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Although Fermina Daza may have erased Florentino Ariza from her memory, he has not stopped thinking of her since their long, troubled love affair ended fifty-one years, nine months, and four days ago. When the affair ends, Florentino lives with hi s mother, Transito Ariza, her only child by a casual boyfriend who never recognizes Florentino as his lawful son, though he provides for him financially, in secret, until his death when the boy is ten years old. After his father's death, Florentino has no choice but to go to work, and serves as an apprentice in the Postal Agency where he meets Lotario Thugut, a German immigrant and the Agency's telegraph operator. Thugut teaches Florentino Morse Code and how to play the violin, skills which, combin ed with his forlorn, mysterious appearance, make him the most-desired man in his social circle. Girls hold lotteries to determine who will date him, and Florentino plays along — until the day he meets Fermina Daza and loses his innocence.
Florentino first meets Fermina when he goes to her house on the Park of the Evangels to deliver a telegram to her father, Lorenzo Daza, who is not held in high public regard. Lorenzo reports the telegram is good news, but tips Florentino with only a h andshake. As Florentino leaves the house, he notices Fermina giving a reading lesson to her Aunt Escolástica, whom he mistakes for her mother. Fermina and Florentino make brief eye contact, a small interaction that nonetheless sparks Florentino's pass ion.
Florentino learns that Lorenzo Daza has only lived in the city for two years; he had traveled there with his unmarried sister, a nun, and his thirteen year-old daughter, Fermina, named for her dead mother. Daza is known as a man of wealth, for he had paid cash for his home, though he appears to be unemployed. Fermina studies at the Academy of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin. Florentino has no opportunity to approach Fermina, for her aunt always accompanies her on her walks to and from school. Each morning Florentino sits on a park bench and pretends to read, waiting for Fermina to walk past. He thinks of her obsessively, and writes her a short note which eventually becomes a sixty-to-seventy-page "dictionary of compliments." He is unsure of how to give her the letter, and confesses his romantic woes to his mother, his only confidant. She advises that Florentino not give Fermina the letter, but that he should first befriend her aunt.
Fermina, however, recognizes Florentino sitting on the park bench, and her aunt tells her that he has been sitting there for weeks, probably because he is in love with her. Fermina pities Florentino because he always looks ill, but her aunt explains that he is sick with love. Aunt Escolástica, more of a friend than an aunt, tells Fermina that Florentino dare not approach them because she is with her, and teaches Fermina sign language to use as a means of communication in forbidden love. Escolástica assure s Fermina that, one day, Florentino will give her a letter, for which Fermina prays he will deliver. However, her prayers go unanswered; Transito convinces her son not to deliver the letter he has written.
Fermina and Florentino pine for one another. He passes by her house and sees her sitting with her aunt Escolástica, wearing a garland of fresh flowers atop her head. For days, he sits in the park and watches her, unnoticed, and thinks that she looks l ike a 'crowned goddess.' On one such day, Escolástica leaves Fermina alone, and Florentino approaches. He asks that Fermina accept a letter from him, and she replies, without looking at him, that she cannot accept it without her father's permission; he d emands that she "get it," and that it is a matter of life or death.
Fermina instructs Florentino to return every afternoon, and to wait to approach again until she changes her seat, which she does on the following Monday. Florentino approaches on cue and gives her his letter. This letter, however, is not the epic statemen t he had written previously, but a simple, half-page note in which he professes everlasting love and fidelity. Suddenly, bird droppings fall on the embroidery Fermina is working on. Mortified, she tries to conceal them, but Florentino notices and assures her it is good luck. He offers Fermina the camellia he wears on his lapel, but she refuses because it is a "flower of promises." She then tells him to go, and not to return until she tells him so.
Various details in this chapter indicate that Florentino and Fermina's love affair is doomed from the start. First, their destiny is altered when Transito Ariza convinces her son not to give Fermina the letter he has written her. Had Florentino never told his mother of his secret love for Fermina, he would have given her the letter as she prays he will, and as Aunt Escolástica has promised. Instead, his approach is delayed, and causes both him and Fermina unnecessary anguish. Further proof of the romance' s ill fate is presented when, suddenly, out of the sky, bird droppings fall and splatter onto Fermina's embroidery work. The accident occurs just after Florentino presents her with his letter, which she refuses because she must first obtain permission fro m her father.
The final clue that their romance will end in disaster is Fermina's refusal of Florentino's camellia, which she justifies by declaring that a camellia is a "flower of promises." In her refusal to accept the flower, Fermina rejects any commitment to Flore ntino and his offer of love. She does not want to be bound to him, and acts distant and overtly casual, almost uncaring, about their dangerous meeting. Like Florentino, Lorenzo Daza, Fermina's father, is a man of great mystery; we do not know exactly why Lorenzo is not held in high public regard, or how he, as a man with no known profession, obtains enough cash with which to pay for his home in full.
Florentino is overwhelmingly direct in his approach of Fermina. His harassing, serious demand that she obtain her father's permission to accept his letter feels strained and outrageous. Florentino insists that his need for her father's permission — in effect, his need for her — is 'a matter of life and death,' for he truly believes that without Fermina, his life will be meaningless. He is desperate and determined to obtain not only permission to court Fermina, but, ultimately, her undying love and adoration.
Florentino idolizes Fermina, and calls her his "crowned goddess," for he sees her as an ethereal creature, a heavenly angel not of this earth, a woman well beyond his humble realm. Yet he persists, despite her expressed disinterest in him; Fermina will no t even look Florentino in the eye. Florentino pays little attention, for he is bent on somehow winning her love. His fierce determination to win Fermina over may stem from the challenge that she presents to him. Florentino can have any girl he desires wit hin his social circle, yet he lusts for the one woman he cannot have. His inflated ego cannot bear the blow of her rejection, thus he persists, resolved that one day, she will reciprocate his affections.
It is unclear whether Florentino is truly in love or if he suffers from a tormented, twisted obsession. The evidence in this chapter seems to support the latter interpretation. He quite literally stalks Fermina, pretending to read on the park bench so th at he may watch her pass by, and staring up through the windows of her home to see her moving about inside. Also alarming is the epic, sixty-to-seventy page "dictionary of compliments" he writes to her; Fermina is all Florentino thinks about, all he cares for in the world. But how does one define the difference between a man who is unsound and obsessed and a man who is truly, passionately consumed with love? Love, like cholera, is a literal sickness for the characters in the novel.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Love in the Time of Cholera!