Study Guide

Thérèse Raquin Summary

By Émile Zola

Thérèse Raquin Summary

Thérèse Raquin lives and works in a clothing shop in Paris, but really, but things aren't as glamorous as they might sound—this is no The Devil Wears Prada-Paris. She works hard, and mostly hangs out with her aunt, Madame Raquin and her sickly son, Camille.

At the age of twenty-one, Thérèse marries her cousin Camille—whee, incest—but she feels completely bored and stifled by her monotonous life at the shop. But this is 1860s France, so she pretends to be content with her marriage. She hides all her fiery feistiness behind a mask of passivity and calmness.

(Gross, we know.)

Anywho, when Camille gets a new job at the Orléans Railway Company, he runs into his childhood friend, Laurent. Thérèse is immediately attracted to the Laurent, who is stupidly handsome. Put 2 + 2 together, and you'll already have guessed that Thérèse and Laurent soon start steaming up the windows of the Raquin residence with their affair.

And even though Thérèse is totes boring around her hubby Camille, she's pretty rad when paired with Laurent. He encourages her to express her sensuous and passionate nature and all.

It's not long before Thérèse and Laurent decide to drown Camille and ride off—er, boat off—into the sunset. However, with Camille out of the way, the lovers-turned-murderers discover that they are unable to rekindle their former fireworks. Womp womp.

Even after they get married, they imagine that Camille's ghost visits them every night in their bedroom. Which definitely puts a damper on their sexy-time. So they begin fighting constantly.

One day, Thérèse's aunt, Mme Raquin, suffers a stroke. She becomes completely paralyzed and mute. So, sadly, Thérèse and Laurent sometimes forget that she is in the room.

But maybe you see where this is going.

During one of their many arguments, they accidentally reveal their crime in Mme Raquin's presence. Mme Raquin tries to denounce the murderers, but her paralysis prevents her from communicating her knowledge. Oh well, she tried.

Thérèse and Laurent keep on hating each other. In fact, they grow to find their marriage so intolerable that they plot to kill each other. Gee, guys, maybe you could have tried marriage counseling first?

We bet you didn't see this one coming, though: just seconds before they are about to follow through with their murderous designs, they each realize the other's intention. So they decide, Why make this a double homicide when it can be a double suicide?

Yeah, that's right. They break down sobbing and, after sharing a final embrace, they decide to commit suicide together. They chug some poison and go off into the great beyond together, all under the watchful gaze of Mme Raquin. Ah, young love.