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Florentino's final violin serenade to Fermina's memories of Europe
Upon learning that Fermina is to marry a prestigious physician, Florentino is destroyed. His mother pleads with his uncle, Don Leo XII Loayza, to give her son a job. Loayza finds Florentino a job as a telegraph operator in Villa de Leyva, a faraway city, but before he departs, Florentino serenades Fermina with his violin love waltz, as he had years before, one final time. She does not acknowledge him, and he suddenly feels as though he has already left; he vows never to return.
Florentino surrenders his ship cabin to a British politician, complying with the request of the Captain. A cholera outbreak on another vessel is reported, and the passengers are forbidden to leave the ship. Florentino can think only of Fermina, until one night he is dragged into the cabin of a mysterious woman who takes his virginity. As he leaves, she tells him to forget about the incident. He is never certain of the woman's identity, though he believes it to be a young mother, Rosalba, who keeps her child in a bird cage, and who travels with two other women. At the height of his pleasure, he realizes that his love for Fermina is replaceable by mortal passion.
When Rosalba and her party depart the ship, he waves goodbye; their cordial, familiar response pains him, for he feels he has acted too late. After Rosalba disembarks, Florentino is drowned in jealousy, for he thinks that Fermina should be either his bride or no one's. He resolves that he does not care about the job that awaits him and returns home. In a symbolic act, Florentino tosses his petate (a portable, woven mattress) into the water, certain he will never need it again. Upon his return, he learns that Fermina and her husband are on their honeymoon in Europe, and believes that she will never return. He thinks more of Rosalba, and gradually, his thoughts of Fermina dissipate.
Transito tries to spark a romance between her son and the Widow Nazaret when she invites her to stay in Florentino's room after the widow's house is destroyed by cannon fire. Florentino intends to offer his bed to the Widow and sleep on the floor, but before he can do so, the twenty-eight-year-old widow crawls into his bed, strips, and seduces him. She has never slept with any man but her husband, and talks about him incessantly. After that night, the widow no longer dresses in mourning; Florentino continues to sleep with her, and she proceeds to sleep with any man who will have her. She often expresses to Florentino her gratitude for 'making her a whore.'
After his first encounter with the Widow, Florentino convinces himself that he has survived his torturous romance with Fermina. He proceeds to sleep with many women and keeps a notebook of his encounters. In fifty years, he fills twenty- five notebooks with descriptions of 622 serious relationships, not including countless fleeting liaisons with others. Despite these many lovers, when Fermina, who is six months pregnant, returns from her two-year honeymoon, Florentino finds her more beautiful — but more distant — than ever.
Fermina is terrified of losing her virginity, and endures her wedding in sheer horror. The first night, aboard a ship to Europe, Fermina suffers terrible seasickness, and Urbino lends only his comfort. On the fourth night, after the storm has finally abated, the Doctor very gently coaxes Fermina into feeling comfortable, and educates her about the functions of their bodies. They disrobe and embrace, but it is not until the following night that they make love. After three months of lovemaking, Fermina has not conceived, and they undergo tests to see which of them is sterile. Unexpectedly, Fermina conceives, and thinks herself the happiest woman on earth. The Doctor does not marry Fermina because he loves her, but for her haughtiness and seriousness. He believes that in time, he will grow to love her.
Fermina returns from Europe with trunks of unusual treasures and fond memories, namely their glimpse of Oscar Wilde, the fire in Venice, and the opening of a play in Paris. Fermina had wanted to approach Wilde and ask him to sign her gazelle skin glove, for she had no book, but her husband had said that were she to approach the writer, he would die of mortification. In retrospect, Fermina claims that the marvels of Europe are nothing special.
Florentino's isolated encounter with Rosalba forever changes his thoughts on love and sex. Before the encounter, Florentino is adamant that he will lose his virginity with Fermina. However, when he is suddenly seized by Rosalba, he becomes vulnerable. Not only is Florentino young, impressionable, and sexually naive, but he has just relinquished all hope of ever attaining Fermina, for he is in the process of journeying to a faraway place, certain he will never see her again. Following his final, unrequited violin serenade under Fermina's window, Florentino is overcome by a feeling that he has already left his hometown, for he has been removed from Fermina and her affections, his one and only desire. It is this feeling of distance that is unbearable for Florentino, and, embittered by rejection and loss, he thus resolves never to return, for he cannot stand to face his memories of Fermina, nor the echoes of her searing refusal.
It is in this embittered, alienated state that Florentino is taken by Rosalba. In the heat of passion, he is overwhelmed by a sudden and intense physical pleasure, a pleasure so fulfilling that it is enough to alleviate the emotional pain he suffers from his tormented love of Fermina. As he thinks more of Rosalba, Florentino gradually begins to forget his memories of Fermina, and with the release of his memories comes freedom from his incessant longing, and the pain he feels for having been rejected by Fermina. For Florentino, Rosalba acts as an antidote to his pain, a transitory drug with which salves his aching, incurable wound. Following his brief affair with Rosalba, Florentino continually uses sex as an addict would use a narcotic. Sex is the one means by which he is able to forget his heartache and his desire for Fermina.
Florentino is strongly attracted to the Widow Nazaret because they share a common pain. Each has lost a lover for whom they pine, but cannot have. Like Florentino, the widow is lonely. Although she still dearly loves her dead husband, whose virtues she cannot stop naming even while she is in bed with Florentino, she finds happiness in sex. If she cannot be loved by the one man she desires, then she will find what pleasure she can with other men. Florentino's situation is nearly identical. He too is terribly lonely without Fermina, who, despite his rendezvous with other women, he still idolizes as his perfect love.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Love in the Time of Cholera!