Therese Raquin

Therese Raquin Summary and Analysis of Chapters 18-21


Thérèse is reeling from the same nightmare - the horrifying ghost of Camille - that has begun to plague Laurent. Desperate for solace and peace, and convinced that Laurent’s presence will protect her against Camille’s phantom, she decides to set the marriage in rapid motion.

However, the lovers have somewhat different motives for making their marriage a reality. Thérèse is motivated mainly by passion and panic; her nerves stretched to the breaking point, she feels instinctively that she will be driven out of her mind without Laurent to comfort her. Laurent takes a more rational approach. He realizes that he will probably not get any money from his father under any circumstances, and he also realizes that Mme Raquin has savings worth 40,000 francs at her disposal. Obtaining this money would ensure a comfortable life and would justify Camille’s murder.

In order to bring about their marriage without arousing suspicions, Thérèse and Laurent begin to manipulate Mme Raquin and her Thursday evening guests. Thérèse puts on a mood of extreme melancholy, which leads Mme Raquin to worry. Old Michaud, however, is convinced that he has the solution to Thérèse’s downcast mood. He advises Mme Raquin to marry off Thérèse as quickly as possible; a proposal that initially disconcerts the old haberdasher. Soon, however, Mme Raquin is revitalized by the task of arranging a good marriage for Thérèse and reinvigorated by the prospect of opening a new, positive chapter in her life.

While Thérèse continues to sulk, Laurent manipulates and deceives Mme Raquin in his own way. He appears frequently at the Passage du Pont-Neuf, attending to the needs of the household, and constantly voices his sorrow over Camille’s untimely death. Mme Raquin is won over by this attitude of concern, as are her guests. It soon occurs to Old Michaud, without any direct statements on Thérèse’s or Laurent’s part, that Thérèse and Laurent would make a fine pair.

Together, Mme Raquin and Old Michaud decide to broker the marriage; Mme Raquin counsels Thérèse, while Old Michaud deals with Laurent. The two lovers pretend to resist the idea, out of respect for one another and for Camille’s memory, but they eventually give in.

In the presence of Mme Raquin and Old Michaud, the betrothed Thérèse and Laurent enact a scene that is outwardly touching - and that hides their real discomfort. The lovers link hands, but recoil at the cold touch of one another’s skin. Laurent, moreover, claims that Camille had called out to him during the fatal catastrophe on the Seine, imploring him to save Thérèse. Thérèse is aghast at this lie, yet she continues to remain composed and is eager to see the marriage take place, if only because it will free her of Camille’s haunting influence.

Thérèse and Laurent wake up happy on the day of their wedding; they are convinced that their nights of terror will soon be at an end. Yet on the morning of the wedding, Laurent is discomfited by the scar that Camille left on his neck. He manages to keep his composure and adorns himself in his new wedding clothes - a gift from Mme Raquin to the impoverished Laurent. The wedding itself proceeds smoothly, with all the Thursday evening regulars in attendance.

Following the official ceremonies at the town hall and at church, Thérèse, Laurent, and the Thursday evening guests adjourn to small restaurant for the wedding reception. The mood is fairly reserved and somber, partially because Thérèse and Laurent have new cares of their own; the scar has begun to pain Laurent again and both newlyweds feel dull and morose. Grivet, however, makes an off-color comment about the future children of Thérèse and Laurent. Bride and groom turn pale, and their state of exhaustion and anxiety continues until, at last, they reach their bedchamber in the Passage du Pont-Neuf.

Laurent and Thérèse find themselves in their bedroom - once the site of their passionate affair - which Mme Raquin has heated with a hearty fire and adorned with bunches of roses. Despite these inviting settings, the two newlyweds regard one another with timidity, and even disgust. They try to muster new passion, yet Laurent makes the mistake of speaking Camille’s name - a mistake that unleashes horrible memories and makes any attempt at intimacy impossible.

Nonetheless, the husband and wife try to chat and begin to disrobe for bed. They find that it is impossible to drive Camille out of their minds and even seem to follow one another’s anguished reflections on the dead man. Thérèse asks Laurent about the Morgue, whether he had seen Camille’s body. And Laurent, wanting closure of his own, implores Thérèse to kiss the scar on his neck, hoping that her lips will sooth the burning mark. Yet these efforts to find solace are always defeated.

Soon, the contents of the room begin to plague the two lovers. Camille’s portrait remains on the wall, since Mme Raquin had neglected to move it elsewhere. Both Thérèse and Laurent are haunted by the drowned man’s disturbing, crudely-painted visage. The cat François also makes an appearance, creating eerie scratching noises and driving the superstitious Laurent even deeper into panic.

After a sleepless night - which Thérèse spends sitting by the dying fire, and which Laurent spends pacing mechanically to and fro - the two resolve to try to make the most of their situation and live together pleasantly. The resolution, however, seems difficult, and perhaps doomed.


Early in these chapters, Zola signals that Thérèse and Laurent have one and the same perspective: “An affinity of blood and lust had been established between them. They shuddered the same shudders and, in their hearts, a sort of agonizing fellowship ached with the same terror” (94). Formerly, Zola took great pains to differentiate the sanguine Laurent and the nervous Thérèse. The temperamental differences between the two murderers have not yet broken down - Thérèse wants to marry because she fears a nervous crisis, while Laurent cautiously weighs the costs and benefits of a union - yet the deadly links between the two characters are becoming tighter.

None of the other characters have the least hint of how trapped Laurent and Thérèse feel. The two protagonists realize this, and they decide to speed along their marriage by staging a further set of manipulations. In order to win Mme Raquin over to the idea of a new marriage, Thérèse adopts an especially interesting ploy. She neither conceals her negative state of mind nor fully reveals it - instead, she strikes a note that is dour enough to arouse Mme Raquin’s concern, but not to suggest her true psychological torture. Mme Raquin is indeed convinced that Thérèse has “retreated into herself and seemed to be dying of some unknown sickness” (99). She misdiagnoses the sickness as maidenly loneliness, though Thérèse is in fact dying of neurotic terror.

As the narrative moves forward, Thérèse and Laurent continued to be grouped together in emphatic ways. They are not simply companions in sorrow. Despite their nocturnal torments, they manage to share a few sympathetic joys; for instance, on their wedding morning they wake up “with the same profoundly joyful thought: they told themselves that their last night of terror was over” (108). Even their acquaintances regard them in terms of similarity, and Mme Raquin regards them not as bride and groom, but as “her two dear children” (104).

It is clear that Mme Raquin and the Thursday guests are eager for a new beginning. Yet as with the resumption of the Thursday evenings, this “new beginning” is less of a radical, refreshing departure and more of a return to the same comforting, stupefying routines. By the time of the wedding party, Grivet is back to his stupid jokes and Mme Raquin is mostly her affectionate old self. And the idea of the new husband and wife as “children” is itself a return to form, since Mme Raquin also regarded the married Camille and Thérèse as her children. Laurent is simply a new “child,” occupying exactly the same place that Camille once occupied in Mme Raquin’s household and affections. Eerily enough, he becomes a double for his murder victim.

For Thérèse and Laurent, Camille’s lingering influence isn’t merely impossible to escape; indeed, Camille’s influence starts to take on new forms. During their wedding night, the newlyweds are vexed by Camille’s long-disregarded portrait and alarmed by Mme Raquin’s tabby cat, whom Laurent equates with Camille. Laurent doesn’t even have the limited comfort of being able to toss off the earlier manifestations of Camille, since the drowned man’s scar remains on his neck, resisting any and all soothing efforts.