Madame Raquin (rah-KA[N]), a plump, sixty-year-old, doting mother who centers her life on her son, Camille, and gratifies his every whim. When he decides to go to Paris to look for a new position, she leaves her comfortable country retirement at Vernon and uses a portion of her savings to rent a miserable little haberdashery on a wretched Left Bank alley. Camille, his mother, and his wife, Thérèse, live a life of unbroken plainness and regularity until they are enlivened by Camille’s vivacious coworker and friend, Laurent. After the seemingly accidental death of Camille, Madame Raquin’s sorrow eventually is tempered by her apparently devoted daughter-in-law, Thérèse, and the thoughtful Laurent. She is maneuvered into suggesting their marriage. At first, they guard the secret of their culpability for Camille’s death and hide their psychological torment from her. After Madame Raquin suffers a progressively debilitating paralysis, which leaves her unable to move or speak, Laurent, in one of his regular anguished and angry bouts with Thérèse, lets the truth slip out in front of the invalid. Unable to communicate the awful truth to the members of the Thursday night gatherings, Madame Raquin festers in her hatred, relishing the destructive behavior of Thérèse and Laurent. She has the ultimate satisfaction of witnessing their double suicide.
Thérèse Raquin (tay-REHZ), the twenty-eight-year-old daughter of Madame Raquin’s brother, Captain Degans. He left Thérèse to her aunt’s care after the death of the toddler’s Algerian mother. Thérèse, a strong and lissome person, has fine features, with dark hair and eyes. Madame Raquin decides that her niece and ward should marry her son, Camille. Although she is deeply repelled by Camille’s sickly smell and touch, the passive Thérèse acquiesces. Without protest, she gives up the life in the country, which she loved, for the dismal shop and apartment in Paris. She molders away until her passionate nature is brought to life and unleashed by the advances of Laurent. When their secret but tempestuous affair is threatened by lack of opportunity, it is she who suggests the murder of her husband. After Camille’s death, their ardor cools, and in its place grows guilt. They hope that their marriage will bring peace; instead, it brings greater guilt and psychological anguish. They cannot stand to touch each other, and the two engage in protracted bouts of hateful recrimination. Unable to find peace in dissipation, Thérèse, in despair, decides to escape...
(The entire section is 1082 words.)