Thérèse Raquin is a clinically observed, sinister tale of adultery and murder among the lower orders in nineteenth-century Paris. Zola's dispassionate dissection of the motivations of his characters, mere `human beasts' who kill in order to satisfy their lust, is much more than an atmospheric Second Empire period-piece. Many readers were scandalized by an approach to character-drawing which seemed to undermine not only the moral values of a deeply conservative society, but also the whole code of psychological description on which the realist novel was based. Together with the important `Preface to the Second Edition' in which Zola defended himself against charges of immorality, Thérèse Raquin stands as a key early manifesto of the French Naturalist movement, of which Zola was the founding father. Even today, this novel has lost none of its power to shock.
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