Thérèse Raquin

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Thérèse Raquin
AuthorÉmile Zola
Original titleThérèse Raquin
TranslatorEdward Vizetelly
Robin Buss
GenreNaturalism, theatrical naturalism, psychological novel
Set inParis, 1860s
Publication date
1867 (serialized)
1873 (as book)
Published in English
Media typePrint: serialized in journal
LC ClassPQ2521.T3 E5
Preceded byLes Mystères de Marseille 
Followed byMadeleine Férat 
Original text
Thérèse Raquin at French Wikisource

Thérèse Raquin [teʁɛz ʁakɛ̃] 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 tells the story of a young woman, unhappily married to her first cousin by an overbearing aunt, who may seem to be well-intentioned but in many ways is deeply selfish. Thérèse's husband, Camille, is sickly and egocentric and when the opportunity arises, Thérèse enters into a turbulent and sordidly passionate affair with one of Camille's friends, Laurent.

In his preface, Zola explains that his goal in this novel was to "study temperaments and not characters".[2] Because of this detached and scientific approach, Thérèse Raquin is considered an example of naturalism.

Thérèse Raquin was first adapted for the stage as an 1873 play written by Zola himself. It has since then been adapted numerous times as films, TV mini-series, musicals and an opera, among others.

Plot summary[edit]

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.[3]

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.


  • Thérèse Raquin – the eponymous protagonist, is the wife of Camille and the orphaned daughter of Madame Raquin's brother and an unknown African woman.
  • Camille Raquin – Thérèse's husband and first cousin.
  • Madame Raquin – Camille's mother and Thérèse's aunt. She works as a shopkeeper to support her family.
  • Laurent – a childhood friend and coworker of Camille who seduces Thérèse.
  • Michaud – the police commissioner and friend of Madame Raquin
  • Olivier – Michaud's son who works at the police prefecture
  • Suzanne – Olivier's wife
  • Grivet – an elderly employee of the Orléans Railroad Company, where Camille works
  • François – the Raquins' cat


The Passage du Pont-Neuf. (illustration by Horace Castelli, 1883)

Punishment and imprisonment[edit]

Throughout the book there are references to chains, cages, tombs and pits. These contribute to the impression that Laurent and Thérèse are in a state of remorse and are plagued by guilt. The book mentions how they are always clawing at the chains that bound them together. The shop that Thérèse owns is compared to a tomb, where Thérèse watches corpses walk by in the day.


In his preface to the second edition, Zola writes that he intended to "study temperaments and not characters". To his main characters, he assigns various humors according to Galen's four temperaments: Thérèse is melancholic, Laurent is sanguine, Camille is phlegmatic and Madame is choleric. For Zola, the interactions of these types of personalities could only have the result that plays out in his plot.

Human beast[edit]

Also in his preface, Zola calls both Thérèse and Laurent "human brutes" and the characters are often given animal tendencies. Zola would take up this idea again in his La Bête humaine (1890).

Literary significance and reception[edit]

Thérèse Raquin is generally considered to be Zola's first major work. Upon its release in 1867, Thérèse Raquin was a commercial and artistic success for Zola; this led to a reprint in book form in 1868. It gained additional publicity when critic Louis Ulbach (pen name: Ferragus) called Thérèse Raquin "putrid" in a long diatribe for Le Figaro; Zola capitalized on this for publicity and referred to it in his preface to the second edition.[4]

Zola's book provided the clear inspiration for James M. Cain's 1934 novel The Postman Always Rings Twice, which has a similar plot.[5]



Zola adapted the novel into a play, Thérèse Raquin, first staged in 1873. It was not performed in London until 1891, under the auspices of the Independent Theatre Society, since the Lord Chamberlain's Office refused to license it.

Stage productions of Zola's play include:

An opera based on the novel was written by the composer Michael Finnissy. Another opera, Thérèse Raquin, by Tobias Picker, opened in 2000.

The novel was made into the Broadway musical Thou Shalt Not, with music by Harry Connick Jr.

The play The Artificial Jungle by Charles Ludlam was an adaption of the novel, written in the hard-boiled crime style of James M. Cain.

Neal Bell adapted the novel into a play under the same title. It was first produced at New York University by Playwrights Horizons Theatre School on December 3, 1991, directed by Edward Elefterion, with Katie Bainbridge as the title role. Its first professional production was at the Williamstown Theatre Festival on June 30, 1993, directed by Michael Greif, with Lynn Hawley as Thérèse. On July 10, 1994, Michael Greif, in conjunction with La Jolla Playhouse in California, put up the West Coast premiere with Paul Giamatti in the role of Camille. Its professional New York premiere was on October 27, 1997, at the Classic Stage Company, directed by David Esbjornson, with Elizabeth Marvel as Thérèse. The Los Angeles premiere was directed by Charlie Stratton, with Leslie Hope as Thérèse.[7]

A 2014 UK musical, Thérèse Raquin, with music by Craig Adams and book and lyrics by Nona Shepphard, featured Julie Atherton as Thérèse, Tara Hugo as Madame, Jeremy Legat as Camille and Ben Lewis/Greg Barnett as Laurent. After a sold out run at The Finborough Theatre the Theatre Bench production transferred to Park Theatre in Finsbury Park and was nominated for a West End Frame award. A cast recording was released in 2015.[8]

Film and television[edit]

Film and television adaptations of the novel include:

  • Thérèse Raquin (1915), Italian silent film, directed by Nino Martoglio
  • Thérèse Raquin (1928), German film
  • Thérèse Raquin (1950), BBC adaptation starring Sonia Dresdel as Thérèse
  • Thérèse Raquin (1953), with Simone Signoret
  • Thérèse Raquin (1956), German TV movie
  • Thérèse Raquin (1965) Swedish TV movie
  • Thérèse Raquin (1966), German TV movie
  • Teresa Raquin (1977), Mexican TV series
  • Thérèse Raquin (1979) Belgian TV movie
  • Thérèse Raquin (1980), BBC series starring Kate Nelligan as Thérèse, Brian Cox as Laurent, and Alan Rickman as Vidal (Laurent's artist friend, who is unnamed in the novel)
  • Thérèse Raquin (1985), Italian miniseries
  • Thirst (2009), Korean horror film which borrowed a number of plot elements from Thérèse Raquin
  • In Secret (2013), American film starring Elizabeth Olsen as Thérèse, Jessica Lange as Madame Raquin, Oscar Isaac as Laurent and Tom Felton as Camille; directed by Charlie Stratton


Publication history[edit]

  • 1867, France, Lacroix, December 1867, hardback
  • 1881, Translation by Mary Neal Sherwood
  • 1886, Translation by Ernest Alfred Vizetelly
  • 1902, Translated by Edward Vizetelly
  • 1962, Penguin Classics translation by L. W. Tancock
  • 1992, Oxford World's Classics translation by Andrew Rothwell
  • 1995, Penguin Classics translation by Robin Buss
  • 2013, Vintage (Random House) translation by Adam Thorpe


  1. ^ Vizetelly, Ernest Alfred (December 19, 2019). "Émile Zola, Novelist and Reformer: An Account of His Life & Work". Good Press – via Google Books.
  2. ^ Zola, Émile. "Préface de la deuxième édition." Thérèse Raquin. Paris: Livre de Poche, 1997.
  3. ^ Pearce JM (1987). "The locked in syndrome". Br Med J (Clin Res Ed). 294 (6566): 198–9. doi:10.1136/bmj.294.6566.198. PMC 1245219. PMID 3101806.
  4. ^ Ferragus. "La littérature putride." Le Figaro, January 23, 1868.
  5. ^ Naremore, James (2008). More Than Night: Film Noir in Its Contexts. University of California Press. p. 279. ISBN 978-0520934450.
  6. ^ Green, Jesse (October 29, 2015). "Theater Review: Keira Knightley Glows From Within in Thérèse Raquin". Vulture.
  7. ^ Bell, Neal. Thérèse Raquin. New York: Broadway Play Publishing INC., 1998.
  8. ^ "Thérèse Raquin - 2014 Original London Cast".

External links[edit]

  • Thérèse Raquin at Project Gutenberg (French)