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Love in the Time of Cholera

Love in the Time of Cholera


Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Love in the Time of Cholera Chapter 3 Summary

  • Chapter 3 introduces us to the young Dr. Juvenal Urbino, as refined and cosmopolitan at 28 as he is at the end of his life. He's popular with the ladies, much like the young Florentino Ariza is among his social circle, but he stays a virgin until he meets Fermina Daza.
  • Dr. Urbino refers to his love for Fermina as a "clinical error" that he can't understand, being passionately engaged in civic affairs (3.2).
  • In Paris, Dr. Urbino speaks fondly and passionately of his hometown, but when he returns to the Caribbean he realizes that he's remembered only the good and forgotten about the decay, destruction, and disease that are endemic in the region.
  • Dr. Urbino's house is more rundown than he remembers. His father, a physician, died six years ago in an epidemic of Asian cholera, and with him died the spirit of the house. His mother is in perpetual mourning, and his sisters are "fodder for the convent" (3.6).
  • Dr. Urbino gets used to being home and starts to feel that he belongs to the city on the Caribbean coast, and that he's somehow responsible to it.
  • Dr. Urbino's newfangled European techniques don't go over well at the hospital, but he's determined to update his city's medical practices as well as their sanitation system and water supply. He's opposed every step of the way by his colleagues and neighbors with their provincial superstitions.
  • Greater sanitation in the city is clearly needed. As evidence, the narrator gives the history of the cholera epidemic that wiped out an untold percentage of the population over an eleven-week stretch of time. Among the victims was Dr. Urbino's father, Dr. Marco Aurelio Urbino, who is regarded as a "civic hero" for his intervention in fighting the plague (3.17). When Dr. Marco Aurelio Urbino realized he was sick, he quarantined himself and wrote a dying letter of farewell to his wife and children.
  • In Paris, Dr. Juvenal Urbino receives a telegram reporting the news of his father's death. Three weeks later, he receives a copy of the letter and feels that his father has finally revealed himself to him, "body and soul," for the first time (3.19).
  • Dr. Urbino has a memory from his childhood in which his father's mortality is revealed to him. His father asks him to scratch his back and, as he does so, Juvenal has the sensation of not being able to feel his own body. His father looks over his shoulder and says to Juvenal, "If I died now, you would hardly remember me when you are my age" (3.20).
  • Now Dr. Juvenal Urbino is almost as old as his father was during the back-scratching incident and he's aware that he, too, is mortal.
  • Dr. Juvenal Urbino becomes obsessed with cholera. He studies with a great epidemiologist in Paris. When he returns to his country, he realizes that another tragic epidemic could strike at any time, if the city doesn't clean up its act.
  • Less than a year after his arrival from Paris, a cholera patient shows up at the hospital. By the end of the year, a handful of cases have popped up. Thanks to Dr. Urbino's instruction and guidance, though, the city is spared an epidemic.
  • By the time Dr. Urbino finally gets some credit and respect from his colleagues for stopping the spread of cholera, he's no longer interested in pursuing his work, because he's fallen in love with Fermina Daza.
  • Dr. Urbino's first encounter with Fermina Daza is, in fact, due to "clinical error," because someone calls him to the house to examine a case that looks like cholera.
  • Dr. Urbino goes to Fermina Daza's house and is turned away because Fermina's father is not home. He returns at 5 pm and Lorenzo Daza chaperones his examination of the patient. He gets to see Fermina half-naked, but he's so wrapped up in diagnosing her ailment that he doesn't really notice how cute she is.
  • Fermina, for her part, thinks the doctor seems like a self-absorbed bore.
  • When Dr. Urbino pronounces that Fermina does not, in fact, have cholera, her father is so grateful he pays him an exorbitant sum. He also secretly wants to see the doctor again, because he's impressed with his pedigree and thinks he'd make a good match for his daughter.
  • The next week, Dr. Urbino stops by unannounced and sees Fermina having a painting lesson in the sewing room. He calls her over to the window and starts trying to hit on her by giving her a check-up exam. Weird. When it becomes obvious that he's not really there to inquire after his patient's health, Fermina gets annoyed and slams the window in his face.
  • Dr. Urbino makes a lot of noise trying to find his way out of the house (he runs into the ever-present cage of perfumed crows) and Lorenzo Daza catches him before he can go. Lorenzo's seen the whole exchange between the doctor and his daughter and he forces Fermina to apologize to Dr. Urbino. Then he invites the doctor to have coffee.
  • Dr. Urbino ends up sitting in Lorenzo's office and getting drunk with him. We can sense that he's developing hazy feelings of lust for Lorenzo's daughter.
  • Dr. Urbino is too drunk to see his other patients, so he has his driver take him home. On the way, he thinks about Fermina Daza. Then he falls asleep and dreams he hears funeral bells. (It's kind of a bad sign if you start thinking about your beloved and it makes you dream about death, if you ask us.)
  • Dr. Urbino shows up at home, drunk as a skunk and reeking of perfume from the crows. His mom's been looking for him everywhere – they had needed him to attend to a man who had just had a brain hemorrhage. That's for whom the bells were tolling.
  • Dr. Urbino can't answer his mom, because he's too busy throwing up on the floor. Oops.
  • Dr. Urbino starts trying to woo Fermina. He has a piano drawn up to her house in a cart and hires a famous pianist to play her a serenade. Fermina ignores him, but her father invites Dr. Urbino in for a drink.
  • Dr. Urbino and Lorenzo Daza continue to schmooze with each other around town. Dr. Urbino invites Lorenzo for lunch at the Social Club, but Lorenzo can't attend because his disreputable background has led the members of the Club to blackball him.
  • Still, the two men manage to see each other quite frequently. Lorenzo is the one to teach Dr. Urbino to play chess.
  • Lorenzo finds a letter slipped under the door with the initials J.U.C. He slides it under his daughter's door. Fermina can't imagine how the letter came to her, since she can't conceive of her father acting to assist one of her suitors.
  • Fermina doesn't open the letter until she has a dream one night that Dr. Urbino returns to check up on her with his tongue depressor, and that she likes the way it tastes. Hot.
  • So Fermina wakes up and opens the letter – in it, Dr. Urbino asks her permission to ask her father's permission to see her. She's impressed.
  • Fermina hides the letter in the bottom of her trunk, but then she remembers that's where she used to keep Florentino's letters. So she burns the letter. As she does so, she says, "Poor man," referring to Dr. Urbino. Then she remembers that's what she used to say about Florentino. Oh the confusion!
  • Fermina keeps getting letters from Dr. Urbino, accompanied by gifts of sweets. She doesn't answer them, though.
  • Fermina gets another letter – this one's written in a messy scrawl meant to disguise the identity of the sender. It assumes Fermina's made use of love potions to seduce the doctor, and threatens that, if she doesn't relinquish her hold on him, she will be publicly disgraced.
  • No fair! Fermina doesn't even like this guy. She gets two more threatening letters. They seem to be from different people.
  • Fermina begins to suspect that maybe Dr. Urbino has been bragging to some of his patients that he's gotten somewhere with her.
  • Fermina receives a beautiful black doll on her doorstep and assumes it's from Dr. Urbino. She puts the doll on her bed and sleeps with it at night, until she wakes up from an exhausting dream and realizes that the doll is growing. She figures the doll is bewitched. She discovers that the doll isn't from Dr. Urbino and she's never able to solve the mystery of who gave it to her.
  • Here García Márquez goes using that technique of prolepsis again. Thinking about the doll still freaks Fermina out, even after she's married with children and thinks of herself as the happiest woman in the world.
  • As a last resort, Dr. Urbino asks the Sister Superior at Fermina's old school to pay her a visit and try to intervene on his behalf. Fermina hated school and hates the Sister Franca de la Luz, so this may not have been the smartest move on his part.
  • Sister Franca de la Luz offers to reinstate Fermina in the Academy and erase the memory of her expulsion from the community. She tries to tempt her with a gift of a golden rosary. She asks that Fermina agree to meet with Dr. Urbino for five minutes.
  • Fermina refuses the nun's offer, and points out her hypocrisy in acting as an emissary for romance when she considers love to be a sin.
  • The Sister Superior warns Fermina that, if she doesn't come to an understanding with her, she'll send the Archbishop to talk to her.
  • Fermina sends the nun packing and the Archbishop never shows up.
  • So it seems Dr. Urbino is going to fail to get the girl, when – lucky for him – Hildebranda Sánchez comes for a visit.
  • The two cousins do everything together – they bathe together, sleep in the same bed, gossip, and smoke cigarettes every night.
  • Hildebranda's parents have sent her to stay with Fermina in order to put some distance between her and her crush, who's married. Of course, Hildebranda plans to do just what Fermina did the year before – she arranges with the local telegraph operators to send her messages from her lover with discretion.
  • Hildebranda is disappointed that Fermina has cut things off with Florentino, because she thought their illicit love affair was really romantic. She goes to see Florentino at the telegraph office.
  • When she sees Florentino, Hildebranda is not impressed. He's, like, the opposite of cute. Then Florentino agrees to deliver Hildebranda her messages, without even asking her who she is. He helps her to rewrite the telegraphs she sends to her lover, and he begins to seem more attractive to her.
  • Hildebranda notices that Fermina really needs to get a life – she hangs out at home all day, living like an old maid. Gala Placidia is around to do all the housework, so Fermina has virtually nothing to do with her time.
  • Fermina and her father aren't really close anymore, ever since he kicked her Aunt Escolástica out of the house. He never tells Fermina anything about his business or takes her to see his offices at the port, and he comes home every night at curfew.
  • Lorenzo usually comes home sober, but one night he comes home after some heavy drinking and pounds on his daughter's door to tell her that they are ruined.
  • Nothing changes in their economic situation, but Fermina realizes that she is alone in the world – she can't associate with her former schoolmates since her expulsion, and she's not friendly with the neighbors.
  • Hildebranda wants to throw a party, but there's no one to invite.
  • Nevertheless, Hildebranda forces Fermina to be more social and to get out more – she makes Fermina show her around the city. The tour that Fermina gives Hildebranda turns out to be a history of her relations with Florentino Ariza – this is where he used to sit outside her house; this is where he played the violin serenades; this is the spot in the Arcade of the Scribes where she realized that she didn't really love him.
  • A Belgian photographer comes to the city. Hildebranda and Fermina get dressed up in Fermina's mother's old clothes to have their picture taken.
  • Flash forward: the narrator tells us what will eventually happen to the two copies of the photograph that the cousins take that day. Hildebranda's will be found when she dies, at almost one hundred years old, in her bedroom closet. Fermina's will occupy the front page of her family album for a while, until it disappears and is returned to her many years later, when they are both over sixty years old.
  • Fermina and Hildebranda leave the Belgian's studio, forgetting that they're in costume. The plaza outside is unusually crowded and people in the street begin to catcall at them, making them nervous. Out of nowhere appears the landau (that's a carriage), drawn by golden chestnuts that can only belong to one man – Dr. Urbino.
  • Dr. Urbino offers the girls a ride and Hildebranda accepts immediately, ignoring Fermina's protests.
  • The house is only three blocks away, but Dr. Urbino manages to have the coachman drag the ride out for half an hour.
  • In the carriage, Hildebranda and Dr. Urbino flirt, while Fermina stares out the window and angrily tries to ignore them.
  • Hildebranda jokes that the wire hoop skirt that's part of her costume is killing her, and Dr. Urbino invites her to take it off, covering his eyes. At this point the joking has gone too far. Fermina lets Hildebranda know that if she actually takes her skirt off in the carriage, she will throw herself out of it.
  • Hildebranda tells the doctor he can uncover his eyes. The game is over. Dr. Urbino has the carriage take the girls home.
  • The doctor shakes the girls' hands in a goodbye. When Fermina gives him her hand, he squeezes it and tells her he's waiting for her answer. She pulls her hand away and he's left holding her glove.
  • Back in the house, Hildebranda doesn't hide her enthusiasm for the dreamy Dr. Urbino. She tells Fermina about how she was tempted to kiss him, and Fermina calls Hildebranda a w---e.
  • Fermina dreams about Dr. Urbino that night. The next day she writes to him to say that he may speak to her father.
  • From here the narrative jumps to the moment Florentino Ariza finds out that Fermina Daza is going to marry Dr. Urbino. He's devastated, as you might imagine.
  • Florentino's mother begs his uncle Leo XII Loayza to give Florentino a job in some remote town where he won't be able to get any news from the city. Uncle Leo gets his nephew a job as a telegraph operator in Villa de Leyva, a city more than twenty days' journey from Florentino's hometown.
  • When Florentino gets the appointment, he doesn't want to take it, but Lotario Thugut talks him into it.
  • Uncle Leo, Lotario Thugut, and Tránsito Ariza all help Florentino make arrangements for his journey. Florentino goes along with it all like "a dead man attending to the preparations for his own funeral." He's kind of like a zombie. Just call him Zombie-tino.
  • Zombie-tino doesn't tell anybody about his trip, or make arrangements to say goodbye to anyone. On the night before he leaves, though, he does something crazy. He puts on a suit and goes to stand in front of Fermina's balcony to play the serenade that he had played for her during their love affair.
  • The next morning, Florentino boards a paddle-wheel riverboat and sets off.
  • Florentino has a cabin to himself, but at the last minute a distinguished-looking traveler boards the boat. The captain explains that this is the new plenipotentiary (a diplomatic official) from England and appeals to the cabined passengers' sense of patriotic duty in his request that one of them give up their cabin to the Englishman and his family. Florentino volunteers. Good thing he packed his sleeping bag, like his mom suggested.
  • Florentino thinks about Fermina a lot, but he starts to feel like he can handle forgetting her.
  • After three days, the journey becomes less pleasant – the river is difficult to navigate, the water is muddy, and the mosquitoes are killer. No one can sleep at night, so most people just walk the deck, swatting the bugs away.
  • Another episode of the civil war has broken out, so the travelers have to be extra careful.
  • They pass another boat flying a yellow flag, which means plague. Another vessel that they meet upriver tells them that there's been an outbreak of cholera along the river. The captain refuses to let anyone leave the boat. For six days the passengers are so bored that they start passing around a pack of pornographic postcards.
  • Florentino doesn't talk to anybody. He sits on the deck and watches the scenery pass by. He sees three human corpses in the water and wonders whether they're the victims of the war or the cholera epidemic.
  • He stays up all night reading novels, in which he imagines himself and Fermina in the roles of star-crossed lovers, or writing love letters that he tears up and scatters over the water.
  • One night as he is walking to the toilet, a hand grabs Florentino by the shirt sleeve and pulls him into a darkened cabin. A naked woman throws herself on top of Florentino and unceremoniously takes his V-card. Then she gets up and tells him to leave and forget all about it.
  • The deflowered Florentino realizes that maybe sex can help him forget about his love for Fermina and he becomes obsessed with trying to figure out the identity of the woman he just did the deed with.
  • The cabin that Florentino and the mystery woman had sex in is occupied by three women and a little baby whom they carry around in a birdcage.
  • Florentino begins to suspect that his anonymous lover is the mother of the caged infant, a woman named Rosalba, and he tries staring at her a lot to get her to betray herself. Doesn't work.
  • The three women with the baby disembark a few days later and Florentino has to give up his investigation. When he watches Rosalba disappear, he's overcome by feelings of loneliness. The memory of Fermina Daza comes back stronger than ever.
  • Florentino has an attack of jealousy and fantasizes about Fermina dying at the altar before she can pledge herself to another man. He hopes that the thought of him, her scorned lover, will come to her on her wedding night and destroy her happiness.
  • The night before they reach their final destination, the captain throws a party on the boat. Florentino can't enjoy the festivities, because he thinks it's the day of Fermina's wedding, and he spends all day torturing himself by dwelling on it. (Later, when he returns home, he'll realize that he was mistaken about the precise time of the wedding.)
  • He makes himself sick with worry and, when the passengers notice him shivering with fever, the Captain has the ship's doctor take a look at him. The doctor quarantines him with a dose of bromides.
  • The next morning Florentino wakes up feeling much better, because he's decided he doesn't give a d--n about his job or the telegraph and that he's going to go right back home on the same boat he came in on.
  • Florentino convinces the Captain to give him free passage in exchange for the cabin that he gave up on the journey upriver. Six days later, he's home.
  • As he disembarks, he throws his bedroll (called a petate) into the harbor as a way of expressing his intention to never again leave the city of Fermina Daza.
  • Florentino imagines Fermina sleeping in the arms of her new husband. The idea breaks his heart, but he relishes the pain. Florentino doesn't smell the disgusting stench of the bay or the public market – everything seems to smell pleasant, like Fermina Daza.
  • Florentino occupies himself with reading novels and hanging out with some of his close friends. He no longer attends Saturday dances or plays the violin, though.
  • Florentino learns that Fermina Daza and Dr. Juvenal Urbino have gone to Europe on their honeymoon and assumes that they have gone to live there. He becomes hopeful that he'll be able to forget her and starts to think more about Rosalba. The scent of Fermina Daza starts to fade for Florentino.
  • Florentino grows a righteous 'stache. Like many of the hipsters you know, he probably thought it would help him get laid.
  • The Widow Nazaret comes to stay at the house on the Street of Windows when her house is destroyed by cannon fire during one of the battles of the seemingly eternal civil war. Tránsito Ariza sends the widow to sleep in Florentino's room on the flimsy pretext that there's no space in hers, but really she's hoping that another love affair will help cure her son of his broken heart.
  • Florentino tries to offer the widow the bed and take the hammock for himself, but the widow strips off all her clothes and has her way with him.
  • García Márquez's description of the Widow Nazaret is a commentary on female desire and gendered expectations of sex in the novel. The widow strips off her mourning clothes with great joy and seems to feel liberated in her sexual act. She rebuilds her house and receives men there, whom she sleeps with without charge. She tells Florentino: "I adore you because you made me a w---e" (3.143).
  • The narrator then describes the lessons that Florentino teaches the Widow Nazaret about lovemaking. Seems kind of patronizing (in our humble opinion), considering that Florentino is even less sexually experienced than the widow at this point.
  • The affair between Florentino and the Widow Nazaret soon fizzles out, and they both move on.
  • There's no stopping Florentino now. He's a free man, he's got facial hair, and he's on the prowl. He possesses an extraordinary talent for spotting women who will be receptive to his amorous advances and begins to record his sexual conquests in a book that he titles Women. How original.
  • Two years later, Fermina and Dr. Urbino return from their wedding trip. Florentino sees them in church.
  • Fermina seems older, sure of herself, and at home in her new social position. She's also six months pregnant. Seeing her makes Florentino feel inferior and unworthy of any woman on the face of the earth.
  • Now the narrator embarks on a discussion of Fermina's sexual education. Flashback to her stay at Cousin Hildebranda's house in Valledupar when she is a teenager: that's when Fermina first learns about the birds and the bees – or, in this case, the chickens and the burros. Fermina's cousins teach her a lot about sex in their frank discussions about the love lives of their married relatives and Fermina begins to explore her own sexuality. Let's just say she locks herself in the bathroom a lot.
  • Solitary exploration aside, Fermina is super-nervous at her wedding about losing her virginity. Throughout the whole ceremony and the reception, her face is frozen in a smile in order to disguise her terror at her "imminent violation" (3.149).
  • The moment Fermina fears is postponed when the ocean liner that she and her husband are to take to Paris announces it is leaving a day early – not the night after the wedding, but the wedding night itself. The reception is held on board and at midnight the stewards have to drag some of the guests ashore so that they can set sail.
  • Lorenzo Daza sits on the ground in the street and weeps openly as his daughter departs.
  • For the first three nights, Fermina suffers from seasickness, and her husband comforts her. So, no scary sex. Whew.
  • The couple talks a lot and gets to know each other. By the fourth night they feel like old friends.
  • Fermina and Dr. Urbino have a frank discussion about religion – she dislikes ritual and prefers to practice her faith in silence, while Dr. Urbino is devout and open about his observation of religious rites.
  • On the fourth night, Dr. Urbino makes his move. It's the first time he's ever attempted to caress Fermina. She goes to slip into something a little more comfortable and when she comes back she makes sure it's completely dark so that she can slide into bed without him seeing her.
  • Dr. Urbino has taken off his clothes while she was in the bathroom. Dr. Urbino and Fermina's lovemaking session starts off as a lesson in anatomy, progressing slowly and gently. Fermina doesn't lose her virginity that night, but she does the next night.
  • The newly married couple isn't in love, but there's potential. Ultimately, the narrator tells us, "neither of them had made a mistake" in getting married (3.164).
  • The newlyweds enjoy their European honeymoon. They travel and have lots of sex. They don't waste any time in trying to get pregnant, either.
  • When they return home to the Caribbean, Fermina is in her sixth month of pregnancy. She later gives birth to a child that they name after Dr. Urbino's father who died of cholera.
  • Fermina and Juvenal Urbino's trip to Europe has made them into sophisticated socialites and civic leaders. Juvenal stays abreast of French literary culture, and Fermina shows off the beautiful clothes and accessories she picked up in Paris, though she stays away from trends.
  • The narrator recounts two memories that Dr. Urbino has of meeting famous literary figures while in Paris. The first happened while he was a student and managed to catch a glimpse of Victor Hugo (the guy who wrote Les Miserables), whom he admires greatly for having expressed admiration for the Colombian Constitution.
  • The second memory, which Dr. Urbino shares with his new wife, is of seeing Oscar Wilde (famous for writing The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest) as he leaves a bookstore. Fermina wants to ask Wilde to sign her glove, but Dr. Urbino is too embarrassed and won't let her.
  • Fermina takes to Parisian life like a fish to water. When she finally returns home, travel-weary and pregnant, someone asks her what she thought of Europe. She sums up her impressions with an off-handed phrase typical of the Caribbean: "It's not so much."

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