Of Love and Other Demons
Garcia Marquez’s OF LOVE AND OTHER DEMONS explores the boundaries between scientific reasoning, embodied in the practices of eighteenth century medicine, and the tenacious adherence to religious precepts, as wielded by Catholic Church authorities, when the strange behavior of a young girl bitten by a rabid dog is taken to indicate demonic possession by the diocesan bishop.
The enigmatic, illiterate Sierva Maria de Todos los Angeles, neglected for twelve years by the Marquis de Casalduero, her withdrawn father, and Bernarda Cabrera, his drug-dependent wife, is reared among slaves until a fever that follows upon her dog bite consigns her to the care of the embittered Abbess of the Convent of Santa Clara. Cayetano Delaura, a young priest sent to exorcise the girl, instead falls madly in love with the entrancing creature whose hair has not been shorn since birth as a pledge to the Virgin for saving her life. Wherever Sierva Maria goes, reports of strange occurrences ensue, casting into doubt rational explanations for the events of the novel’s fictional world.
OF LOVE AND OTHER DEMONS, from its title forward, raises the possibility that demonic possession is simply another term for the travails of human emotion. The novel’s deft handling of alternative explanations for perceived phenomena and its subtle flirting with the thresholds between fact and fiction, art and life, further enhance the work’s atmosphere of destabilized rationality that ultimately renders any absolute, totalized interpretation impossible. For this reason, Garcia Marquez remains the undisputed king of the Magical Realism movement he helped popularize in the late 1960’s, blending superstitious beliefs with empirical methods to leave the reader grasping for a clear view of the workings of his narrative worlds.
Sources for Further Study
Americas. XLVII, January, 1995, p. 63.
The Economist. CCCXXXVI, July 8, 1995, p. 85.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. May 14, 1995, p. 3.
The Nation. CCLX, June 12, 1995, p. 836.
The New York Times Book Review. C, May 28, 1995, p. 8.
Publishers Weekly. CCXLII, March 27, 1995, p. 72.
Time. CXLV, May 22, 1995, p. 73.
The Times Literary Supplement. July 7, 1995, p. 23.
The Washington Post Book World. XXV, May 14, 1995, p. 3.
World Press Review. XLI, July, 1994, p. 48.
Of Love and Other Demons
For Sierva María de Todos los Ángeles, existence is precarious from the very beginning. The only child of the funereal second Marquis de Casalduero, Don Ygnacio de Alfaro y Dueñas, and his drug-dependent wife, Bernarda Cabrera, Sierva María is so puny at her premature birth that the African slave to whom she is later entrusted promises the Virgin Mary that if God permits her to live, the girl’s hair will not be cut until she marries. Abandoned thereafter to a half-savage upbringing while the listless marquis withdraws further from society, and his commoner wife finds solace in her fermented honey, cacao, and many lovers, Sierva María grows up a phantasmal and enigmatic creature, illiterate and prone to lying. On the fateful eve of her twelfth birthday, she is one of four people bitten by a dog later discovered to be rabid.
As terrible suffering and two deaths ensue among the other victims and news of his daughter’s possible infection reaches his ears, Don Ygnacio undergoes a change of heart, regretting his inexcusable neglect of Sierva María. He retrieves her to live in their decayed ancestral mansion and sets out to investigate optimal treatments for her. Returning horrified from the Amor de Dios Hospital, where a sufferer of the dog bite lies half-paralyzed and dying, Don Ygnacio encounters the blasphemous licentiate Abrenuncio de Sa Pereira Cao, a doctor infamous for his unconventional ideas and remedies, whom he convinces to examine Sierva María. Abrenuncio’s prognosis is far from alarming: The girl is unlikely to contract rabies and should be made as happy as possible in her new home.
For a while, all goes well as father and daughter gradually forge a relationship...
(The entire section is 2,443 words.)