Love in the Time of Cholera

Edith Derdyk (Journal of Reviews)
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By REMY J. FONTANA*

Commentary on the book by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

“I was still too young to know that the memory of the heart eliminates the bad memories and enhances the good ones and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the past”. (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

During this pandemic, I remembered, due to obvious resonances, themes and contexts, some books: death in venice, Thomas Mann (1912); The plague, Albert Camus; decameron, Boccaccio (1348-53); A Diary of the Plague Year, Daniel Defoe (1722); Nemesis, Philip Roth (2010); and, closer to us by time, geography and culture, Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Márquez (1985), on which I will expand a little beyond the brief lines I dedicate to others.

death in venice

In a twilight reflection on the moral ambiguity of art and the beautiful, Mann's narrative has as its backdrop the imminence of a cholera epidemic in the city, which the authorities try to hide so as not to harm tourism. Gustav von Aschenbach, the main character, consecrated author, exercises his platonic love for the young Tadzio, whose image of beauty seems to him the demonstration of the ideal always pursued, finally found there, awakening in him shivers of an emotion  painful, “that language can only praise, but not reproduce, the beauty that touches the senses.”

The plague

Camus recounts an epidemic in the Algerian city of Oran, which some critics see as an allegorical device for Nazi-occupied France. It can also be read to represent men's propensity towards chaos, towards evil, even if they ultimately remain good. A compelling narrative of unremitting horror, survival and resilience, and the ways in which humanity faces death.

decameron

It consists of a set of one hundred novels – between spicy and gallant – narrated by young people who try to avoid the dangers of a bubonic plague epidemic, seeking the safety of the open air on an agricultural property near Florence. There, for ten days, they tell stories, which according to the author, would serve as a consolation and distraction to people unhappy in love. The central idea of decameron it is that human conduct is dictated by nature, and that to stifle feelings is to distort life itself.

In the first line of the “Proemium” of his work, Boccaccio makes an observation that would fit well in the midst of our own pandemic. He writes, “It is the nature of man to have compassion on the afflicted. Such a feeling suits anyone.” We could add, updating this saying, that this noble sentiment, unfortunately, does not apply to the appalling ruler of our country, who in his authoritarian delirium is not embarrassed to gloat over everything and everyone who is anguished by the health crisis of Covid19, nor it shows respect for those who, as a result of the pandemic, and largely because of their negligence, lost their lives.

Nemesis

The plot of Philip Roth's book takes place during the polio epidemic that devastated the United States during the summer of 1941, with the atrocities of World War II as a backdrop. Roth examines some central themes of the plague: fear, panic, guilt, bewilderment, suffering and pain. The main character, an elementary school teacher, also faces a spiritual crisis, questioning himself why God allows innocent children to die of polio. Roth restores the classic meaning of the word “nemesis”, as the goddess of revenge and cosmic balance. In this book death appears as something that human beings strive in vain to get around. It is a condition of disease and filth which human beings share with each other and with nature, which some arrogantly seek to place themselves beyond its inevitable effects and consequences.

A Diary of the Plague Year

Defoe relates the experiences of one man in the year 1665 when the bubonic plague struck London in what became known as the Great Plague of London. The author describes the epidemic with such admirable and original realism that for many years it was debated whether his account should be seen as a historical description or a work of fiction, even if based on real episodes.

It is a book that contributes to giving us a useful perspective on our current crisis. It's also been a source of wonder for centuries, with its stories of "the face of London now really strangely changed", where, over 18 months in 1665 and 1666, the city lost 100.000 people - almost a quarter of its population.

Love in the Time of Cholera

What led me to look more closely at Garcia Márquez's book was not the viral reference, which by the way appears only tangentially and sparsely, but an observation and passant by David Harvey – an important Marxist scholar – who, in the midst of his expositions of criticism of political economy, referred to Love in the Time of Cholera like the floorplans by the Colombian author.

For those less familiar with Marxist literature, it should be noted that floorplans is a manuscript by Marx from 1858, which served as a draft for the elaboration of the The capital, having been published only in 1941 (the Brazilian edition is from 2011).

I was somewhat intrigued by this association made by Harvey between such disparate works and even more by what would be the relationship of implication and chaining between the two texts, by each of their respective authors.

I was only able to unravel this little riddle, if I did it properly, when I saw a documentary about Garcia Márquez, entitled Gabo, which was his nickname. One of the comments made there about the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature is that the Love in the time of cholera it was like a preparation for the greater work (as seen by many) One hundred years of Solitude.

In this way we would have two works by two authors that were like a draft, a presupposition, an anticipation for the subsequent work, larger, better finished, more developed.

Of course this is just a literary joke, especially in the case of the Love in the time of cholera, an admirable work on its own merits. Incidentally, the author himself, unlike literary critics and most of his readers, does not consider One hundred years of Solitude as the greatest of his achievements. He said: “I believe, against the criteria of all critics, that the best book I have ever written, if I wrote a masterwork, this masterwork is El coronel no tiene quien le escriba”; 1961 book, adding that he had to write One hundred years of Solitude, for people to read their favorite book.

However, certain commentators of Márquez insist on drawing parallels, even if inversion, or pointing out implications, even if only due to the predominant theme, between those two works, as if Love in the Time of Cholera it was like the better half of One hundred years of Solitude. This would be a novel in which all the forces of love, sex and passion were not enough to prevent the destruction of the world. while in Love in the Time of Cholera we would have a triumphant love, which achieves what it proposes, ultimately redeeming us from the pains and anguish of the world, saving us.

In addition to the plot, a formidable love story, of an unwilling love that overcomes all obstacles, set on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, a country permanently conflagrated by civil wars, at the turn of the XNUMXth to the XNUMXth century, in the midst of chronic epidemics, we are faced with a text that is almost a treatise on this ingrained feeling, which, as soon as it nestles in the left side of the chest, challenges peace of mind, shapes personalities, throws individuals into the intemperate vortex of uncertain destinies, both granting them the first fruits of an epiphany, as disgracing them in the misery of the most distressing follies.

We accompany the characters throughout an entire life cycle, in which each stage, each attitude, each emotion is unveiled in its subtleties, in its depths, in its wonder or in its torments.

Florentino Ariza, the main character, is prodigal in the exercise and constancy of predicates that, against everything and everyone, makes it possible to win over his intended, Fermina Daza, without fading in the face of a time that runs ahead of his chances of conquest , which seems to make his seduction strategies anachronistic, such is the delay, measured in several decades, that he disciplined and methodically waits to fulfill the dream of meeting “body and soul” with his beloved. Persistence, this is your crucial mood.

Then, even if not formulated, or conscious, the patient and resigned certainty that at some point, at any time, sooner, or even much later, love can happen, transcending ages and stages of life, even if it is bordering the fringes of old age.

The verb to happen is a misleading infinitive tense in love matters, because love does not actually happen, unlike some romantic conceptions. More precisely, as in the various instances of life and society, it is something to be built, cultivated, demanding efforts, strategies, audacity and a good degree of investment of emotional energies. In these matters our character was exemplary.

The adventures of cultivating this platonic love keep Florentino's obsessed soul alive, now appeased and now in effervescent turmoil, in his ardent and imperishable passion. Everything he did, how he filled his daily life in his activities, as well as in his various relationships, whether they were vaguely sentimental or fleeting sexual partnerships or even relatively stable and reasonably satisfying, and above all how he anticipated his future, planning it in details formed a great whole whose center, around which his life revolved, was not only the image of Fermina Daza, but the conviction that at some point she would be his.

In cultivating this dream, in his tireless pursuit, he guided every step of his life, became professionally successful, built a social reputation, took great care with his personal appearance, refined his merits and talents, ultimately becoming, according to his own fantasies, a figure worthy and deserving of the consideration and love of his eternal intended.

The unshakable certainty that the longed-for moment would come was affirmed against all the data of her reality, out of tune with prevailing values ​​and customs, and even more undermined by Fermina Daza's married condition, and very happily married, with an illustrious authority of high rank, Dr. Juvenal Urbino. Our hero knows that the best and almost only chance to realize such an ambition of his restless heart is to wait for his husband to die. As he was a doctor and in good health, only an accident could meet such wild and somewhat sinister expectations. However, as death is not announced only by biological decrepitude, but also surprises by the misfortunes and prosaic accidents of everyday life, a fall, a slip and such, behold, this moment arrives, but many years later in the lives of the two characters .

A further task, of great complexity and enormous difficulties, will be to win over a widow, who at this point in her life and condition felt not only distant but invulnerable to the games and tricks of seduction, which did not even cross her mind, other than those and those that they had led her to her own wedding, and that even these and these were little more than hazy clouds half buried in the depths of her affectionate memory.

Fermina Daza is a charming character, full of life and attractions, who walks her path knowing what she wants, well settled in her domestic and marital arrangements – with occasional and inescapable friction and tensions -, but celebrates life in the terms in which she lives. considers it well done. Well ahead of her journey, when she becomes a widow, when she seems to settle down with what would conventionally be the exhaustion of the loving experience, replaced only by an affective memory that, imperceptibly, fades away, behold, the fearlessness of her youthful suitor erupts. , which she had neglected, without mercy, in times gone by. Faced with this new attack, which comes at a more than inopportune moment, Fermina rejects him once more, this time with a sense of honor and decorum wounded by her status as the widow of a dead man who had not yet gone down to the grave, not sparing in this repudiation. , rage and fury, insults and outbursts.

Courting a woman with such profile and similar condition was an exercise of almost chivalric perfection and wisdom, to which Florentino Ariza committed himself long ago, comforting her in a moment of fragility and loneliness due to the loss of her husband, consoling her for her sadness, making her -to contemplate life again with the lights of hope and with the clarity of possible new dawns.

Her emotional armor, whose supposed impregnability seemed to be based on her condition as a widow, on her old age, on rigid, intolerant and prejudiced customs and, not least, on the old and deep-rooted contempt for the insistent suitor, slowly begins to give way, to be flanked by the wiles of renewed emotion.

By opening herself up, in her cautious rhythm and in terms of the respectability of a lady of high society, allowing herself a new loving experience, she validates the countless and surprising dimensions of love, the opportunities for its recreation, its displacements, its power and its possibilities.

By continuing in this direction, groping for steps, listening and at the same time tensioning his most deeply rooted convictions, his reservations, his restraints, his prejudices, his fears, he gradually outlines the contours of a new possibility, that expressed by the understanding or acceptance that there is an expiration date when it comes to matters of the heart.

At the end of this journey, when successful, there is no way not to realize that the graced protagonists, as is the case here, are assured a new lease of life, that is, life goes on full, reformatted by a new configuration, under the influx of tempered energies, under the shelter of an appeased maturity, less prone to the oscillations and intemperance of love in its first incidences and blossoms.

For this, here and in equivalent situations, fictional characters, and certainly real people, to identify an amorous opportunity, sculpt it as an achievable object, make it viable as a meeting of hearts and give it stability, while last, to remind the little poet, it is necessary to break obstacles, first the internal ones of despondency, timidity, insecurities and other ghosts more to contain them, to limit them in their strategies of conquest; then it is necessary to face the external obstacles, starting with the classic and usual paternal/maternal interdiction, which always qualify suitors as not worthy of their offspring, then circumventing the plethora of values, codes and moralities that do not facilitate, and finally to count that the courtship, approach or courtship misfortunes are not so disastrous that they put everything to lose. It is true that this is a situation somewhat overcome by the opening of customs, the airing of values ​​and the greater personal autonomy of the last several decades. But the history of encounters and disagreements refers to some of these parameters and assumptions.

In the case commented here, in its time and circumstances, the characters had to work with impetus, one, with prudence and caution, the other, to reach a good conclusion regarding the resolution of the amorous imbroglio that entangled them, after a very long journey into life.

This unlikely reunion of teenage sweethearts, turned (I was writing, transfigured) into a couple when they were at a respectable age, she aged 72, he aged 76, who, according to conventions or traditions that are not at all friendly with such feelings in advanced age, receive from the author a treatment of fine sensitivity, without giving up describing it in details of its intimate realization. It is therefore stated that the adventures of late adult love also claim an intimacy that goes beyond tender looks, gentle gestures, delicate attentions, holding hands or subtle touches in safe and demure areas.

Certainly such gestures and attitudes should be valued and welcomed at all ages, but for the elderly they are not enough as a sentimental spoil from past times. It is also up to them, as the protagonists of Gabo illustrate, full love, the one that is exercised in all areas of amorous passion, from the nebulous ethereal areas where twin souls roam to the voracious eagerness of their lascivious incidence, their carnal naturalness, their joyful spontaneity.

I am not dealing here, in this short literary note, with so many other characters that circulate around the two main characters, some with remarkable characteristics, whose presence and action in the private or even public spaces in which they all move, determine, in varying scales and degrees, what happens to Florentino and Fermina. There are so many actions, movements and feelings investigated and described with nuances, with emphases or precision that there is no way not to let yourself be touched, recognize or identify with the luck or misfortunes of its bearers.

Characterizing this work as a love story, given its title and main plot, is an appropriate indication, common to fictions of this genre, but insufficient or even partially misleading. Conventionally saying that a book tells a love story is an impoverishing reductionism, a prosaic simplism, a language convenience and, to a certain extent, a disregard for the author.

Highlighting this feeling as the almost exclusive center of a narrative, either by the author himself when proposing a title, or by editorial cunning, bookseller marketing or readers' perception, narrows the field of apprehension of the richness, in terms of form and content, of what will be read , defines an angle of vision that will guide the look, generates an expectation and a predisposition to arouse such emotions and not others to the detriment of the vast horizon, wide trails and situations in which characters move, from particular conditions, diverse contexts, circumstances , movements and contradictions that shape their destiny, that give meaning to their lives, each one of their lives, in their different phases, in their constitutive ambiguities, in their complex existences.

In this work we have a portrait of a period, of a society, of its culture, of the specific form of perception of a woman's social presence, in great contrast to that of a man, summarized by John Berger (Ways of seeing) by the formula “Men act and women appear”, with particular incidence and inflection at the time. The configuration of towns and cities is shown, one in particular, in the time of its decay, of its changes, in the face of a new world that was emerging, and then in transition, in which many of the technological novelties and economic development opened their way. path not only over the rubble of what was left behind, but already foreshadowing what would be a disastrous mark of the new century, decimating flora, extinguishing species, drying up rivers, devastating forests. Everything that has led, in all latitudes, unconsciously, throughout the century to the calamitous climate crisis in which we are now plunged.

Both with regard to the characters, their conditions and circumstances and their trajectory, as well as what we see described as socio-historical transformations, they go beyond the limits in which some move and transform others, to rise to the universality that makes us tune in to the narrative and insert ourselves into the plot and drama of a moving story in which we are also extras.

Against the usual tragic/dramatic ending of good novels, Garcia Márquez here took the risk of a happy ending. Unlike his other works, he affirmed the right, the possibility, and why not, the viability of happiness occasionally descending upon us; to create a fable, “a utopia of life, where love is indeed true and happiness possible”.

Nothing against it, not least because in this case, it does not compromise the beauty, density, charm, complexity of the characters and their plot. By fables, investigating feelings, describing scenarios and situations, everything that forms a literary narrative, if done well, the author not only entertains us or sensitizes us with what happens to his characters, but, more importantly, gives us a roadmap for explore our own interior, unveil our resources, map our possibilities, sharpening perceptions, instigating ourselves to be what we can be beyond the crystallized settlements in routine or in the sameness of a life that can always be another, more cultivated, more instigating and happy . In this work, Garcia Márquez, I think, fulfills with style, elegance and precision this noble function of the art of writing.

Capitulating a little before the argument above, the one in which I suggested nuance the usual emphasis of what is designated as “a love story” in certain books, I appeal to the condescension of those who read me to propose a greeting, a cheer, a greeting.

For all the tenacious undying commitment of its main character, who waited 51 years, 9 months and 4 days to be reunited with his beloved, I think the author would be very happy if we raised a toast to Florentino Ariza! Certainly, with equal empathy and recognition, we can extend our greetings to Fermina Daza, or even better, to the couple.

Health!

*Remy J. Fontana is a retired professor at the Department of Sociology and Political Science at UFSC.

Reference

Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Love in the Time of Cholera. Rio de Janeiro, Record, 2005 (https://amzn.to/3KLHzMD).

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