Zola’s Thérèse: Nineteenth-Century Moral Codes and L’Autre in Bourgeois Society




Steel, Kathryn

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This thesis describes the portrayal of the female protagonist in Émile Zola’s 1867 novel Thérèse Raquin. Zola, a Naturalist author, communicates a critique of nineteenth-century bourgeois Parisian society and explores gender relations through a description of an affair and a murder. Thérèse is examined as an “Other,” demonstrating Orientalist attitudes and representing a binary image of woman as an embodiment of virtue and vice. With her portrayal as a femme fatale, this analysis of the “exotic” Thérèse will present attitudes towards adultery/marriage and towards female criminality when the novel was published, connecting these to social changes that were beginning to take place. This study will also explore two cinematic adaptations of Thérèse Raquin, and how her Otherness and sexuality is translated in film representations. To close, this thesis will connect Zola’s foundational portrayal of Thérèse with two later female characters from his oeuvre: Gervaise Macquart of L’Assommoir and Anna Coupeau of Nana. The author will discuss and demonstrate the complexity of Zola’s early work in relation to his social and temporal context. In the process of researching and writing this thesis, the author conducted a literature search and reviewed Zola’s works.



Zola, Thérèse Raquin, Nineteenth century, Adultery, Woman as other, Orientalist