Love in the Time of Cholera
Are you tired of reading romances where the heroine is always perfect? Oh sure, Bella in Twilight may have a bit of an insecurity issue, but her excessive humility only makes her more charming. Juliet might make a few rash decisions in her relationship with Romeo, but her impulsivity is so passionate and romantic! Face it: there's nothing unattractive about these girls. After a while it's kind of…boring.
Well, Fermina isn't perfect. In fact, she's downright mean and ugly sometimes. Oh, sure, at first she seems like the ideal romantic heroine – she's young, beautiful, wealthy, and excessively pampered by her social-climbing father. Any guy who catches a glimpse of her seems to fall instantly in love. Maybe she's a little sheltered, but hey, that only makes the chase more fun for our hero, right?
Fermina doesn't play the traditional romance game, though, and as we read on we discover that this is because she's not a typecast character. She has flaws and plans and emotions and biases – just like real people do. When you think about it, how often do the lives of real people resemble storybook romances? Not very often. Maybe we can see Fermina as Gabriel García Márquez's way of rewriting the storybook.
So what are some of Fermina's less-than-perfect characteristics? Well, she's picky. She's proud, even haughty. She's rather antisocial; her only friend is her cousin Hildebranda. She gets expelled from school. She claims to hate eggplant until she eats three platefuls of it without knowing what it is. She has racial prejudices, a fact not likely to endear her to readers. She has a temper, and she takes out her anger on the wrong people. She's slow to forgive and has trouble making up after a fight. In fact, the only way she resembles Cinderella is that she's a fairly competent housekeeper. (Even so, she does have a problem with clutter.)
Fermina and Love
Even more than all of these troubling characteristics, though, what really makes Fermina a problematic romantic heroine is her attitude towards love. First of all, she has more than one boyfriend! OK, OK, not at the same time or anything. Our point is this: Fermina goes through the whole forbidden love pattern with Florentino. They promise to marry, her dad doesn't approve, and it's all very romantic. Then what does Fermina do? She dumps her Romeo and marries someone her dad approves of. That's right. She gets over her mushy crush and marries Dr. Urbino, a guy who can take care of her financially and secure her a respectable place in society. She doesn't marry for romance – she thinks romance is pathetic! – she marries for politics.
Another thing: Fermina lives long past the point of resembling the traditional romantic heroine. Her story doesn't end with marriage – in fact, it's hardly begun. By the time Fermina gets back together with boyfriend number one, she's old and wrinkly, and the sex isn't very…um, passionate.
Compared to Florentino's poetic idealism and Dr. Urbino's naïveté, Fermina winds up with a more sophisticated, pragmatic understanding of love. Fermina's love doesn't fit the pattern of the storybook romances. For that matter, neither does anyone else's. She's just the only one who's willing to admit it.Timeline