“Therese Raquin” is a novel written by Emile Zola, who begins his writing career influenced by romanticism, and then abandons it, finding the style rather unsuitable after the era of positivism began.
“Therese Raquin” is served as an example of a naturalistic novel, in which author uses scientific approach while experimenting with his characters, setting them in various situations and oppressing different personalities.
Vocabulary used by Zola is based on different terms significant for psychology, and he got inspired for writing this novel after reading “The Venus from Gourd”, in which a wife tries killing her husband, and they both end up in a trial.
After being published, it has been criticized as the work of immorality; therefore, Zola wrote a prolog for the second edition, providing some additional explanations.
The plot is based around Madam Raquin, who opened a small shop in a poor neighborhood, after moving from a little place called Verone, with her nephew, Therese and her son Camille. Life was hard in Raquin family, additionally complicated by Camille’s illness.
Genre: social novel
The plot is settled in a poor Parisian working-class neighborhood, where Madame Raquin opens her shop after moving in from Vernon with her nephew Therese, and her son Camille.The Raquin family were living miserable and boring life, with the mother taking care of the ill Camille, paying him her undivided attention because of his extreme sensitivity.
Therese accidentally became a member of this family. She was a daughter of a woman from Oran and Madam Raquin’s brother, Captain Degans, who died in Africa. Therese spent her boring childhood with Camille, aligning herself with his needs and possibilities, trying to tame her strength and vivacious spirit.
When two of them became adults, Therese married Camille, at the instigation of her aunt, Madame Raquin. Their marriage way a tedious monotony, and Therese became apathetic because of her adapting to this lifestyle until her life was nothing more than sole existence.
Theresa has completely left stupor, unable to feel happiness for her marriage, work at the shop, nor the meetings with their friends, usually held on Thursday’s. Nothing could shake her out of her numbness.
One Thursday evening Camille brought to the dinner his former school friend, Laurent, who immediately spotted Therese, finding her easy to seduce. His life was careless and easy, so he wanted to have some fun with Therese becoming a part of it.
Laurent was supposed to portray Camille, deciding to seduce Therese at the same time. He led her into becoming his lover, so Therese finally woke up from her apathy, becoming aware of herself and enjoying with all of her senses.Laurent was enchanted with Therese, her lust, and passion who were hidden deep in this woman who appeared so empty before.
They were meeting in the mornings, and that lasted as long as Laurent could escape his office. Therese was leaving Madam Raquin to work alone in the shop, meeting Laurent in her chambers.
When Laurent couldn’t leave the office anymore, their meetings became rarer, making his lust for Therese stronger by each passing day. Camille was their biggest obstacle because he interfered with them meeting, so they decided to get rid of him and start a life together.
All three of them went on a field trip together, where Laurent decided to drown Camille in the lake, without telling Therese about his plans. Therese was trembling in fever, and Laurent kept on consoling her, acting as a true friend of the family.
Laurent went to see Camille’s corpse at the morgue and that image keeps on haunting him, causing him nightmares. Therese was spending the hardest days of her life, and her worried friends advised the aunt on marrying Therese to Laurent when she stops mourning, as he appeared to be very kind and thoughtful.
Madam Raquin agreed on marrying Therese and Raquin, considering it to be a good idea. Horrible days for the couple began, as they were spending sleepless night fearing the late Camille and days taking care of Madam Raquin out of guilt.
Madam Raquin at the end became completely paralyzed, lying as the living dead. Laurent and Theresa were fighting more every day, not even caring to hide the crime they committed from ill Madam Raquin, who could only observe them with a look filled with hate.
Laurent decided to rent an atelier where he could paint, thinking that would solve some of his problems, but he soon figures out he is unable of escaping from Therese and Camille’s dead face. His paintings were a display of Camille’s face, so he kept on returning to his beloved Therese.
As they concluded they will never get rid of this feeling of guilt, Theresa and Laurent attempted suicide together, as a solution for all their worries. They die together by drinking poison.
Characters: Therese, Camille, Laurent, Madam Raquin
Therese Raquin – the main character of this novel described as a person only capable of surviving without showing any special character trades. Although she inherited passionate nature from her mother, after living with the ill family member in a new environment, she became an antisocial and introvert person, not willing to stick out in any way.
Although she had the potential for becoming unique, she managed to become an average, uninteresting person. As she was fighting in taming her temper for some longer time, she ended by erupting all of her suppressed feelings.
After that rise, she couldn’t slow down anymore, and that breaks her and changes her at the end. The main reason for her mental breakdown hasn’t been the murder of her husband or the weight of her conscience, and it wasn’t able to get forgiveness from Madam Raquin.
But nothing could wake the spark inside her that divides the human from all the other living creatures. Humanity in Therese just didn’t exist, or has been kept buried deep inside of her. It didn’t take long for her to sink in immorality, going deeper every day, led by the dark and powerful forces of her body. Therese was beautiful, yet shameless but only in moments when she decided to throw away all the socially acceptable behavior and morals.
Laurent – he was an average person living a normal life before he meets Therese. When he met Theresa, a lot of suppressed feelings within him, making him discover this new life filled with pleasure. He was enjoying the lust and the pleasures and even experienced some difficult events which made him crazy, murdering another person.
His guilt left serious consequences on his physical health, fearing the Camille’s spirit and reliving nerve-wracking experiences. His conscious appears to be absent, feeling no guilt for murdering Camille. Despite all the contrary, he refused to leave Therese, as she symbolized a beauty of life for him.
Her remorse caused the anger in him, as he felt it as an attack against him. He was also feared Therese will leave him because she was mentioning Camille the whole time, so he finds a solution to his problems in death, both Therese and him as well.
Emile Zola Biography
Emile Zola (1840 – 1902) was a famous French novel writer and is believed to be one of the most important representatives of naturalism. His father was Italian, and his mother was French.
Unfortunately, he lost his father when he was seven years old, and he inherited his temperament which helped him with his writing and defending his views of life. As a young man, he worked in a publishing house where he, later on, became a journalist. After that, he distanced himself from everyone and dedicated his time to writing.
He was famous for causing many discussions about his work because he got accused of being immoral, having a lack of taste and over exaggerating. Also, he was charged because of an inhumane approach in describing his characters.
Emile Zola was famous because of the affection he showed towards the working class. In 1898, he stood out in the Dreyfuss affair with his work J’accuse with which he brought the age of the government upon him. He was sentenced, and he ran away to England.
He wrote about the social problems and tried to show his moral through his books. He considered that the society problems should get more attention. From that time, we have his unfinished works like “Les Trois Villes”, “Les Quatre Evangiles”.
Except for “Germinal” he is also well known for his other novels such as “Nana”, “Therese Raquin”, “L’Assommoir”…
He died September 29th, 1902, in Paris.