Therese Raquin

Therese Raquin Summary and Analysis of Chapters 12-17


Instead of going directly to Mme Raquin with the disturbing news, Laurent decides to seek out Old Michaud and enlist his aid in dealing with Camille’s mother. The old police commissioner is temporarily distraught, and Suzanne and Olivier are also deeply upset. Yet Old Michaud decides to go and deal with Mme Raquin, mustering all the tact and kindness he can in order to inform the old woman of Camille’s death. It doesn’t take long for Mme Raquin to guess Old Michaud’s purpose, and she imagines her son tossed along in the relentless Seine, claimed by death at last despite her efforts.

Laurent then returns to retrieve Thérèse from the restaurant and bring her home. The young woman is moody, tense, and mostly silent. Laurent’s reaction is quite different; he feels relieved of a great psychological burden, now that the murder is done, and sinks into a tired yet peaceful sleep once he returns home.

The following day, Camille’s death is reported in the Parisian press. Laurent is portrayed as a minor hero, and is noted for his energetic though unsuccessful attempts to find and save Camille.

Laurent wakes up the next day, still in a generally cheerful mood though now facing a new, comparatively small discomfort. During the struggle in the boat, Camille tore a small, coin-shaped patch of flesh off Laurent’s neck. For the time being, Laurent disregards this disturbing mark and returns to work, though he also has to tie up a few loose ends regarding the murder.

In an attempt to lend his deed a sense of finality, Laurent begins to frequent the Paris Morgue in hopes of recognizing and claiming Camille’s corpse. The Morgue is a source of sinister fascination for many Parisians, who treat it as a perversely entertaining spectacle. Laurent himself is both intrigued and horrified by the corpses on display, and a few stand out to him: the corpse of a sturdy and pretty young woman, who hanged herself after a disappointment in love; and another, rotten, horrifying corpse that begins crumbling before Laurent’s eyes.

After a week of visits, Laurent at last sees Camille’s body. His former friend is still recognizable, or at least his face is; the rest of Camille’s body has become a horrible mess of mangled, bloated flesh. Laurent claims the corpse and Camille is quickly buried.

Following Camille’s death, both Thérèse and Mme Raquin are reduced to stunned inaction and remain in their beds for three days. At last, Thérèse takes the initiative, puts on her clothes, and begins to minister to her aunt. Suzanne also stops by the apartment. Despite her state of grief, Mme Raquin soon agrees to re-open the shop; though her joints are growing stiff and she has lost all initiative, the old woman is afraid of going mad if she remains in shut up in her apartment.

Slowly, the Thursday evening guests begin to return to Mme Raquin’s apartment. Laurent often stops by to talk with Mme Raquin herself, and one evening, Grivet and Old Michaud arrive at the same time, driven by the same impulse to resume their old habits. All together, the Thursday guests eagerly return to their domino games and usual chatter. Only Mme Raquin - who has one brief, tearful outburst at the start of the proceedings - is unable to ignore Camille’s death.

Both Thérèse and Laurent are present at this Thursday evening. As he looks at his mistress, Laurent feels confident that her heart belongs to him alone.

Eighteen months pass, and both Thérèse and Laurent undergo noticeable changes. The lovers no longer feel the passion for one another that they once did, perhaps because they have found other objects of interest and attraction. Thérèse begins to read novels and briefly finds herself infatuated with a young student. And Laurent, after a reunion with one of his painter friends, strikes up a casual and mostly satisfying affair with a nude model.

Laurent reconsiders his position. Though he is now disconcerted by Thérèse’s passionate and volatile nature, he is also troubled by the possibility that he had murdered Camille for no purpose. The abrupt departure of the model helps him come to a decision. Laurent tells Thérèse that they should be married, and Thérèse consents.

When Laurent returns home, he feels a new and unexpected sensation: a childlike terror of the dark passageway that leads to his apartment. He obtains matches and nervously lights his way, reassuring himself that his fears will go away once Thérèse is a constant part of his life, there to comfort him through uneasy nights. He tries to sleep, yet he is soon afflicted with a new panic. Insomnia tortures Laurent, and he is beset by horrible visions. Though Laurent tries to envision Thérèse, every time he does so, the figure of his beloved is transformed into the gruesome corpse of Camille.

After this night of waking nightmares, Laurent tries once again to muster courage. As he freshens up, he reassures himself that Thérèse’s embraces and kisses will be the antidote to his haunting memories of Camille. He then makes his way to Thérèse’s apartment. There, Mme Raquin informs Laurent of a piece of disturbing news: that Thérèse herself had suffered a terrible bout of insomnia the night before.


As soon as Camille is gone, Laurent feels “a heavy, anxious feeling of joy, joy at having accomplished the crime” (64). But once again, he is able to perfectly conceal his true feelings and motives from those around him. He does so by seeking out the last people that a newly-minted criminal would normally seek: police officials, in this case Old Michaud and Olivier. There is a smug, self-satisfied air that surrounds Laurent in the initial days following the crime. Instead of fleeing a milieu of crime and investigation, Laurent gravitates to settings that resonate with his murderous new status, including Paris’s own house of death, the Morgue.

But in a positive sense too, these chapters present both Thérèse and Laurent with the potential to begin life anew, or at least to embrace new selves. Thérèse begins reading novels, which is in some ways the perfect recreation for her nervous temperament; she reads about emotional characters and becomes “passionately fond of the heroes of all the stories that she read” (82). While reading transports Thérèse away from her dingy shop and into a world full of heroic and interesting people - people she can finally identify with - Laurent uses his newfound leisure to take a new mistress and loaf around Paris, all stresses gone or forgotten.

Zola underscores these changes and new possibilities by way of contrast. While Thérèse and Laurent are transformed by the murder of Camille, the Thursday evening guests simply carry on as though nothing major had happened. And for the newly-relieved lovers, even these tedious meetings take on a hint of pleasure. Laurent feels “at ease among these few people that he knew” and is not afraid to survey Thérèse with pride and satisfaction (79).

Yet by the end of these chapters, Zola makes it clear that the release that Thérèse and Laurent feel is an illusion, a byproduct of their frequent distance from one another. Throughout Thérèse Raquin, Laurent is portrayed as capable of rationalizing his decisions and thinking through his actions and impulses. But these rational abilities are rendered powerless by the terrible phantasm - Camille’s drowned corpse - that comes to haunt Laurent at night, reducing the strong young man to a state of insomnia and to a childlike fear of the dark.

The nightmare vision of Camille is delivered almost entirely from Laurent’s perspective, and on a first read, it might be tempting to write this vision off as a result of Laurent’s superstitious peasant blood. (Remember, Laurent has an almost supernatural fear of the cat François, which Thérèse does not share.) Zola, however, quickly defeats the idea that all this is a fleeting over-reaction. The two murderers understand one another perfectly, even without speaking, and are determined to unite against “the terror they had shared” - the horrifying figure of the drowned Camille (93). The "perfect" crime begins to shadow their lives.