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Love in the Time of Cholera

Love in the Time of Cholera Summary


Here you will find a Love in the Time of Cholera summary (Gabriel Garcia Marquez's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.

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Last Updated: Monday 1 Jan, 2024

Love in the Time of Cholera Summary Overview

An esteemed doctor in the City of the Viceroy, Dr. Juvenal Urbino, finds himself examining the body of a dear friend who chose suicide over aging. Tragedy strikes again when Urbino falls to his death from a mango tree while trying to retrieve his pet parrot. This prompts Florentino Ariza to once again express his undying love and fidelity to the doctor's widow, Fermina Daza, a gesture which she finds deeply offensive sparking her realization of the drama she had instigated when she was just eighteen. Florentino had met Fermina years ago while delivering a telegram to her notorious father, Lorenzo Daza. This started a troubled but passionate love affair between them which continued even though they only saw each other occasionally. Despite her father's disapproval, Fermina and Florentino communicated via love letters and even planned to marry. However, when Fermina was caught penning a love letter, her father banished her Aunt Escolástica and took Fermina on a long journey hoping to make her forget Florentino. During the journey, Fermina's older cousin, Hildebranda Sánchez, helped them communicate secretly. Unfortunately, upon her return, Fermina felt repulsed by Florentino and decisively ended their relationship. During the subsequent years, Florentino tried to win Fermina back to no avail, despite his rise to power as the president of the River Company of the Caribbean, a position given to him by his uncle Don Leo XII Loayza. Meanwhile, Fermina was married off to Dr. Urbino by her father, and together they had a child. Despite their facade of a happy marriage, they were in reality quite unhappy, with Dr. Urbino even conducting an affair. Florentino, on the other hand, continued his affairs with numerous women while he patiently waited for Dr. Urbino's death to win Fermina back. Upon Dr. Urbino's death, Florentino once again expressed his love for Fermina, leading to them rekindling their relationship and finally consummating their love on a river voyage. Fearing a scandal, Florentino ordered the ship captain to signal a cholera outbreak forcing the ship to forever cruise the river.

chapter 1

Dr. Juvenal Urbino, an eighty-one-year-old doctor, investigates the suicide of his friend and chess rival, Jeremiah de Saint-Amour, who killed himself and his dog with gold cyanide. Dr. Urbino is deeply affected by this, as it is the first suicide he has seen that wasn't provoked by love. The police inspector doubts the suicide, but Dr. Urbino believes it, knowing Saint-Amour's expertise in chemicals. Using his influence, Dr. Urbino convinces the inspector to bypass usual procedures and bury Saint-Amour that day, Pentecost. While at Saint-Amour's house, Dr. Urbino discovers an unfinished chess game and a letter addressed to him. Reading the letter, he learns of Saint-Amour's final wishes and the combination to his strongbox, which doesn't hold as much money as expected. Dr. Urbino is keen to share the letter's secrets with his wife. Dr. Urbino follows Saint-Amour's instructions in the letter to an old house in the slave quarter of the city. There, an elderly woman reveals that she was Saint-Amour's lover and that she was his opponent in his final game of chess. She shares that Saint-Amour had decided to end his life at sixty and that he had felt dead in the months leading to his suicide. She also reveals her plan to sell all his belongings and continue to live happily. Dr. Urbino is a creature of habit. He still makes house calls, uses a horse and carriage, and plays chess with his friends at the Parish Cafe. His pet parrot is a source of contention between him and his wife, Fermina Daza. The bird, which he treats better than his own children, has been trained to speak French, recite gospel, and do arithmetic. Because of its reputation, it even attracts visitors like the President of the Republic. One day, his servants fail to recapture the parrot, who had escaped its cage. Despite their best efforts, the bird stays on a mango tree. In his frustration, Dr. Urbino calls the fire department, which he founded, to rescue the bird. Disoriented by Saint-Amour's suicide, he doesn't care for the parrot's fate. Dr. Urbino and Fermina have recently celebrated their golden wedding anniversary. Despite the age gap, they share a deep bond, although they often fight over petty issues like forgetting to replace the soap in the bathroom. This argument leads to a four-month separation, which ends when Dr. Urbino admits that there was soap in the bathroom. One day, Dr. Urbino spots the parrot on a low branch of the mango tree. He attempts to catch it with a ladder, but loses his balance and falls to his death. With his dying breath, he tells Fermina he loves her. His death is a significant loss to the city, as he was known for his contributions to the fight against cholera and his progressive ideas. Dr. Urbino's funeral is attended by many, including Florentino Ariza, who has loved Fermina for over fifty years. Despite the torrential rain, he stays till the end of the service. After the mourners leave, Florentino confesses his "eternal fidelity and everlasting love" to Fermina. Shocked, she orders him out of her house. Alone for the first time since her husband's death, she cries and prays for death. However, she realizes that she spent more time thinking about Florentino than her husband.

chapter 2

Florentino Ariza hasn't forgotten Fermina Daza despite a love affair that ended over fifty years ago. Raised by his mother, Transito Ariza, after his father's death, Florentino begins working at the Postal Agency. There, he learns Morse Code and the violin from German immigrant Lotario Thugut. He becomes an attractive prospect for girls until he meets Fermina Daza. Florentino meets Fermina while delivering a telegram to her father, Lorenzo Daza. Their brief eye contact ignites Florentino's passion. Lorenzo and Fermina have been in the city for two years, with Lorenzo's wealth apparent though he seems unemployed. Florentino, unable to approach Fermina because of her protective aunt, secretly watches her and writes her a lengthy love letter. Fermina's Aunt Escolástica informs her of Florentino's affections. Despite her initial pity for Florentino's sickly demeanor, she learns from Escolástica that he is love-sick. Escolástica teaches Fermina sign language to communicate with Florentino. However, Florentino's mother convinces him not to deliver the love letter. Both Fermina and Florentino long for each other. One day, Escolástica leaves Fermina alone, giving Florentino the opportunity to approach Fermina and hand her a shorter love note, not his initial lengthy love letter. Florentino's physical health deteriorates as he waits for Fermina's reply to his love letter, leading to a misdiagnosis of cholera, when in reality, he is suffering from lovesickness. His obsession with Fermina even leads him to consume gardenias and cologne to 'know her taste', leading to a drunken stupor and near job loss. For a year after Fermina's reply to Florentino's letter, the two never speak but keep up a lively correspondence. This secret romance continues until Fermina is expelled from school for writing love letters, leading to Lorenzo discovering her romance with Florentino. He banishes Escolástica and takes Fermina on a journey to forget Florentino. During this trip, Fermina and Florentino secretly correspond through telegraphs. Meanwhile, Florentino plans to salvage a sunken ship's treasure in Fermina's honor, only to be deceived by Euclides, a young swimmer he hired. Upon Fermina's return home, Florentino is taken aback by her maturity. However, when he approaches her, she dismisses their past love as an illusion. Despite his desperate attempts to reconcile, Fermina returns all his gifts and letters, demanding he do the same. For the next fifty-one years, nine months, and four days, Florentino doesn't get a chance to speak or see Fermina privately until he reiterates his vow of eternal love.

chapter 3

At 28, Dr. Juvenal Urbino is a sought-after bachelor, but he's smitten by Fermina Daza. His hometown is in ruins due to cholera and an economic crisis. His father, also a medical practitioner, succumbed to cholera. Driven by a desire to restore his hometown, Urbino thunders about sanitation issues and disease prevalence. Cholera has turned fertile lands into graveyards, with cannon shots fired every fifteen minutes as per a local belief that it cleanses the atmosphere. Urbino’s father, revered as a civic hero and cholera victim, isolates himself when the disease strikes him. His poignant letter to his family, penned moments before his death, triggers Urbino's tears in Paris. Urbino's childhood memory of his father's mortality shapes his own fear of death. After his father's death, he becomes a cholera expert, mitigates an outbreak, and champions preventive measures against epidemics. He falls for Fermina when examining her for cholera symptoms. Her father, Lorenzo, hopeful of a potential match between them, pays Urbino generously. On his next visit, Urbino admires Fermina as a "new-sprung rose." Despite her initial coldness, Lorenzo engineers an apology from her and invites Urbino for drinks. Urbino, despite his abstinence from both coffee and alcohol, partakes, and leaves drunk. Lorenzo warns him of Fermina's fiery temper. Spurred by his feelings for Fermina, he continues his romantic pursuit. In an attempt to woo Fermina, Urbino serenades her with a piano concerto. Fermina ignores him, but Lorenzo is delighted and offers Urbino a chess lesson. Soon, Urbino's letter requesting permission for a formal visit reaches Fermina. Although initially angered, she eventually warms up to Urbino. The Mother Superior at Fermina’s former Academy aids Urbino in his pursuit, but Fermina remains steadfast against her advances. Hildebranda, Fermina's cousin, visits her during Christmas. Hildebranda is disappointed at Fermina's rejection of Florentino and sets up a secret communication channel with her own lover. In a surprising turn, Urbino rescues Fermina and Hildebranda from a crowd, and this ride in his carriage marks a turning point in his relationship with Fermina. Despite her resistance, she finally writes to Urbino, granting him permission to approach her father for her hand. Upon hearing of Fermina's impending marriage, Florentino is shattered. His mother arranges a job for him in a distant city. Before leaving, he serenades Fermina one last time. On his journey, a mysterious woman deflowers him, leading him to question his love for Fermina. Back at home, Florentino has a fling with Widow Nazaret, who's taken in after her house is destroyed. Despite this and numerous other encounters, Fermina's return from her honeymoon stirs his feelings for her. Terrified of consummating her marriage, Fermina endures her honeymoon in dread. Urbino, showing understanding, gently educates her about their bodies. Three months in, Fermina conceives and is overjoyed. Urbino admits he married Fermina not for love, but for her unique qualities, hoping to fall in love eventually. Returning from Europe, Fermina brings back exotic treasures and fond memories. However, she dismisses the European wonders as ordinary, reflecting her inherent strength and individuality.

chapter 4

Florentino Ariza, smitten by Fermina Daza, is determined to elevate his status to prove his worth to her. He's convinced that he needs to wait for Dr. Juvenal Urbino’s demise for their love to blossom. Securing a job as a clerk in the River Company of the Caribbean, under his Uncle Leo XII, his poetic style in business letters is maintained, despite his uncle's chiding. In due time, he climbs the company ladder. Florentino's talent for poetry allows him to help lovers communicate with each other, leading to an unexpected role as a godfather. He tries to publish a book, "Lover's Companion," but it's too lengthy to be accepted by printers. Meanwhile, Transito Ariza refurbishes their house in anticipation of Fermina’s return, but is diagnosed with a terminal disease. Florentino's reputation takes a hit due to his increasingly public affairs. Florentino embarks on a seven-year affair with Ausencia Santander, a colleague’s wife. After a robbery at her home, their relationship begins to wane. Florentino picks up lovers from his trolley rides, including an escapee from an insane asylum, and Leona Cassiani, who becomes an influential figure in his company. Despite their close relationship, a romantic relationship with Leona never occurs. Florentino’s longing for Fermina intensifies when he encounters Dr. Urbino in his office during a cyclone. He nearly reveals his secret love to Leona, but holds back. He later spies Fermina at a poetry festival and he rekindles an affair with a woman named Sara Noriega. However, he realizes that while he's engulfed in these affairs, he and Fermina are aging, and time is passing him by. Fermina struggles with her decision to reject Florentino and her unhappy marriage to Dr. Urbino. Her in-law troubles and the revelation of her father's illicit dealings add to her misery. She frequently sees Florentino in the park outside her late father's house, which makes her contemplate her life choices. A trip to Europe with her husband and son provides a brief respite. Florentino's pursuit of a married woman, Olimpia Zuleta, ends tragically when her husband murders her after discovering their affair. Following his mother's death and Olimpia’s burial, he is reminded of his aging and the passing years since he lost Fermina. Dr. Urbino and Fermina return home after her father's death and their marriage appears to be restored. However, Fermina still feels enslaved by domesticity and longs for the times of her youth, not for love, but for the sorrow she experienced.

chapter 5

Dr. Urbino and Fermina mark the turn of the century with a hot air balloon ride. However, Fermina is unable to visit her birthplace, a cholera-infested region. Seeing her reflection in a mirror at an inn, Florentino is reminded of her and buys the mirror. Despite efforts to reconnect, Fermina doesn't acknowledge their past. She disappears from public view, sparking rumor of her fleeing plague-infected regions. Florentino fails to confirm these rumors. Moving to another village to reside with Hildebranda on a ranch, Fermina departs secretively. Her departure is prompted by her suspicion of Urbino's infidelity, based on an unfamiliar scent on his clothes. Their communication during her absence is limited to updates about their children. Despite searching Urbino's office and medical records, no evidence of his affair surfaces. After discovering that Urbino had stopped taking communion, Fermina confronts him about his actions. The confrontation reveals Urbino's brief affair with Miss Barbara Lynch, which ends after the confrontation. Following Urbino's confession, Fermina leaves to live with Hildebranda. During her stay, she visits her cholera and poverty-ridden birthplace. Upon learning that Fermina won't return due to her pride, Urbino decides to fetch her without her prior knowledge. Reconciling their differences, they return home together. At a movie, Florentino and Leona Cassiani encounter Fermina and Urbino. Florentino is taken aback by Fermina's aged appearance and decides to give up his feelings for her. Later, Leona rebuffs Florentino's advances, confessing that she's known for a while now that he's not her ideal man. Turned fifty-six, Florentino fears that Fermina may die before him. Meanwhile, he's appointed President and Manager of his company following Uncle Leo's departure. He cherishes the memories of his past relationships, firmly believing in love for multiple people simultaneously. His only lover at the time of Urbino's death is América Vicuña, a girl sent to him by her parents. Upon learning of Urbino's death, Florentino is filled with dread, realizing that he too could have died. He rushes to Fermina, pledging his eternal fidelity and love. After weeks of restless anticipation, he finds a letter from her in a puddle at his doorstep.

chapter 6

Fermina, still in mourning, is disturbed by Florentino's sudden declaration of love. Meanwhile, Florentino, struck by a song about death, considers visiting América or Leona but instead visits Prudencia Pitre. They are both surprised by how much they've aged. He indirectly asks her about marriage, causing her to suspect he's considering proposing to Fermina, which makes him uncomfortable. Florentino finds solace in a reflection of Fermina in a mirror he bought. He hints about marriage to América, who dismisses him, thinking old men don't marry. Upon receiving a harsh letter from Fermina, he sends her an unemotional response. His daily letters to Fermina are careful to avoid any nostalgia and revolve around life and relationships. Meanwhile, América, hurt by Florentino's sudden rejection, seduces him, but he pushes her away. A year after Urbino's death, Florentino attends his memorial. Fermina, for the first time, smiles at him and thanks him for his letters, which have helped her deal with her grief. She starts ruling her house and befriends Lucretia del Real del Obispo. When Florentino writes her a letter, she asks Lucretia's opinion of him. Lucretia shares the gossip that Florentino is a virgin but also praises his honor and tact. After two weeks of silence, Florentino visits Fermina uninvited and suffers stomach pains, promising to return the next day. Florentino's next visit ends with her receiving a letter from him, which he asks her not to open. Despite a rocky start, Florentino’s visits become a regular feature, with him occasionally reminiscing about their shared past. Dr. Urbino Daza, Fermina’s son, thanks Florentino for being a good companion to Fermina. However, Fermina’s daughter, Ofelia, is not happy with Florentino’s regular visits and voices her disapproval. Florentino's health takes a turn for the worse, which leads him to be bedridden for two months. During this time, Fermina and Florentino continue to correspond, and she realizes how much she misses him. Meanwhile, a city tabloid falsely accuses Dr. Urbino of having an affair and Fermina's father of counterfeiting. Fermina is distressed by these allegations, but a letter defending her, which she recognizes as Florentino's, comforts her. América, heartbroken, discovers Florentino’s love letters to Fermina. Once he recovers, Florentino invites Fermina on a river cruise, which she accepts. Despite feeling lonely initially, she finds comfort in Florentino’s company. He confesses his love for her again, and she allows him to kiss her. Florentino receives news of América’s suicide but pushes it from his mind. During their voyage, they are stranded for a week due to lack of fuel. They attempt to make love, but Florentino fails initially due to his old age. Later, however, they are successful. As they approach their final port, Fermina worries about being caught on a cruise with a man, fearing a scandal. To prevent this, Florentino, as president of the river boat company, orders the captain to deny all new passengers boarding, claiming a cholera outbreak on the ship. The ship is not allowed to dock due to the cholera scare, leaving them isolated on the river.

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