The daughter of a French sea captain and a beautiful woman of North African descent, Thérèse Raquin was orphaned early in life. She was raised by her aunt, Mme Raquin. Thérèse always possessed a passionate and volatile personality (described by Zola as a "nervous" temperament), yet because she was brought up alongside her sickly cousin Camille, her childhood was confined, predictable, and dull. Suspicious and outwardly submissive, Thérèse married Camille as a matter of course and relocated, with Camille and Mme Raquin, to Paris. Her world is shaken when a robust young man, Laurent, seduces her and sets in motion events that will upend her life: adultery, murder, and eventual suicide.
The son of a prosperous yet ill-tempered farmer, Laurent left his peasant roots behind in order to find work and pleasure in Paris. He works as a railway clerk alongside Camille, who admires him and cherishes his friendship, but he is also interested in painting. Despite his great physical strength and reserves of energy, Laurent is devoted to luxury and sensual pleasures (a temperament that Zola describes as "sanguine"). Even painting, for him, is mostly a way to meet attractive women and live a good, leisurely life. He is surprised and captivated by Camille's wife, Thérèse, and together the two begin an affair that will lead to Camille's death, a tortured marriage, and the pair's eventual undoing.
Mme Raquin's is a simple, talkative, and good-natured woman, motivated largely by her dedication to her sickly son Camille. She owns a small shop that sells fabrics, buttons, ribbons, and other small clothing items: first in the town of Vernon, then in Paris. As she grows old, Mme Raquin is gradually beset by stiffness and paralysis and becomes more and more dependent on her niece, Thérèse.
Camille Raquin is a sickly, listless, and self-indulgent young man. He faces death numerous times early in life, yet is repeatedly nursed back to health by his mother, Mme Raquin. When he matures, Camille obtains employment as a railway clerk in Paris and marries his cousin Thérèse. This marriage, however, is passionless, uncomfortable, and fated for disaster.
A family friend of Mme Raquin, Old Michaud obtained much knowledge of crime and criminals during his career. He is a retired police commissioner, and seems to occupy a position of privilege and respect among the guests who gather at Mme Raquin's house for Thursday evening festivities.
Olivier is the son of Old Michaud. A tall, lean man of thirty, he followed his father into a career in law enforcement and works in one of Paris's police prefectures. Along with father and his wife Suzanne, Olivier regularly attends Mme Raquin's Thursday evening get-togethers.
Suzanne is Olivier's wife, and is notable mainly for her small figure, her subservient manner, and her loyalty to Thérèse. She appears regularly at Mme Raquin's Thursday evenings, but only plays a minor part in the conversations that take place.
Grivet is remarkable for his awkward, and at times inappropriate, sense of humor. He is one of Mme Raquin's Thursday evening guests, and his interpretations of events are often the exact opposite of what their reality. Despite his complete lack of social grace, Grivet is respected by the younger Camille. The two of them work together at the Orléans Railway, where Grivet has been employed for twenty years and occupies a supervisory role.
Mme Raquin's tabby cat Francois has intrigued readers and critics of Thérèse Raquin. He is a large, plump creature who observes Thérèse and Laurent as they begin their affair, then as they work through their desperate, mutually-destructive marriage. Francois is frequently personified: by Laurent, by Thérèse, by Mme Raquin, and by Zola himself. In fact, this large cat can also be understood as a double for Camille, especially after Camille's death.
Therese Raquin Questions and Answers
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