Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Zola and Freud: Spent Energy in Therese Raquin

Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Zola and Freud: Spent Energy in Therese Raquin

Article excerpt

On 18 October 1868, several months after the publication of Therese Raquin, Zola composed an article, as part of his weekly "Causerie" in the newspaper La Tribune, on the subject of popular leisure in the Parisian suburbs. (1) The young journalist's enthused account of a recent Sunday excursion to the Ile de Saint-Ouen provides the poetic backdrop to a politically charged defense of working-class recreation:

   Je suis reste jusqu'au soir au milieu du peuple endimanche. Peu de
   paletots, beaucoup de blouses : un monde ouvrier gai et franc, des
   jeunes filles en bonnet de linge, montrant leurs doigts nus cribles
   de piqures d'aiguille, des hommes vetus de toile, dont les mains
   rudes gardaient l'empreinte d'un outil. La joie de ce monde etait
   saine ; je n'ai pas entendu une seule querelle, je n'ai pas apercu
   un seul ivrogne. [...] C'etait une gaiete de bons enfants, des
   eclats de rires sinceres, des plaisirs sans honte. On eut dit une
   seule famille, la grande famille plebeienne, venant gouter sous le
   ciel libre le repos gagne par une longue semaine de labeur. (Euvres
   completes 3: 472)

Against the popular conflation of the proletariat with les classes dangereuses (most dangerous, of course, when liberated from the workplace), Zola's impassioned remonstrations seek to extricate proletarian leisure from the insalubrious behavior--namely, violence, drinking, and sexual promiscuity--with which it had become almost unavoidably synonymous. Instead, he promotes a sanitized and emphatically innocuous portrait of the infantilized worker at play. When left to its own devices, Zola insists, "le peuple sait s'amuser" (3: 474); it disposes, in other words, of the instinctive and acquired capabilities necessary to the self-regulating provision of its own leisure. Underpinning Zola's rhetorical maneuvering here, then, is not only a paternally benevolent preoccupation with leisure's affective compensation for a laborious existence (it provides "la gaiete saine necessaire a leur vie de labeur," 3: 474), but also an engagement with hygienist imperatives, which insert popular recreation into a rational economy of the expenditure and "recreation" of energies.

For Zola, the suburban setting appears to be the site of fraternal (and familial) harmony, inspiring in the subject the sort of sober pacifism that he had himself claimed to experience in an earlier "Causerie," published on 25 June. There (a distinctly Rousseauian) Zola recounts how, with Jules Michelet's natural histories in hand, he would set out in search of a solitary retreat on the banks of the Seine, indulging in "longues reveries" (3: 448) and enjoying a wholly fraternal communion with the natural world. "J'ecoutais le gazouillement d'un oiseau, [...] puisant une ame fraternelle dans la seve que les arbres partageaient avec moi. Certes, je n'aurais pas brise l'aile d'une mouche, ecrase le plus chetif puceron. Je me serais cru coupable d'un meurtre" (3: 448). Zola's allusion to violence and guilt appears loaded here in light of the fact that, just several months earlier, the suburban riverside retreat (at Saint-Ouen) had been the malevolent setting of Camille's murder in Therese Raquin (indeed, not only is Camille described as "chetif," but Laurent insists later in the novel, "je n'aurais pas ecrase une mouche," 3: 152). With its powerful and fatal admixture of eroticism and violence, the novel's partie de campagne has none of the healthy, joyful innocence of Zola's suburban journalism. Instead, prostitutes (rather than artisans or seamstresses) air their pale complexions "que des caresses brutales avaient marteles" (3: 71), while the tenor of mourning combines with the aggressive undertones of the unbridled crowd: "Au bruit criard de la foule, se melaient les chansons lamentables des orgues de Barbarie" (3: 71). Here, leisure (from licere, "to permit") threatens to descend into licentiousness, a mode of unrestrained, sordid excess. …

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