Love in the time of cholera
Dr. Juvenal Urbino, the City of the Viceroy’s most esteemed doctor, is sent to examine the body of his close friend and finest competitor at chess, Jeremiah Saint-Amour, who has killed himself at the age of sixty so that he will not grow old. The Doctor returns home and discovers that his pet parrot has escaped from his cage to the top of the mango tree outside. Dr. Urbino climbs a ladder to the branch on which the parrot sits, but just as he grasps the parrot, the Doctor falls to his death. Florentino Ariza professes, for a second time, his "eternal fidelity and everlasting love" to the Doctor and his wife, Fermina Daza. Fermina is horrified by such an insensitive display, and, for the first time, realizes the magnitude of the "drama" she had provoked at the age of eighteen.
Although Fermina Daza may have erased Florentino Ariza from her memory, he has not stopped thinking of her since their long, troubled love affair ended fifty-one years, nine months, and four days ago. Florentino first meets Fermina when he delivers a telegram to her father, Lorenzo Daza, who is notorious for his shady dealings. After watching Fermina, always accompanied by her Aunt Escolástica, walk to school each day from the Park of the Evangels, Florentino works up the courage to approach her one day. He asks that she accept a letter from him, but she refuses because she is obligated to get her father’s permission. He demands that she "get it," which she does the following week. Florentino decides to give her a subdued note (instead of the sixty-page letter he had originally written) in which he resolutely declares his love for her. He is in agony as he awaits her reply, but is overjoyed when Fermina finally answers approvingly.
In the two years that follow, Fermina and Florentino see one another only in passing, though they write love letters daily. Florentino proposes marriage to Fermina, and again her reply is favorable. Fermina is caught writing a love letter by the Mother Su perior at her academy and is expelled. Lorenzo finds love letters in Fermina’s room and as punishment, banishes Escolástica and forces Fermina to accompany him on a long journey, not to end until she has forgotten about Florentino. On the journey, Fermina meets and befriends her older cousin, Hildebranda Sánchez, who helps Florentino and Fermina communicate via telegraph messages.
Florentino hardly recognizes Fermina upon her return from the long journey, because, now seventeen, she has matured into a woman. He sees her in the Arcade of the Scribes, and approaches her. When Fermina sees him, she is suddenly disgusted with him and with herself for ever having been foolish enough to love him. Coolly, she tells Florentino to "forget it." Florentino tries once more to woo Fermina, but to no avail. In the fifty-one years, nine months, and four days that follow, not once does Florentino have the chance to speak or see his beloved Fermina in private. Initially, he vows to save his virginity for only Fermina, but after being seized by Rosalba aboard a ship to a faraway city, he turns to sex to ameliorate the pain he feels at having lo st Fermina. He returns home, intent upon once again making her his own. Meanwhile, he conducts affairs, however secret, with innumerable women, though he is rumored to be a homosexual.
Dr. Urbino courts Fermina, who resists his affections. Lorenzo Daza forces the Doctor upon his daughter, and she reluctantly concedes. When Florentino hears that Fermina is to marry a prestigious physician, he vows to make himself worthy of her. His uncle , Don Leo XII Loayza, gives him a job at the River Company of the Caribbean, of which, after thirty years, Florentino becomes President. Fermina and the Doctor honeymoon in Europe for three months. When Fermina returns, she is pregnant with her first child. Despite his determination to win Fermina, Florentino continues his lustful affairs with other women, whom he finds at the transient hotel and on the trolley. It is on the trolley that he meets Leona Cassiani, whom he mistakes for a whore. Leona asks him only for a job, which he gives to her.
Florentino realizes that he must wait, without violence or impatience, for Dr. Urbino to die before he can win over Fermina. When in public, he is greeted by Dr. Urbino with familiar cordiality, though Fermina lends only a courteous glance or smile, and without memory of their past. Fermina and the Doctor appear to be a very happy couple, but in reality they are quite dissatisfied. The unhappy but stable marriage is rocked when Dr. Urbino conducts a four-month affair with Barbara Lynch, though he ends it when Fermina confronts him with her knowledge of it. Infuriated by her husband’s infidelity, Fermina goes to live with Hildebranda on her ranch. The Doctor arrives at the ranch unannounced to take Fermina, who is overjoyed by his arrival, home with hi m.
Upon the Doctor’s accidental death, Florentino, now elderly, abruptly ends his affair with fourteen-year-old América Vicuña and, at Dr. Urbino’s wake, professes his "eternal fidelity and everlasting love" to Fermina. After having banished him from her home in anger, she sends him a hateful letter. He responds with a meditation on life and love, which helps her overcome her grief. Gradually, after a letter correspondence, they rekindle their relationship and spend afternoons together in Fermina’s ho me. Florentino asks Fermina to accompany him on a river voyage, and she accepts. On the voyage, Florentino and Fermina finally make love. As the ship reaches its last port, Fermina sees people she knows and frets that if they see her with Florentino, it w ill cause scandal. Florentino orders the Captain to raise the yellow flag of cholera, which he does. There remain no passengers on aboard but Fermina, Florentino, the Captain, and his lover. No port will allow them to dock because of the supposed cholera outbreak aboard, and they are forever exiled to cruise the river.
Florentino Ariza – An obsessive, impassioned nymphomaniac, Florentino falls in love with Fermina Daza on sight and waits more than half a century for her husband to die so that he may reaffirm his love for her. During the half century that passes, he has countless sexual liaisons with other women, despite his insistence that he remains a virgin for Fermina. He takes pleasure in the pain of unrequited love, and dedicates his life to earning enough money and status to be worthy of Fermina. He is hired by his uncle, Don Leo XII Loayza. to work at the River Company of the Caribbean, of which he eventually becomes the President. He is incapable of writing any kind of letter but a poetic statement of love, and writes love letters for passersby in the Arcade of the Scribes, the city marketplace.
Fermina Daza – The wife of Dr. Juvenal Urbino and the object of Florentino’s affection, Fermina is a sophisticated woman who, having grown up a peasant, takes pride in her haughty manner and unrelenting stubbornness; she cannot ever bear to admit that she is wrong. She is raised by her father, Lorenzo Daza, and her Aunt Escolástica after her mother dies when she is merely ten years old. Forced to attend and later expelled form a religious academy, she harbors an enduring disgust for Religion and the Church. She has a weakness for flowers, animals, and cigarettes.
Dr. Juvenal Urbino del Calle – The City of the Viceroy’s most educated doctor and most esteemed public figure, Urbino is an old-fashioned man, and still makes house calls to his patients. He is married to Fermina Daza for over fifty years, though he tarnishes their stable marriage with a brief affair for which he is deeply remorseful. He is an aristocratic, relatively unemotional man who enjoys chess and revels in regularity. He suffers a fatal fall from a mango tree when he tries to recapture his escaped, beloved parrot.
Transito Ariza – Florentino’s doting mother, Transito is the one person he ever divulges his secret passion for Fermina to. She takes pains to prepare for Florentino’s marriage to Fermina, but soon turns senile, and dies.
Lorenzo Daza – Fermina’s domineering father who pays cash for his home and is rumored to be a thief and a swindler. After finding Fermina’s stash of love letters, he cruelly banishes his sister, Aunt Escolástica, who is financially dependent upon him, and sends Fermina on a years-long journey so that she will erase all memories of Florentino. He encourages Dr. Urbino to court his daughter, greedy for the Doctor’s wealth and prestige. When it is uncovered that he is a thief, he flees the city with Dr. Urbino’s help.
Aunt Escolástica – Escolástica helps raise Fermina, her niece, after the girl’s mother dies. She is more of a friend than an aunt, and brazenly helps Fermina communicate in secret with Florentino. When Lorenzo Daza, her brother, discovers that she has been assisting Fermina in her affair, he banishes her from his house, though she owns not a cent, and when Fermina tries to contact her, she learns that she is dead.
Hildebranda Sánchez – Fermina’s older cousin and best friend who also suffers from a tormented love affair. Hildebranda feels more sympathy for Florentino’s situation than she does her cousin’s. She helps Florentino and Fermina communicate via secret telegrams while Fermina is away on her years-long journey. Fermina stays at her ranch when she needs refuge from her cheating husband, Dr. Urbino.
Lotario Thugut – The German telegraph operator who acts as a father figure to Florentino. He gives Florentino violin lessons and initiates his loss of innocence when, after leaving the telegraph office to own and manage a transient hotel, kindly gives Florentino a room free of charge. He enjoys a fast life, drinking in the taverns and sleeping with the "birds" (prostitutes) who live at the hotel.
Dona Blanca – Mother of Dr. Juvenal Urbino, she proves the bane of Fermina Daza’s existence. She forces Fermina, her daughter-in-law, to take harp lessons and to eat eggplant, both of which Fermina detests. She dies while Dr. Urbino and Fermina are in Europe.
Don Leo XII Loayza – Florentino’s paternal uncle and the President of the River Company of the Caribbean, he makes a habit of singing at funerals, and is most saddened when he cannot sing at his own. Upon Transito’s request, he finds Florentino a job in a faraway city to help him erase Fermina from his memory. When Florentino returns, he grants him yet another job at the River Company. He urges Florentino to marry Leona Cassiani, and when he is too ill to continue running the River Company, he bequeaths it to Florentino.
Leona Cassiani – A determined, intelligent black woman who Florentino meets on the Trolley and mistakes for a whore. She asks him for employment, not sex, and he finds her work at the Riverboat Company in the most menial position available. She impresses Leo, the Company President, with her ideas, and he promotes her to the position of his personal assistant. She moves through the company, but out of courtesy, will not take a position higher than Florentino’s. She is arguably Florentino’s true love, for she nurtures his career and cares for him in his old age. Florentino calls her the "lionlady of [his] soul," and Leo, "[his] namesake Leona."
Rosalba – The young woman who travels aboard the ship to Villa de Leyva with two other women, presumably her mother and sister, and carries her baby in a bird cage. Florentino is convinced that it is she who, one night, seizes him, drags him into her cabin, and robs him of his virginity. It is Florentino’s encounter with her that instigates his sexual promiscuity, and his belief that he can relieve his desire for Fermina by having sex with many other women.
Widow Nazaret – The woman with whom Florentino experiences his second sexual encounter, and who is forever grateful to him for "making her a whore."
Ausencia Santander – They older, widowed woman with whom Florentino conducts a seven-year affair. He is more attracted to her beautiful house than he is to her, and visits her less after her lover, in an act of revenge, steals her every belonging.
Sara Noriega – An older woman who Florentino meets at a poetry festival and with whom he conducts a long-term affair. She is the only other woman, besides Fermina, to ever reject him.
Olimpia Zuleta – Another of Florentino’s lovers, she keeps carrier pigeons, and after months of dismissing Florentino’s advances, she succumbs. After the first and only time she and Florentino have sex, her husband slits her throat, having seen the message Florentino had written on her belly.
Barbara Lynch – The woman who has a four-month affair with Dr. Juvenal Urbino. She is the daughter of a Reverend, and will not allow the Doctor to completely undress her.
Prudencia Pitre, The Widow of Two – Twice widowed, she is another of Florentino’s lovers. Intuitive and direct, she comforts Florentino after Fermina rejects him for a second time.
América Vicuña – The fourteen year-old girl who is entrusted to Florentino by her parents, and whom he seduces despite his old age. When he ends the affair abruptly, without giving her a reason, she commits suicide.
Fermina Sánchez – Fermina Daza’s mother. She dies when Fermina is six years old.
Euclides – The cunning twelve-year-old boy who Florentino hires to dive for the treasure of the galleon. He deceives Florentino by recovering only treasure he has planted himself.
Jeremiah de Saint-Amour – A children’s photographer and Dr. Urbino’s only worthy competitor at chess. The novel begins with his suicide; he kills himself because he refuses to grow old.
Dr. Urbino Daza – A physician and son of Fermina Daza and Dr. Juvenal Urbino.
Ofelia Urbino – The miserable daughter of Fermina Daza and Dr. Juvenal Urbino. Fermina banishes her from her home when she protests her mother’s courtship with Florentino, and declares that love between elderly people is "disgusting."
Lucretia del Real del Obispo – Fermina’s close friend. She is too ashamed ever to speak to Fermina again after a tabloid press fabricates a story that she and Dr. Juvenal Urbino had had an affair.