Culture Street

By Rebecca McRitchie

Thérèse Raquin is a classic French novel and play written by Émile Zola. The novel is a gothic and sinister dissection of love and people within the lower classes of nineteenth century Parisian society. Published in 1867, the novel centres on the story of Thérèse, a young girl, who, after the death of her mother, is sent to live with her aunt, Madame Raquin and her sickly son, Camille. Both Therese and Camille grow up together; Thérèse – quiet and obedient, Camille – spoiled and egocentric. When Thérèse turns 21, Madam Raquin marries the two cousins to one another and all three move to Paris so Camille can find work.

Here, Camille introduces Therese to his childhood friend, Laurent. Laurent, who is the opposite of Camille in every way, quickly seduces Therese and the two embark on a passionate, consuming and animalistic love affair. Unable to keep up the charade and desperate to stay together, Thérèse proposes that they murder Camille which they do and cover it up as an accident. With Camille out of the way, the two can finally be together. Sic transit gloria mundi, though. Thérèse and Laurent are continuously visited by Camille’s ghost who slowly turns their love for each other into a passionate, consuming and animalistic hatred.

Throughout the novel, Zola’s prose is blunt and dispassionate, making the story all the more sinister. As the founding father of the French literary movement of naturalism, Zola uses realism to show that the environment, heredity and social conditions determine and shape one’s character. Murder, adultery, psychological torture, animal cruelty and suicide are all packed into Thérèse Raquin, creating a horror of a novel that is incredibly engaging and a wonderful read. If you find yourself lacking the time to read, Kate Winslet does a remarkable job in narrating the audiobook on Audible.

Below is the first image from Thérèse, the movie adaptation by Charlie Stratton starring Tom Felton, Elizabeth Olsen and Jessica Lange, which is set to be released later this year.


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