Thérèse Raquin Additional Summary

Émile Zola


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

A dramatic story of murder and adultery takes place in Paris among a small group of people from the same town in Normandy, Vernon, northwest of Paris. The group’s unifying link is Madame Raquin, a widow about sixty years old, who owns a small dry-goods shop on a dark, narrow street in Paris. She previously owned a dry-goods shop in Vernon, but, after her husband dies, she sells the business and retires. At the demand of her frail, sickly, but ambitious son, Camille, then twenty-two years old and married to his cousin Thérèse, Madame Raquin is compelled to move the family to Paris. She finds a tiny shop that she can afford with family living quarters above it. Madame Raquin and Thérèse run the shop together, while Camille finds employment in a railroad company office, where he hopes to rise to a high administrative post.

Thérèse is the child of Madame Raquin’s brother, a French army captain, serving in Algeria. One day, the brother, Captain Degans, appears in Vernon and presents his sister with a two-year-old baby girl, saying that the child’s mother, a native Algerian of great beauty, died and that he is unable to care for the child himself. Captain Degans leaves with his sister a certificate affirming that he is the father of this child born out of wedlock and that she bears his name. Her African heritage gives Thérèse a high-strung, emotionally intense nature, but growing up in Vernon with her aunt and her cousin, she develops a self-protective mask of reserved docility. She shows little emotion but willingly does whatever is asked of her to guarantee acceptance from her aunt. Two years younger than Camille, she is raised as his sibling, and when Madame Raquin announces her hope that the two will marry, Thérèse makes no objection, though she has no real affection—or even respect—for this small, delicate, insecure young man who is to become her husband.

The emotional dynamics among the Raquin threesome has to lead to trouble, even though they are, at first, isolated in Paris, living on an obscure little street seldom used except as a convenient shortcut from one lively Paris thoroughfare to another. To remedy this isolated feeling, the Raquins begin inviting company to their home every Thursday evening. Madame Raquin runs into an old acquaintance from Vernon, a retired commissioner of police named Michaud. Michaud comes to the Thursday evenings, accompanied by his son and daughter-in-law. Camille invites an older man, Camille’s superior at the railroad office, whose job Camille hopes one day to inherit. The Thursday evenings are...

(The entire section is 1053 words.)