Thérèse Raquin

Such was the critical outcry labelling the first serialisation of this novel entitled “Un Mariage d’amour” in L’Artiste between August and October 18th pornographic, that Zola provided a preface to the second, 1868, edition explaining his object and refuting the accusations. Certainly anyone seeking prurience would have been disappointed.

I finished reading my Folio Society edition of the work this morning.

Here are the front boards and spine;

and the title page and the frontispiece;

“The Passage du Pont-Neuf…” in which the story mostly takes place “is no place to go for a nice stroll”. “At night the arcade is lit by three gas jets in heavy square lanterns. These gas jets hang from the glass roof, on to which they cast up patches of lurid light, while they send down palely luminous circles that dance fitfully and now and again seem to disappear altogether. Then the arcade takes on the sinister look of a real cut-throat alley; great shadows creep along the paving stones and damp drafts blow in from the street until it seems like an underground gallery dimly lit by three funeral lamps. By way of lighting the shopkeepers make do with the feeble beams that these lanterns send through their windows, and inside the shop they merely light a shaded lamp and stand it on a corner of the counter, and then passers-by can make out what there is inside these burrows where in daytime there is nothing but darkness. The windows of a dealer in cardboard make a blaze of light against the row of dismal shop-fronts, for two shale-oil lamps pierce the gloom with their yellow flames. On the opposite side a candle in a lamp-glass fills the case of artificial jewellery with starry lights. The proprietress sits dozing in her cupboard with hands under her shawl.” Thus the author sets the scene reflecting the generally stifling mood that keeps the main protagonists trapped.

Thérèse has spent her childhood and adolescence suppressing any normal emotional and physical needs to the oppressive atmosphere created by her aunt and husband. Continuing into her young adulthood it is poignant that regular Thursday evening dominos with characterless acquaintances offers the only relief from crushing boredom and unconsummated marriage, until her passions are unlocked by the brutal advances of one who becomes her lover.

Desirous of freedom to marry each other the adulterous pair devise a not unexpected solution, the setting of which offers far more pleasant bucolic descriptions along the banks of the Seine.

Zola’s narration of the deeply destructive effect that guilt and delusional experiences have on these main protagonists careers along at breakneck speed displaying deep understanding of complex characterisation, in particular the part played by thoughts of terrified minds in tune with each other. Locked together in violent passion they can no longer make love.

Two characters who light the way to the ultimate conclusion are the now paralysed aunt who has no speech and can only use her eyes; and the not uncommon device of a haunting painting.

Far from being pornographic this is a grim tale of selfish transgression and inexorable retribution with few personnel and minimal physical activity.

Leonard Tancock’s introduction is useful and informative;

and the lithographs by Janos Kass in a powerful contemporary style.

This evening we all dined on Jackie’s classic beef and onion pie; boiled potatoes; crunchy carrots; firm cauliflower and broccoli, and meaty gravy, with which she drank Hoegaarden and I finished the Cabernet Sauvignon.