Thérèse Raquin

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Thérèse Raquin
Written by Émile Zola
Date premiered 1867 / 1873
Original language French
Genre Naturalism, theatrical naturalism, psychological novel

Thérèse Raquin [teʁɛz ʁakɛ̃] is a novel (first published in 1867) and a play (first performed in 1873) by the French writer Émile Zola.

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",[1] because of this detached and scientific approach, Thérèse Raquin is considered an example of naturalism.

Though Zola's third novel, it was his first to earn wide fame and made his reputation, though the novel's adultery and murder were considered scandalous and famously described as "putrid" in a review for Le Figaro.

Plot summary[edit]

Thérèse Raquin is the daughter of a French sea-captain and an Algerian mother, after the death of her mother, her father brings her to live with her aunt, Madame Raquin and her valetudinarian son, Camille. Because her son is "so ill", Madame Raquin dotes on Camille to the point where he is selfish and spoiled. Camille and Thérèse grow up side-by-side and Madame Raquin marries them to one another when Thérèse is 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. Camille eventually begins working for the Orléans Railway Company, where he meets up with a childhood friend, Laurent. Laurent visits the Raquins and decides to take up an affair with the lonely Thérèse, mostly because he cannot afford prostitutes any more but this soon turns into 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 and so the lovers have to think of something new. Thérèse comes up with the idea of killing Camille, 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 the disappearance of her son; everybody believes that the drowning was an accident and that the couple actually attempted to save Camille. Laurent is still uncertain about whether Camille is truly dead and frequently visits the mortuary, where he finally finds the dead body. Thérèse has nightmares and is very subdued, so Michaud—one of the regular visitors of the family—comes up with the idea that Thérèse should marry again and that the ideal husband would be Laurent, they marry but they are haunted by the memory of the murder. They have hallucinations of the dead Camille in their bedroom every night, preventing them from touching each other and quickly driving them insane. Laurent, who is an artist, can no longer paint a picture (even a landscape) which does not in some way resemble the dead man, they also have to look after Madame Raquin, who has suffered a stroke after Camille's death. Madame Raquin suffers a second stroke and becomes completely paralyzed (except for her eyes), after which Thérèse and Laurent reveal the murder in her presence during an argument.[2]

During an evening's 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 and plot to kill each other, at the climax of the novel, the two are about to kill one another when each of them realizes the plans of the other. They each then break down sobbing and reflect upon their miserable lives, after having embraced one last time, they each commit suicide by taking poison, all in front of the 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 LeClaire – 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


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.[3]


Film, TV, radio, theatrical[edit]

Zola adapted the novel into a play, 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 include:

The novel was made into several films, including:

  • 1915 Italian silent film adaptation, directed by Nino Martoglio
  • 1928 German silent film
  • 1950 BBC adaptation starring Sonia Dresdel as Thérèse
  • 1953 French adaptation with Simone Signoret
  • 1956 German made-for-TV movie adaptation
  • 1965 Swedish made-for-TV movie adaptation
  • 1966 German made-for-TV movie adaptation
  • 1977 Mexican TV series adaptation
  • 1979 Belgian made-for-TV movie adaptation
  • 1980 BBC serial adaptation starring Kate Nelligan as Thérèse, Brian Cox as Laurent, and Alan Rickman as Vidal (Laurent's artist friend, who is unnamed in the novel)
  • 1985 Italian mini-series adaptation
  • 1998 BBC Radio 4 radio adaptation starring Anna Massey as Thérèse
  • 2009 BBC Radio 4, "Classic Serial" adaptation in two parts starring Charlotte Riley as Thérèse and Andrew Buchan as Laurent
  • 2009 Korean horror film Thirst which borrowed a number of plot elements from Thérèse Raquin
  • 2013 English-language adaptation In Secret, starring Elizabeth Olsen as Thérèse, Jessica Lange as Madame Raquin, Oscar Isaac as Laurent and Tom Felton as Camille; directed by Charlie Stratton
  • 2014 UK stage adaptation of Thérèse Raquin, with music by Craig Adams and book and lyrics by Nona Shepphard, featuring 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.[5]

An opera based on the novel has been 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 novel (rewritten in the hard-boiled crime style of James M. Cain) was the basis of the play The Artificial Jungle by Charles Ludlam.

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.[6]

Publication history[edit]

  • 1867, France, Lacroix, December 1867, hardback
  • 1887, Translation by Ernest Alfred 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. ^ Zola, Émile. "Préface de la deuxième édition." Thérèse Raquin. Paris: Livre de Poche, 1997.
  2. ^ 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 1245219Freely accessible. PMID 3101806. 
  3. ^ Ferragus. "La littérature putride." Le Figaro, January 23, 1868.
  4. ^ Raquin at the Roundabout
  5. ^
  6. ^ Bell, Neal. Thérèse Raquin. New York: Broadway Play Publishing INC., 1998.

External links[edit]