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Thérèse Raquin (Emile Zola, 1867)

Publication date: 03/10/2013

Synopsis

When Thérèse Raquin is forced to marry the sickly Camille, she sees a bare life stretching out before her, leading every evening to the same cold bed and every morning to the same empty day. Escape comes in the form of her husband’s friend, Laurent, and Thérèse throws herself headlong into an affair. There seems only one obstacle to their happiness; Camille. They plot to be rid of him. But in destroying Camille they kill the very desire that connects them…

First published in 1867, Thérèse Raquin has lost none of its power to enthral. Adam Thorpe’s unflinching translation brings Zola’s dark and shocking masterwork to life.

This was easier to translate than Madame Bovary, but it threw up particular difficulties: how to cope with Zola’s hammering repetitions (of which French is more tolerant); how to convey the truly shocking nature of the novel in a world now saturated with depictions of sex and violence. Again, I chose period English and, as one of the reviewers noted, avoiding embellishing Zola’s stark realism.

Reviews:

Daily Telegraph

Anthony Cummins: December 10, 2013

You could see Thérèse Raquin as a sort of pared-down, Gothic Madame Bovary… Brisk, brash, uncluttered by subplot, it’s unusually short for a Zola novel… With at least two good English editions in print, there was no real need to retranslate Thérèse Raquin, but novelist Adam Thorpe’s version deserves to become the standard English text, even if it omits Zola’s preface. A Francophile up to his neck in the mucky slang of the day – his endnotes highlight the abundant innuendo in the novel – he resists any temptation to meddle with Zola’s fondness for tautology: this is a novel of “dark savageries”, “agonising uncertainties”, “dismal despondency” and “sluggish lassitude”, whose characters are “atrociously cruel” and “violently brutal”.

The repetition hammers home the grimness of the novel’s second half, which follows the married life of Thérèse and Laurent after Camille’s murder… Things get very ugly: Thérèse, pregnant, provokes Laurent to kick her in the stomach “almost to death” so she’ll miscarry. You wonder if Zola is writing about cruelty or just writing cruelly...

The novel was too hot for the Victorian magazine market, where it first appeared in English. In 1884, Mayfair, a shilling monthly… pulled at the halfway point a serialisation that was from the start altered to preach in ways Zola expressly set out to avoid. Where Thérèse has “no hesitation” in committing adultery, the Mayfair translation tutted: “Never a moment’s hesitation or a thought of remorse for the abuse she was heaping on the people who cherished her when she was a little friendless girl.” Yet Thérèse also became a victim, Laurent’s “strong arms rendering her resistance perfectly useless” the first time they have sex; Zola says she “surrendered herself”. Needless to say, the “long drawn-out shudders that thrilled her from head to toe” didn’t make it.

Metro (London)

Tina Jackson: December 18, 2013

Anyone who thinks the British contingent brought lurid literature effing and blinding its way to life in the 1990s should be force-fed Emile Zola's 1867 novel Thérèse Raquin, which, in Adam Thorpe's stark new translation, is revealed in all its queasy glory as a shockingly effective literary mash-up of pulp fiction, melodrama and grimly unflinching social realism… It will glue you to the page…

Times Literary Supplement

Nicholas White: February 5, 2014

The translator of this new edition in English, Adam Thorpe...brings an unusual freshness and zip to the task, which goes some way towards returning us to that sense of unnerving immediacy which the young Zola's novel would have given its readers in 1867…. This handsome Vintage Classics edition contains some useful editorial matter, but not Zola’s own preface to the second edition. In that sense, then, it comes close to returning us to the baldness (and boldness) of the original Naturalist document.