on the table: "Thérèse et Laurent ont ...". The complete sentence was intended to be "Thérèse et Laurent ont tué Camille" (Thérèse and Laurent killed Camille). At this point her strength gives out and the words are interpreted as "Thérèse and Laurent look after me very well".

 

Thérèse and Laurent find life together intolerable. Laurent has started beating Thérèse, something she deliberately provokes in order to distract her from her life. Thérèse has convinced herself that Madame Raquin has forgiven her and spends hours kissing her and praying at the disabled woman's feet. The couple argue almost constantly about Camille and who was responsible for his death, so they exist in an endless waking nightmare. They are being driven to rashly plot to murder each other. At the novel's climax, they're about to kill each other when each realizes the other's plan. They break down sobbing in silent agreement of what they should do next, and reflect on their miserable lives. After a final embrace, they commit suicide by taking poison supplied by Laurent, all in front of the hate-filled, watchful gaze of Madame Raquin.

Book Details

Language

English

Original Language

French

Published In

1867

Author

Émile Édouard Charles Antoine Zola was a French novelist, journalist, playwright, the best-known practitioner of the literary school of naturalism, and an important contributor to the de...

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