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Chapter Three describes the courtship and early marriage of Fermina Daza and Dr. Juvenal Urbino, who had been the most sought bachelor in the city. Educated in Europe, Dr. Urbino is a very successful, modern doctor. He has just helped stop a cholera epidemic and is working to clean up the city of the causes of the disease when he meets Fermina. One day he is called for a consultation on a possible cholera case. The patient, Fermina Daza, is free from cholera. The doctor, however, is so taken with her that he returns the next day. She becomes angry at what she perceives as an insult and insults him back. Her father forces her to apologize, thus humiliating her further. She refuses to see Dr. Urbino during his many subsequent visits.
One day Fermina is caught in a crowd with her cousin Hildebranda; Juvenal Urbino passes by in his carriage and rescues them. In appreciation, Fermina finally agrees to see him again. A courtship develops, and they become engaged. After the couple marries, they go on an extended honeymoon. Fermina and Juvenal have a wonderful two years in Europe, where she learns to enjoy sex. When she returns home, she is pregnant.
When Florentino Ariza finds out that Fermina Daza is to marry the most eminent man of the city, he goes into deep grief. His mother sends him on a river boat ride to another city where she hopes he will forget Fermina Daza. On the trip, he loses his virginity when a stranger pulls him into a stateroom and seduces him in the dark. When he returns home, Florentino begins a long sexual affair with a widow. She is the first of his many lovers. Ironically, Florentino Ariza hides his affairs so well that many assume that he is gay.
One night, Florentino Ariza sees Fermina Daza as she presents an award at the Poetic Festival. He is shocked to see how much she has aged. In truth, Fermina’s life has not all been easy. For five years she was forced to live with her repressive and disapproving mother-in-law, who made her life miserable. When she finally convinces her husband to move to a new house, her life improves, but she still thinks of Florentino Ariza from time to time.
By Chapter Five, the characters have reached old age. Florentino Ariza begins to watch Fermina’s house again, like he did as a young man. At one point, he realizes she has disappeared, and no one seems to know where she is. He worries that she has some terrible disease and has gone to another country to die. In reality, Fermina Daza has left her husband, who was having an affair, and is living with her cousin Hildebranda in the country. From the moment she leaves, however, she wishes she had not left, but is too proud to return.
Florentino, now in his seventies, begins an affair with a fourteen-year-old girl, who is a relative. While he is having this affair, he finds out Dr. Urbino has died. He goes to the funeral and stays to see Fermina, pledging his love to her. When she sends him away, he realizes he has made a mistake to speak of his love on the day of the funeral. He plans to write a letter of apology, but she writes to him first.
Chapter Six describes how Florentino Ariza finally wins Fermina Daza. He writes her a series of letters, which are more like philosophical meditations. She is disarmed by them, even though she does not respond. When he finally asks if he can visit her, she agrees; they are soon meeting weekly. Then Florentino Ariza convinces her to take a riverboat trip with him on one of his boats. They enjoy each other’s company and sex. On the way home, he orders the captain to fly the cholera flag, which empties the boat of all passengers. They have a wonderful trip and decide to keep going up and down the river forever.