LITERATURE: Love in the Time of Cholera – Character

Gabriel Garcia Marquez just has a way with making the mundane exciting.  His characters are carefully drawn out–I can imagine him sitting there thinking about them until he has someone whom he knows the reader will want to think about.  Not understand, mind you, but definitely think about. 

I’m about seventy pages into the book, past the first chapter and into some backstory but I couldn’t stop reading long enough to sit and review it.  But this, the description of the main character of the first chapter, Dr. Juvenal Urbino is an example of the care that is taken:

His eightieth birthday had been celebrated the year before with an official three-day jubilee, and in his thank-you speech he had once again resisted the temptation to retire.  He had said:  "I’ll have plenty of time to rest when I die, but this eventuality is not yet part of my plans."  Although he heard less and less with his right ear, and leaned on a silver-handled cane to conceal his faltering steps, he continued to wear a linen suit, with a gold watch chain across his vest, as smartly as he had in his younger years.  His Pasteur beard, the color of mother-of-pearl, and his hair, the same color, carefully combed back with a neat part in the middle, were faithful expressions of his character.  (p. 5)

Now knowing that the suit is white (and dressed in white linen with a vest and a soft hat and cordovan boots – p.9), I imagine him looking somewhat like the Colonel of Kentucky Fried Chicken.  But there is that air of old-time elegance and class.  There is a meticulousness about him that tells by his dress that would extend beyond and into an integral part of his personality. 

But what is Marquez saying about Dr. Urbino in marking his appearance as "faithful expressions of his character?"  Marquez certainly wants us to go back and reread this short passage to come to understand the man.  In 100 Years of Solitude, Marquez did not give us such physical descriptions and yet we came to picture the characters, mainly by their behavior and their eccentricities.  I believe that he is doing the same here, but in the reverse.  Imagine, and therefore, know.

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3 Responses to LITERATURE: Love in the Time of Cholera – Character

  1. Mark says:

    Yes! I’ve made it through Urbino’s death from the tragic fall trying to grasp the parrot. Obviously the real story is about Florentino Ariza’s unrequited love for Fermina Daza. But we needed to see the kind of lifetime marriage she had with Orbino first.

    Part two begins with incredible faithfulness to the extreme passion of early love and the extremes of the societal constraints they live under. But no mistaking the idolization, crystalization, projection of everything endearing upon the beloved.

    And to think the evocative prose is translated. I feel similarly about the great russian novels.

  2. susan says:

    I didn’t see the parrot thing coming–it was so odd an accident, and yet woven in beautifully.

    Right now I’m at the part where Fermina has accepted Florentino’s proposal and the decision to wait. I love the outer fringe of characters, Aunt Escolastica–the name alone!–and the naked “birds” of the house where Florentino stays. But we can’t forget the corpse of Jeremiah with which the book opened. He’s certainly a mystery hanging over our heads that should crop up again as the story plays itself out.

    Do you like/dislike the translation? I’m lovin’ it myself, and wonder how could it be much better–though I’m sure the original language of the author is always the best form.

  3. mark says:

    Great translation. Allows us to realize that subtle nuances of meaning are not confined to English.

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