LITERATURE: Love in the Time of Cholera Tension Detensed

Why is it that Marquez can string me along so fluidly on a well formed cloud that threatens yet entices, and leave me in a hoot of laughter, my brows still furrowed in the drama of the moments leading up, unable to relax themselves in time they are caught in such surprise.

Fermina Daza has been taken away by her father on a two-year "donkey ride" as Mark called it to forget about the pining love of Florentino Ariza and their engagement.  He is unsuitable, and Marquez makes us wonder why her choice.  He alone believes himself able to make his fortune on sunken treasure, dressed up in the boat as always on land: 

Euclides almost naked, with only the loincloth that he always wore, and Florentino Ariza with his frock coat, his tenebrous hat, his patent-leather boots, the poet’s bow at his neck, and a book to pass the time during the crossing to the islands. (p.90)

We already have the feeling that Florentino would never be our choice, but we feel sorry for him.  Fermina, not a fool, but too young to fall in love with anything but love itself and the mysteries that it offers.  But they correspond secretly all the time she is away.  Upon her return, her father convinced that she has gotten over the foolishness, she has matured to a graceful and confident seventeen.  Named keeper of the house by her father who is well pleased by her level headed grace, Fermina goes out to the market, still intent on buying things she feels will serve her in her marriage to Florentino.  But Florentino, shocked by the sight of her, enthralled with her and more in love than ever, silently follows her through her shopping trip until he feels he must warn her of her surroundings and whispers it along with his code name for her, "crowned goddess."

Here’s the great part:

She turned her head and saw, a hand’s breadth from her eyes, those other glacial eyes, that livid face, those lips petrified with fear, just as she had seen them in the crowd at Midnight Mass the first time he was so close to  her, but now, instead of the commotion of love, she felt th abyss of disenchantment.  In an instant the magnitude of her own mistake was revealed to her, and she asked herself, appalled, how she could have nurtured such a chimera in her heart for so long and with so much ferocity.  She just managed to think:  My God, poor man!  Florentino smiled, tried to say something, tried to follow her, but she erased him from her life with a wave of her hand.  (p. 102)

There is  richness here in growth of character, although some might say that basing love on looks alone is rather proud.  But it is, I think, Marquez’s intent to show not mere folly of youth, but that youth has visions that differ with experience.  And as for Florentino, he saw her with a lover’s eyes, and he is older.  She has grown more beautiful, and he is seeing confirmation rather than disillusion. Plus, he’s an odd duck, and Fermina’s returned promises of love would have fueled his focus.

But it still made me laugh.

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