Thursday, September 3, 2009

CharacterExploration: Esme - Heart of the Cullens

Esme Cullen

I'm going to come right out there and say it: I love Esme.

Her character was the one that drew me to writing for the first time in my life. After finishing the books and Midnight Sun in the space of a week last Thanksgiving, I was having some serious Twilight withdrawal and couldn't get the wheels in my brain to stop spinning out questions about everything we hadn't seen. Esme's story piqued my curiosity. What was her life like before she killed herself and how did she fall in love with Carlisle back in 1921? After finding a few bits of her history, I began writing my first story in the hopes that by doing so, I could get over my Twi-addiction and go back to real life.

Yeah, that didn't work. Three Esme fics and 300,000 words later, my computer tries to hide when it sees me coming...

Our favorite Twilight mom gets a bad rap in certain circles. We barely see her in the books and when we do, it's usually little more than a two sentence cameo involving a quivering chin and dry sobbing. As a result, Esme is often painted in fanfic as little more than wallpaper. The goddess of pastels will greet you at the door with a hug and tell Emmett not to throw a grizzly bear in the house, but once the meat of the action starts, Esme gets sent back behind Carlisle's elbow to hide.

Part of the trouble is that in the rare moments that Esme gets mentioned, she's shirking the spotlight, ironically a little like Bella. The wolves know she's "no fighter" in Breaking Dawn and she'd rather watch a good game of Cullen baseball than play and call attention to herself. Because of her natural tendency to play a supportive role it would be easy to label her as a wallflower, but in truth she is a woman who understands that true happiness and satisfaction can be found in the simple joy of a family that loves you. Esme would far rather step out of the way so that one of her children can claim the glory while she revels in their success. That's her own personal brand of selflessness.

Canon Esme: Plucky as Hell

Many people don't know that Stephenie gave us some of Esme's background information in interviews that can be found on The Twilight Lexicon.

In summary, Esme grew up on a farm outside of Columbus, Ohio and broke her leg while climbing a tree at the age of sixteen. When her parents took her to the hospital, she had the good fortune to be treated by... you guessed it, the irresistable Dr. Carlisle Cullen. As Stephenie put it, Esme never got over the experience.

After ten years, one abusive marriage and a secret pregnancy, Esme fled Columbus and eventually ended up in Ashland, Wisconsin, determined as hell to make sure that the baby she was carrying would be safe. (Author's Note: YOU GO, GIRL!) When her infant son passed away only days after his birth, Esme jumped off a cliff and was taken to the morgue in Ashland. You would never guess who happened to be working at the morgue that night.... oh wait, it's obvious. Dr. Hot Stuff gave the caramel haired wonder a little love bite on the neck and took her back to his place. The rest is history.

As you can see, this isn't just some cream slacks wearing soccer mom who tears up at nothing (well, okay she IS that too, but there's more to her.) It took a lot of guts to run away from home twice (while pregnant), move across the country and become a teacher... all of this in 1920 before air conditioning and iPhones. Seriously, I don't know how my grandparents did it...

Part of the cool thing about writing canon Esme is that unlike characters who we know every little detail about from their favorite brand of shampoo to how they like their eggs, Esme's framework has more room for expansion and many different takes can fit.

In My Power
Emilie Fauve
: This is a great canon piece not only because Emilie has such a great eye for details, but because her prose is like an afternoon out on the balcony with a fine wine. Esme has no qualms about letting the bashful Dr. Cullen know that she's had her eye on him from the start and their dance around the attraction drowning them both is a treat to read. The chapters where Esme forces Carlisle to look deeper into his own coping mechanisms are wild and filled with a primal vampire sexuality that Emilie conveys with marvelous skill, despite the fact that they never "get there" until the wedding night. Her Esme is confident, both as her own person and a potential mate for Carlisle, becoming the soft place that he can fall.

: Before I rec this one, I'm jumping up on the soapbox for a quick second to say that I've found some really good fics on Yeah, I know we're all tired of reading about Bella "shuttering" in delight at Edward kisses her "bear" shoulders, but I gotta say that there are some hidden gems there! Lisa has only been posting for a few months, but she's written three great Carlisle and Esme collections which I was thrilled to find. This one is my favorite for the inherent sweetness and love in each of the different family scenes between 1920's Ashland and Forks.

In Rebellion
Edwina Cullen
: This fic is just getting started, but I'm already addicted. A delightfully imperfect Esme narrates the action and we get to catch a glimpse of the early life of the Cullens leading up to Edward's rebellious period and its effect on her and Carlisle. I love the way that Edwina writes Esme as a true vampire, sweet and loving but still thirsting for human blood even half a decade after her transformation. Her control is shaky at best and she's killed more than once. It gives the story an authentic feel that is much more engaging than a flawless character would be.

Edwina Cullen: "I think that in fan fiction, the vampire mom has been relegated to the back stage too long, and deserves a good come back. Most of the time, stories that include Esme, either portray her solely as the quiet and invisible mother of the home, or just the interior designer. These are not wrong assumptions, yet they hardly characterize Esme to any extent at all. Hardly do you come across an author who sees her diverse interests and captures her true nature. In
Second Chance
, Esme's kindness is beautifully coupled with a very important part of her history. Just as in
Love Songs of Great Men
, Esme fully faces life in realistic situations. I wish more authors would take a closer look at the vampire mother before attempting to write her views on the subjects they prefer to attend to. After all, they say, behind every great man, there's a woman. How right that expression is, that Esme is the central pillar of the Cullen family."

Mama Tiger: Don't you mess with my children

I've always found it puzzling that many of us don't relate to Esme more. Of course there are younger writers in their teens and college years, but many of the people I've become Twi-friends with are either Esme's age (26) or older. Yet readers and writers both overwhelmingly prefer Bella, the clumsy eighteen-year-old that every guy in the greater Seattle area wants a piece of. Before the hate mail floods my inbox, let me back up and say that I love a good Bella fic as much as anyone else, but I've never understood why more don't want to write about Esme too.

Marrying your first love at eighteen is the stuff of fairy tales, but it's more common to live some of the same experiences as Esme did, stumbling through an imperfect beginning before finally finding true happiness. Many of us have had failed marriages, lost loved ones or survived abusive relationships and bravely picked up the broken pieces of our heart to start over from scratch. THAT is Esme's story, much more so than a treatise on what flavor of sherbet goes best with finger sandwiches.

TwiliteAddict: "When I think of Esme, I think of the best qualities of motherhood. I think of her as selfless, quietly giving to others while never making it about her or about the reward she might get in return. She is always willing to listen and support, not necessarily give advice. And even though she would gladly give everything for those she loves, she is not weak. She looks into herself to see her gifts and strengths and does not waste them. Somehow, she finds a balance between loving herself and loving others. And this makes her whole and able to do what she loves so well. She cares for herself so she can care for others. Finally, I truly see her and Carlisle as soul mates. Their commitment to each other is as beautiful as it is fulfilling for both of them. The strength they have together is what supports the somewhat flawed 'children' they care for. They are role models for them."

Through Their Eyes
: I love this story for several reasons (as well as her other C/E:
How the Love Story Began
.) TwiliteAddict writes touchingly real scenes and she's not afraid to examine the dirty and ugly times in addition to the happy ones. Her one-shots take a candid view into the very real problems that would be caused in a marriage when the couple's only child rejects their home and runs off. I can count on one hand the number of fics I've come across that have been brave enough to illustrate Carlisle and Esme having a real fight and it's refreshing to see their human sides underneath all that vampire perfection. In another chapter, you watch their fears unfold on the page as they prepare to say goodbye before Breaking Dawn.

I have reread
Ithaca is Gorges
far more times than I should probably admit to, finding something new and beautiful to love each time. Her wonderful telling of canon Esme shows a woman who is comfortable in her own skin and not afraid to speak up and tell Carlisle when he's missed the boat. Her story portrays the pair in a lovely light after eighty odd years of marriage, despite the turbulent times as they mourn Edward's absence in New Moon, watching their treasured family dissolving before their eyes.

AU Esme: Five and a half feet of caramel with a twist!

FatallyObsessed: "Esme is an interesting character largely because of her mystery. We have the sketchiest of details about her from canon, but those are intriguing. Abusive marriage? Lost child? Suicide? She is obviously much stronger than it would seem from the rather bland picture SM goes with in later books. Additionally, she is the emotional center of this very volatile mix of people. We are given to understand that vampires don't naturally clan together, yet we have this big 'family' that has lived together for a very long time. Jasper is needed to smooth out the emotional edges that come from a vampire's natural aggression, and Emmett keeps them occupied to work out some of their physical and mental competitiveness. They are natural predators, after all. Rosalie is their fierce protector. Carlisle gives them a morality to aim for, and Edward and Alice team to keep them out of harm's way. It would be easy to dismiss Esme in this mix, but you have to take into account that they are THINKING, FEELING predators, and most of them have not had easy lives. Esme, with her life experience (keep in mind that she is chronologically the oldest, as well), is the perfect person to understand their deepest hearts and the darkest corners, because she's been there. Who better to understand Edward's feelings of loneliness before Bella and loss when he leaves? Who do you think took care of Rose and dealt with the emotions arising from her attack? Or comforts Alice when her keen need for memory is hardest to bear? Cuddles Emmett like a mother? Is Carlisle's place of rest in his responsibility? I even see her as being Jasper's rest, as her human experiences most likely give her the best ability to deal with her own emotions. Esme ROCKS!"

Save Your Soul
: I've loved this fic since the first chapter. FatallyObsessed explores a tantalizingly angst filled question: What if Carlisle slipped? She nailed Esme's character in the second chapter, as the mother of six leads the family to Volterra to bring back their fallen leader who has fled the country in shame. In light of the unthinkable, Esme is forced to question her own weaknesses, as well as the events in her past that led her to shirk the spotlight and to take a more passive role in the family. In addition to writing a great Esme, FatallyObsessed has a knack for nailing each character with their true voice and a depth that many miss. Her Charlie and Emmett are some of the best characterizations I've read of those two, a far cry from the gun loading redneck and bear whisperer that are so easy to write (yeah, I've done it too, guilty as charged!)

The Demise of Esme
: This story should have five times the reviews that it does. It's a historical romance at its best, touchingly sweet and perfectly in context. Kelsismom chose a different setting for Esme and Carlisle to fall in love, placing them in New Orleans, though many of the same canon premises are the same. If you've ever wanted to watch too-nerdy-for-their-own-good Carlisle and Edward in the kitchen trying to bake secret admirer gifts to feed a hungry pregnant human, you have to check it out. It is literally the funniest damn thing I've ever read, and it has spoiled every other cooking scene for me FOREVER.

All-Human Esme: The World is your (very well decorated) Oyster!

You can't go wrong with a good all-human Esme fic. Whether she's a single mom running into hot stuff Carlisle at the dry cleaners, or a college girl with the hots for her professor, there's so much to love!

Suburban Ennui
: She's famous for Mr. Horrible, but I was hooked on her writing long before that. There was one awful weekend when was down for three days (which always happens when I actually have a chapter ready... clearly I'm being punished for past sins...) and her chapter was THE ONLY one that made it through. I was checking my email every half hour like a nut, but her writing just does that to you. I love this story for many reasons, not only because Algonquinrt is funny as hell, but particularly because her story shows that even two "broken" characters can find love. It's great to be seventeen with flawless skin and perfect hair, never having had one's heart broken.... but love can be so much sweeter when a man can see the beauty in you despite your childbearing hips and flabby thighs. In this fic, a middle-aged Carlisle and Esme are both leaving failed marriages a little worse for wear both in body and mind with a gaggle of kids in tow. It's a beautiful story of finding love the second time around and learning to accept yourself despite the weaknesses and quiet failings that we all try to hide.

Heal Me
: This is yet another fic I discovered purely by accident and was thrilled to add to my favorites. Our couple meets at the hospital and dances around the undeniable chemistry before finally giving in to their urges. Rani's writing is sexy, describing every little detail with succulent word choices that make me swoon and want to re-edit everything I've ever written to make it better. She manages to make the tiniest gestures filled with such tension that I'm forced to growl at my laptop until she updates.

Hello, Mrs. Cullen: Carlisle's little slice of Lemon Meringue Pie

(I won't even tell you how I thought "meringue" was spelled before I googled it.)

(Elise on the soapbox warning)

As someone who has written far too much smut about the doctor and his little architect, I find it fascinating that there are more Bella/Carlisle lemons out there than Esme/Carlisle lemons. Before the pitchforks and torches come out, let me admit that I am a closet follower of a few Bellisle fics myself. (Don't hate me, Esme!) There are some that are really well written. I can certainly understand the fun of exploring alternative pairings in fanfic, but I was really surprised to find that Carlisle's wife got less lemony attention than our ever popular Bells.

Yeah, yeah, I know that Bella is a sexy little minx and no man can resist her siren's call, but is doing it with your wife really that out of style?

It raises the question of whether this little peculiarity has to do with Bella's massive popularity or from the fact that some of us harbor a subconscious Madonna/whore complex about our favorite Cullen mom. (It's clear that I've thought about this WAY too much for a fictional character, but still...) Can Esme and Carlisle still be sexy, even though they're *gasp* married and parents?

Aspiration Abounds
: Norah Jones is in the iPod and Esme is repainting the house when the good doctor arrives home to find her swaying to the music in her underwear. If you have an image in your mind of quiet missionary position sex on Saturday nights with a perfunctory kiss afterwards, turn back now.

Six Interruptions
: A collection of six canon chapters of Carlisle and Esme lemonade, told through the eyes of each of their children. "Oops" moments become an unofficial family tradition (curse) and we get to watch their relationship change over the years and see the impact that the loving parents have on the lives of their children. Brilliantly thought out and executed, one of my all time faves.

: This is one of my favorites, but I have to rec all of her works. She's written almost a dozen short Carlisle and Esme pieces and each of them are a treasure. If you want to watch the results of a jealous Carlisle when another man stares at Esme in the hospital, this is the one to read. Absolutely sensual without getting out of character in the... ahem... descriptions.

The Meddler
Edward A. Masen
: A canon companion piece to her longer Edward-focused fic, this is a very sexy rendition of the wedding night. Primal and delicious. After nearly three centuries of waiting, you can hardly blame Carlisle for needing some good Esme lovin' enough to do it in the great outdoors during a fantastic thunderstorm.
Elise Shaw
has written three canon Carlisle and Esme fics:
No Longer Alone
A Coming of Age
Carlisle and Esme: The Deleted Scenes
Archived Explorations:

Upcoming Characters:
FanFic Bellas, Alice, Rosalie, Jacob, Nessie.

Characters still up for grabs: (The groupings are tentative and can be amended for technical purposes.)

If you feel as though you know these characters well, are intrigued by popular characterizations and uses of them, and have the time to offer an exploration installment, please email me at for more information and to snag a character. This is pretty first come, first serve. Writers AND Readers welcome!


  1. Loved this exploration of Esme! :)
    Another great strong Esme (and one with more than just a side role) is in 'In the Blink of an Eye' by that_writr.

    This character exploration series was a great idea, ladies!

  2. Well done, Elise! I can think of no better person to take on Esme.

  3. great job with this! I just started reading these last week with pastiche's which was great too by the way, and now yours! I should go back and read the rest of them now....esme really is an interesting character to me too.


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