Love in the Time of Cholera

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 7)

Gabriel García Márquez won worldwide fame for himself and, to a large degree, Latin American literature with his novel Cien años de soledad (1967; One Hundred Years of Solitude, 1970). Though the works he has produced since then, such as El otoño del patriarca (1975; The Autumn of the Patriarch, 1976) and Crónica de una muerte anunciada (1981; Chronicle of a Death Foretold, 1982), have maintained his reputation as one of the world’s foremost novelists and contributed as well to his winning the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature, many critics and readers alike believe that none of these works has approached One Hundred Years of Solitude in scope and overall quality. Love in the Time of Cholera, however, is a novel that comes very close to ranking right alongside the author’s earlier masterpiece. It is a profound, complex, and at times bizarre tale of love that only García Márquez could have weaved together.

At seventeen, Florentino Ariza begins his courtship of Fermina Daza. After a two-year relationship in which the two communicate exclusively through clandestine love letters, she accepts his proposal of marriage. Her father learns of the relationship, however, and takes her on a long trip to forget Florentino. Yet she does not forget him, and the relationship grows as the two lovers continue to correspond on the sly. On Fermina’s return, however, she mysteriously rejects Florentino, explaining only that she has realized that their relationship has been “nothing more than an illusion.” Florentino is devastated. Fermina eventually is married to Dr. Juvenal Urbino de la Calle, a prominent local physician. Florentino vows that he will win Fermina back and he patiently waits for her husband to die, an event which does not take place until more than fifty years later. In the meantime, Florentino occupies himself with some six hundred “long-term liaisons,” all the while bettering his social position in preparation for the time Fermina will be available again. When Dr. Urbino de la Calle dies, Florentino is ready. On the very day of the doctor’s funeral Florentino expresses his love to Fermina: “I have waited for this opportunity for more than half a century, to repeat to you once again my vow of eternal fidelity and everlasting love.” She immediately asks him to leave and soon after sends him an insulting letter. Undaunted after waiting so long, Florentino continues to pursue Fermina through another series of letters, followed by a series of visits and a climactic boat trip up the river and back. The progress of his courtship is very slow, but he finally manages to win her heart and in the process show her what love really is. The novel ends with the couple again heading upriver, hoping to remain forever in the unreal world of true love.

García Márquez’s novels are typically populated by a collection of wonderfully odd characters, and this novel is no exception. Foremost of these is Florentino Ariza, whose obsessive love for Fermina Daza permeates the novel. This aspect of his character is evident in the letters he writes, from the first one, when the two lovers begin courting—a letter which grows to seventy pages before he trims it to half a page—to the very last ones, when he is attempting to win her back after her husband’s death—letters which he writes every day, numbering each one and even beginning them with a synopsis of the preceding one.

Ironically, the character most dissimilar to Florentino is the very object of his obsessive and enduring love, Fermina Daza. While Florentino waits for years to resume the relationship they once shared, she rarely even gives it a second thought. Even at the height of their teenage love affair, she is a rather detached participant. The narrator states that during this period Fermina wrote “distracted letters, intended to keep the coals alive without putting her hand in the fire, while Florentino Ariza burned himself alive in every line.” This woman is the cool (often cold), distant...

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Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Cartagena. Colombian port city on the Caribbean Sea that forms the backdrop to the novel. Gabriel García Márquez never names the city within the novel; however, the clues he provides are sufficient to ensure that the city is, in fact, Cartagena. Details about the novel’s city include the fact that it was the most prosperous city in the Caribbean during the eighteenth century, that it once possessed the largest slave market in the Americas, and that it was the traditional residence of the viceroys of the Spanish colonial Kingdom of New Granada. The capital of the Bolívar region in northern Colombia, Cartagena was founded in 1533 and became important in the mid-sixteenth century, when Spain’s great mercantile ships began stopping there annually to load up with gold and other products for transport back to Spain. In the process, Cartagena also became a center for the burgeoning slave trade.

García Márquez doubtless does not mention the name of the city in order to keep it firmly within the realm of the imagination and brings his fictional city alive in a variety of ways. He provides detailed descriptions of the grand colonial houses in the downtown district, where Juvenal Urbino’s family lives, and contrasts these houses with the rudimentary hovels where the descendants of the black slaves live on the outskirts of the city, near the swamp.

Contrasts between these two areas of the city are brought home to the reader when Urbino visits the outskirts; his carriage driver gets lost repeatedly, and the children stand in the street laughing at the driver’s clothes. This is clearly...

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Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

Located in the northwest of South America, Colombia is a Spanish-speaking country that was part of the Spanish conquest...

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Literary Style

(Novels for Students)

In Love in the Time of Cholera, although the narrative is in third-person—the impersonal "he" or "she"...

(The entire section is 797 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Novels for Students)

Colombia: A country of almost 37 million, Colombia has a life expectancy rate of 72.8 years, an infant mortality rate of 25.8...

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Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

What is the significance of the title of the novel?

How does Garcia Marquez debunk stereotypical notions of love in the novel?...

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Techniques / Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Told in a single narrative voice, the novel is nonlinear in structure, allowing Garcia Marquez considerable license to enhance plot...

(The entire section is 210 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Two of the six films distributed as Dangerous Loves (Amores Dificites) were inspired in part by Love in the Time of Cholera:...

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What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

For an excellent study of old age, with considerable attention given to sexuality, see Simone de Beauvoir's The Coming of Age (1972)....

(The entire section is 206 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Novels for Students)

Paul Bailey, "The Loved One," in The Listener, Vol. 119, No. 3069, June 30, 1988, p. 29.


(The entire section is 706 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Bloom, Harold, ed. Modern Critical Views: Gabriel García Márquez. New York: Chelsea House, 1989. An excellent collection of critical essays on the works of García Márquez. Proves a good overview of the themes and literary trends that shaped García Márquez’s works.

Castronovo, David. “Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez.” America 159, no. 6 (September 10, 1988): 146-148. Discusses in particular the versatility and variety of Love in the Time of Cholera.

Garris, Robert. “Love in the Time of Cholera by García Márquez.” The Hudson Review...

(The entire section is 211 words.)