Twilight: Esme Cullen’s Dark Backstory Explained

The Twilight saga has a backstory for every character but it’s easy to see why the story of Edward's adoptive mother Esme never made it to the screen

The Twilight saga has an in-depth backstory for almost every major character, but it’s easy to see why the dark story of Edward Cullen’s adoptive mother Esme never made it to the screen. Released in 2008, Lords of Dogtown director Catherine Hardwicke’s Twilight turned author Stephenie Meyer’s tale of lovestruck vampire Edward Cullen and his small-town teenage paramour Bella Swan into a pop-culture juggernaut whose ubiquity at one point rivaled that of the Harry Potter franchise. Twilight was a runaway success upon release and prompted a string of sequels adapting the rest of the source novels, although Hardwicke opted not to stay on as director.

At the peak of its popularity, the saga was a massive phenomenon despite the Twilight movies earning terrible reviews from critics. Despite their critical failings the film series introduced many viewers to young stars Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart and featured appearances by the likes of Michael Sheen, Dakota Fanning, and Rami Malek in minor roles. But like any popular book series being adapted to film, the Twilight movies didn’t have a long enough runtime to include everything featured in their source novels, with a great many dark backstories cut for time and tone from the doorstopper original novels.

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One subplot that was wisely jettisoned from the film adaptations of Twilight was the backstory of Carlisle’s wife and Edward’s adopted mother, Esme Cullen. Esme has a tragic and surprisingly brutal backstory that was too dark and realistic to fit the heightened teen drama of the Twilight movies, and it’s easy to see why the filmmakers opted to cut her story from the blockbuster series. Nonetheless, like Jasper Hale and Rosalie Cullen’s equally dark backstories, Esme’s origins do further fill out the narrative of the series and underscore the Twilight saga’s enduring obsession with love and fate. Furthermore, the story illustrates how Esme became such a loving maternal figure despite this characterization’s obvious contrast with her nature as a vampire.

Esme’s Early Life

Elizabeth Reaser as Esme Cullen

Born to a poor farming family in Columbus Ohio, the young Esme was a tomboy who failed to follow the conventional path set out for girls of her time. Like many small-town girls before her (including her eventual daughter-in-law Bella), she never felt she fit in among her family and was prone to depression. She first met Carlisle Cullen when an ill-advised bit of tree-climbing led her to break a leg and he was the kindly pediatrician who fixed her up. However, thanks to the ageless Carlisle’s routine of drifting from city to city to avoid emotional attachment to mortals, it would be years of heartbreak before Esme saw him again. She never forgot the doctor’s face, but it seemed impossible to imagine that their paths would ever cross again in the future.

Esme’s First Marriage

Esme Twilight

Esme’s first marriage was arranged to give her poverty-stricken family some relief from their circumstances, but for Esme, it was the start of a long nightmare. Esme initially didn’t object to her father’s choice of husband for her, as although she wasn’t particularly attracted to or interested in her prospective husband, she saw nothing wrong with him and there was no one else she harbored a hope of marrying. However after the pair were wed, Esme’s husband Charles revealed himself to be an abusive monster (much like her adopted daughter Rosalie’s would-be husband). This terrified the young Esme, who frequently considered abandoning him but could never work up the nerve and was uncertain where she could find refuge if she did. When Charles survived his service in WWI and Esme became pregnant she finally ran away, deciding that an uncertain future was bound to be better than remaining beneath his roof. Absconding to Wisconsin, Esme lived with her cousin until she was eventually hunted down by Charles. Escaping his detection once again, Esme moved town and survived for a while as a schoolteacher, evading her husband by posing as a war widow.

Meeting Carlisle (Again)

Carlisle Twilight

For a brief period, Twilight‘s Esme lived in relative peace, but even with Charles forgotten, her difficulties were far from over. Eventually, Esme’s baby was born, but unfortunately, her newborn passed away a few days after birth due to complications. Distraught, Esme couldn’t take any more hardship and she attempted to take her own life, jumping off a cliff. Fortunately for fans of the sometimes shockingly bleak Twilight series, this attempt on her life led Esme to be reunited with the kindly doctor from her childhood. Carlisle, who as a vampire hadn’t aged since the pair first met, turned Esme into a vampire as he was aware traditional medicine could not save her life. Thus Carlisle was able to save Esme as he had saved Edward a few years earlier and would go on to save the rest of the Cullen clan, promising her immortality in exchange for her human life. When she regained her strength, the pair grew closer as a couple.

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Her Pre-Twilight Years

Twilight Wedding

With her broken heart and body recovering through this partnership with Carlisle, Esme became part of the vampire’s clan. The young Edward stopped posing as Carlisle’s brother and instead passed himself off as their son, and that dynamic came to be reflected in their real interactions. Esme became a mother not only to Edward, but later to Jasper, Rosalie, Alice, and Emmett, fulfilling the desire for motherhood that had previously been tragically cut short for her. Much like Carlisle’s desire to help the ill and Jasper’s ability to empathize, Esme’s need to be a nurturing caregiver had followed her from one life into the next, thus explaining why she has a more caring demeanor than the more villainous vampires encountered throughout the series.

Why Esme’s Story Was Cut From The Movies

bella edward dancing twilight

Although this brutal backstory does color Esme’s character and explains why a character as typically dangerous as a vampire could act as a caring matriarch, unlike the dark tales of Rosalie and Jasper, it’s easy to see why the filmmakers adapting the series balked at the prospect of keeping it in. Esme’s story is darker and more realistic than a lot of Twilight’s heightened paranormal melodrama and could have seriously dragged the tone of the movies into darker territory if adapted to the screen. Even 30 Days of Night director David Slade, whose darker Eclipse is often called the strongest standalone entry into the Twilight cinematic franchise, opted not to utilize Esme’s backstory, and it’s a rare case where the movie adaptations were correct to leave this particular detail in the novels, where it wasn’t too tonally jarring or grim.

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