Places: Thérèse Raquin

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Un Mariage d’amour, 1867, serial; Thérèse Raquin, 1867, book (English translation, 1881)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Naturalism

Time of work: Early 1860’s

Places DiscussedPassage du Pont-Neuf

Passage Thérèse Raquindu Pont-Neuf (pah-SAHJ dyu POHN-newf). Covered arcade in Paris; a flagstone-floored alley that runs between two streets lined with small shops. The passage is vividly described in the opening lines of the novel. Its strongest characteristic is its darkness and grime, setting the mood of the drama. It exudes a damp odor, and the sun rarely penetrates the grimy glass of its roofing. Its shops are dusty and dim; passersby are limited to those taking a short cut as they walk rapidly on to their true destination. During the day, the shops are dark caves; at night, the arcade takes on a shadowy, sinister look.

Haberdashery shop

Haberdashery shop. Dry goods store in the dismal Passage du Pont-Neuf belonging to Thérèse Raquin. The shop sells odds and ends of clothing, such as socks, stockings, muslin collars and caps, as well as buttons, knitting needles, spools of thread, and balls of yarn. All its stock is faded and yellowed, decaying in the dust and damp within the dim shop. Here, Thérèse Raquin spends her days, in the shadows behind the counter. From the shop, a spiral staircase leads to the upstairs rooms.

Bedroom

Bedroom. Room above the shop that is entered from the dining room at the top of the spiral staircase; it has a second door opening onto an exterior staircase that leads outside to the passage. This is the door which Thérèse’s lover, Laurent, uses throughout their affair. The bedroom itself is the only element of the setting that changes as the novel progresses. As the novel opens, the room is a cold place to which Thérèse and her sickly, weak husband retire each night. Thérèse refuses to decorate or add cheer to the room in any way. Later, when she and Laurent become lovers, Thérèse becomes filled with excitement and happiness and redecorates the bedroom with pots of flowers, new wallpaper, carpets, and curtains. Even the room is transformed by the relationship. After Laurent and Thérèse drown Camille, Thérèse’s personality becomes more relaxed and outgoing. Again the atmosphere of the bedroom changes, from a place of passion to a place of peace and quiet.

The bedroom’s transformations and importance in the atmosphere of the novel climax on Thérèse and Laurent’s wedding night. On this night, a fire blazes in the fireplace and the heat releases the scent of big bunches of roses. The bedroom is a place of sensuality. But the irony of the marriage of Laurent and Thérèse is that they find no peace. The ghost of the man they have drowned in order to be together haunts and terrifies them as soon as they fall asleep. Formerly the scene of their passion, the bedroom becomes the scene of Thérèse and Laurent’s agonies as they struggle to stay awake.

Dining room

Dining room. Another of the three rooms above the haberdashery shop. This room is the scene of the Raquin family’s Thursday evening entertainments, which are dominated by the lamp-lit table on which dominoes are laid out along with the samovar of tea. The lonely people participating in these dull evenings never realize how desperate they are. Much of the plot advancement occurs in this room. Here Thérèse and Laurent meet and carry on their deception in front of the family and friends. After Camille’s death, it is the members of the Thursday evening group who encourage Thérèse and Laurent to marry.

The dining room becomes important to Thérèse and Laurent as a place of respite from the nightmares of the bedroom. It is the scene of the terrible quarrels between them while they are alone, yet to the Thursday visitors it reeks of respectability and normality as the couple lives a double life. Finally, the room is the scene of the death of Thérèse and Laurent by double poisoning, a death which by this time they both welcome.

BibliographyGrant, Elliott M. Émile Zola. New York: Twayne, 1966. A solidly researched account of Zola’s life and works, including excellent pages on Thérèse Raquin.Hemmings, F. W. J. Émile Zola. 2d ed. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1966. The best critical study of Zola’s literary career. The section devoted to Thérèse Raquin is especially insightful.Lapp, J. C. Zola Before the “Rougon-Macquart.” Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1964. Offers the most detailed study of Thérèse Raquin, from the perspective of its place in the early development of Zola’s literary career, before he became famous.Walker, Phillip. Zola. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985. Well-written general study of Zola’s writings, especially perceptive about Zola’s use of symbols and myths.Wilson, Angus. Émile Zola: An Introductory Study of His Novels. Rev. ed. London: Secker and Warburg, 1965. Readable analytical study, written by a practicing novelist.
Categories: Places