One of the greatest myths about death is that the hair continues to grow even after you die; actually, this illusion is caused by the retraction the corpse's skin due to dehydration. However, this belief has inspired legends and stories around the world, like those about vampires or the romantic and tragic novel by Gabriel García Márquez Of Love and Other Demons.
The book's prologue contextualizes the inspiration this story found in death. As an introduction, García Márquez describes how the burial chambers were emptied in Santa Clara's convent, built in the seventeenth century. The author shares that he was sent to look at the proceedings, because at that time he was working as a journalist and needed a good story for the paper.
What Márquez discover, out of the many tombs of bishops and viceroys, was the grave of an infant. When it was opened, they saw that the remains were broken and had a grayish color, but the skull had a vast reddish mane. What surprised the witnesses the most was the fact that when the hair was extended it was 22.11 centimeters long. The tomb had a name: Sierva María de Todos los Ángeles.
"The impassive foreman explained that human hair grew a centimeter a month after death, and twenty-two meters seemed a good average for two hundred years. I, on the other hand, did not think it so trivial a matter, for when I was a boy my grandmother had told me the legend of a little twelve-year-old marquise with hair that trailed behind her like a bridal train, who had died of rabies caused by a dog bite and was venerated in the towns along the Caribbean coast for the many miracles she had performed."
In the next pages, Márquez tells the story of this girl who suffered unimaginable tortures due to an unknown disease at the time. Sierva María was captured by the church because they thought she was possessed by a demon, when actually she was infected by rabies. Because of this, the teenager had constant outbursts and wouldn't even speak to anyone but the other inmates or slaves.
In a parallel manner, and to endow the novel with deep emotions, Márquez introduces the character of Cayetano Alcino, a 36-year-old monk who falls in love with Sierva María in a sickly way. At this point, a bridge between love, religious fanaticism, and obsession is built.
Sierva María is a sweet person when she's with Cayetano, whose lonely heart stood firm, waiting for the love of the 12-year-old girl, despite being cruelly rejected, ignored, offended, and even hit by her at the beginning.
As it was expected, the influence of religion is bigger than the love between two different beings; this story ends with just one kiss that travels across time to our century. Sierva María is submitted to aggressive exorcism sessions that weaken her. Above all, besides being physically injured, she's also separated from Cayetano.
By the end of the novel, the girl's freed from the demons, love, and all the shadows of the world.
Just as Gabriel García Márquez wrote one of the most tragic and beautiful love stories, other authors have captured through ink and paper, love narratives that teach us the real face of love, which has sparked intense jealousy and rage.
Translated by María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards