pondělí 26. září 2011

Émile Zola: Thérèse Raquin (Tereza Raquinová)

   After quite a long time, I came back to the good old classic literature – when people got sued for what they wrote and when writing about sexual intercourse was really something different (where’s the fun today when no one minds a woman on a stage yelling I LOVE MY CUNT). Yeah, those were different times…when Zola was the most read French author, Baudelaire was more that “the only French poet I have ever heard of”, Madame Bovary was an upsetting novel and Maldoror walked the streets of Paris and forced dogs to molest little girls.
   The story has four main characters – Thérèse, Camille, Madam Raquin and Laurent. Thérèse grows up with her aunt Madame Raquin and her cousin Camille. Camille is a sickly, feeble boy and Thérèse spends quite a lot of time with him indoors, taking care of him. In reality, she has temperament and she would love to be running in the woods and enjoy nature. But little by little, she falls under influence of her cousin and Madame Raquin and submits.
   Later, she marries Camille but she is never really happy. Camille meets his old friend Laurent and introduces him to his family. Thérèse falls for him immediately and it doesn’t take long before they start a sexual relationship. Thérèse changes completely and the nice, calm girl turns into a crazy, passionate lover.
   Gradually, their relationship becomes obsession and they decide they want to be together. Obviously, there is a problem – Camille. Which may possibly turn out not to be such a problem. You just have to take him for a ride in a boat. And than throw him into the water. And than jump in and pretend you were saving his dear wife when the boat turned about.
   So far, the plan goes great. No one suspects them and they pretend not to care about each other. They even play Madame Raquin and her friends to propose the idea of their marriage.
   On their wedding night, they find out that this might not have been the best idea ever. They can’t sleep, they can’t sleep with each other, they actually can’t be in the same room. Such a situation is unbearable and drives both main protagonists into utter madness.
   This is the third book by Zola I have read so far and I liked it the best. I can’t really remember Nana, I read it a little bit too fast, and Germinal was good but a little slow. This one is short and something keeps happening all the time. Not that I would mind lack of story in books but in case of naturalism, you really need some that will catch you. It’s one of Zola’s early work, I believe it’s his first published novel, and he already uses his aesthetics of analysis and scientific approach to literature. But I guess we all know that.
   What seemed really interesting to me was that Zola was the first to realize (according to our literature professor) that human emotions are physical. There is of course insight into Thérèse, Laurent and Madame Raquin (interestingly, there is almost none into Camille…he is probably just too dull so even Zola didn’t care what he was thinking) but when they feel something, they feel it through their bodies. He goes in his analytic approach so far that his characters are based on four major temperament types. At least wiki says that Thérèse is choleric, Laurent sanguine and Camille phlegmatic; I dare say that Madame Raquin is melancholic.
   I think there is a lot to like about this book. Sure, there are those yucky parts some people could mind (like the description of Camille’s putrefying body) but you can’t read Zola without them… So if you get over them (or you skip them or you weirdly enjoy them) you get to his description of life in its brutality and savageness. Those people are hideous but they also can’t help themselves, it’s in their nature.
   The only thing I really disliked was the fact that Thérèse’s mother was from Africa. Given the philosophy of predeternism Zola uses in his work, her mother’s origin is a direct reason of her temperament and her savage and in a way primitive nature. Sure, using Africa as a symbol of barbarism and primeval instincts in humans wasn’t weird or offensive in that time (and few…many…decades later) but still…it feels weird nowadays.

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