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Thérèse Raquin


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Honoré de Balzac (1799—1850) French novelist

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AT: Guilty A: Émile Zola Pf: 1867, Paris Pb: 1863 Tr: 1956 G: Trag. in 4 acts; French prose S: The Raquins' room, Paris, 1860s C: 4m, 3fLaurent, who is painting the portrait of his friend Camille, seems to dislike Camille's wife Thérèse, but, when alone together, they rush into each other's arms. All three plan a boating trip together, during which Laurent and Thérèse drown the weakling Camille. A year later, Camille's mother, believing that Laurent had bravely tried to save her precious son, urges him to marry the ‘mourning’ widow Thérèse. With a show of reluctance, they agree to ‘do their duty’. When at last their happiness seems assured, they find that on their wedding night their guilt has completely drained their relationship of love. Madame Raquin overhears Laurent's confession to murder, and the shock causes a stroke which leaves her paralysed. Regaining the use of one hand, she begins to write a note denouncing the pair, but stops, recognizing that they will be punished more by suffering slowly and privately from their guilt than if she were to hand them over to the law. Deaf to their pleas for pity, she watches as they poison themselves.

AT: Guilty A: Émile Zola Pf: 1867, Paris Pb: 1863 Tr: 1956 G: Trag. in 4 acts; French prose S: The Raquins' room, Paris, 1860s C: 4m, 3f

Based on his 1867 novel Thérèse Raquin, this play stands as one of the few lastingly successful adaptations from prose fiction in the history of drama. While the end is undeniably melodramatic, Zola's detailed ‘autopsy’ (his own term) of a disintegrating relationship is truthful and brilliantly compelling. Although attracting much hostility in its day for its sordid theme, it may now be recognized, with Ostrovksy's Thunderstorm, as a seminal work of stage naturalism.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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Émile Zola (1840—1902) French novelist and critic


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