57 pages 1 hour read

Gabriel García Márquez

Love in the Time of Cholera

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1985

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Love in the Time of Cholera is a classic work of literary fiction by the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez. It was published in Spanish in 1985 and translated into English in 1988 by Edith Grossman. The novel was adapted into a film in 2007, which was nominated for several awards including an Oscar and a Golden Globe.

Plot Summary

Love in the Time of Cholera is set in northern Colombia during the late 1800s to the early 1900s. The plot follows three main characters: Fermina Daza and her two lovers, Florentino Ariza and Dr. Juvenal Urbino.

The novel begins in the final years of Fermina Daza and Dr. Juvenal Urbino’s marriage. Fermina is seventy-two years old, and Urbino is eighty years old, and the doctor begins his last day of life—Pentecost Sunday—attending to the suicide of his chess opponent and friend, Jeremiah de Saint-Amour. He then attends a party, before returning home to prepare for Saint-Amour’s funeral. At home, Urbino’s prized parrot hides in a mango tree; when Urbino tries to capture the bird, he falls off a ladder and dies. At her husband’s wake, Florentino Ariza appears and declares his undying love of more than fifty years to the newly widowed Fermina Daza.

The novel goes back in time to Fermina Daza’s girlhood and her blooming love for Florentino Ariza. Her father brings her to an unnamed city in an attempt to transform her into a proper society lady, and he is deeply disappointed when a romance flourishes in hidden letters between middle-class Florentino Ariza and his daughter. The pair’s romance inspires such a depth of love in Florentino Ariza that his mother worries he has cholera. The couple communicate through letters; in one of her letters, Fermina Daza agrees to marry Florentino Ariza. When her headmistress finds out about their engagement, a series of events lead Fermina Daza’s father to take her on a three-year excursion to the province where she was born to encourage her to forget her unsuitable lover. Without her father’s knowledge, however, Fermina Daza maintains her romance via telegram. When she sees Florentino Ariza again, in the Arcade of Scribes, she decides her young love was an illusion and breaks off the engagement herself.

Florentino Ariza is sick with love, and he nearly leaves the city before deciding to remain close to his sweetheart. He devotes himself to her in love, though over the course of fifty years, he has more than six hundred romantic liaisons with other women. Meanwhile, Fermina Daza contracts an illness and meets Dr. Juvenal Urbino. He pursues her, with her father’s support, and eventually, the pair marry despite her initial hatred of the doctor.

The novel covers the next fifty years: Fermina Daza has two children, she travels often to Europe, and she becomes a high society woman despite her lowly beginnings. Florentino Ariza, meanwhile, rises to prominence as the president of a riverboat company. In his later years, he takes on a young ward named América Vicuña, who becomes his final lover.

After Juvenal Urbino’s death, Fermina Daza sends Florentino a nasty letter, but their relationship slowly evolves into a friendship and a romance. At the end of the novel, despite the warnings of her children, Fermina Daza takes a long river cruise with Florentino Ariza in which they finally consummate their fifty-year love. On that river journey, América Vicuña kills herself when she loses Florentino Ariza’s love. América’s suicide does not distract Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza from their love, and the novel ends as Florentino Ariza suggests they fly the cholera flag aboard the ship to avoid all human contact so that they can sail up and down the river, alone in their love, forever. 

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