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Written by Polly Barbour
Euphemia Esme Lennox
Esme is the eponymous main character of the novel. She has been locked up in a mental institution for over sixty years but does not seem to be insane at all, just incapable of conforming to the rules and regulations that her parents and the polite society they move in demand. She is a free spirit who is definitely unusual and has some emotional issues but none that would require a person to be essentially incarcerated without a trial or a release date for her entire adult life. Her records state that she has what would today be termed schizophrenia but behaviorally sounds more like attention deficit disorder; she might also be considered bipolar. She is the youngest daughter and middle child of two loving but impossible-to-please parents. Most of her insanity seems to be a reaction to extremely traumatic events in her life that would have the same effect on the majority of people; she discovers her baby brother dead in his nursery, and their nurse dead by his side. She is left holding him alone on the house for three days but instead of understanding how this might have affected her, her parents order her to never speak of him again. Similarly, a near drowning that her family do not witness causes her to have an out of body experience that her sister tells the doctor is a hallucination. Esme is raped at a New Year party by the young man she is starting to rather like and this sends her spiraling downward until her family have her committed. Pregnant because of the rape, Esme's baby is taken from her and raised by her sister, against Esme's will. She is completely written out of her family's lives until her release due to the closure of the facility she is in when she becomes part of the life of her granddaughter who has never heard of her. In Esme's family, although considered the oddball and the black sheep, she is the most likeble and is the victim of a tragic lack of justice for her.
Iris is the owner of a popular vintage clothing store in her native Scotland. She is a free spirited young woman who believes in women's equality, misses her father who passed away when she was just a child, and is in love with her step-brother; in fact she was in love with him from the moment she first saw him as an infant. Probably because of this, Iris chooses men that she cannot have as lovers and boyfriends, her current affair being with a married attorney whom she met at a wedding and who scares her by threatening to leave his wife. Iris is a kind and impulsive woman. She initially wants nothing to do with Esme but feels oddly responsible for her and seems to want to be the one person in her life to treat her nicely and with respect. Pragmatic - she hides the kitchen knives in her bedroom whilst Esme is staying with her - but already feeling a bond with Esme, Iris realizes that the family history that her father was told has been a lie and that Esme was his mother. She becomes extremely protective of her grandmother and they have an immediate bond.
Kitty Lennox Lockhart
Kitty seems a nicer person as the book begins than she actually is. Adored by Esme in their childhood, she becomes frustrated with her sister when she refuses to say and do the right things at social gatherings and even more angry and jealous when she finds that the object of her affections, James Dalziel, only had eyes for Esme. Her jealousy fuels her betrayal of her sister. Instead of standing up for her she realizes that she would very much like her out of the way whist she marries Duncan Lockhart and so tells the doctors at the institution that she has hallucinations. Kitty seems to need to believe that she is a good sister and that she tried to do the best by Esme; however, when she realizes that Esme is pregnant she comes up with a plan to take the baby and raise it as her own. When she takes him Esme can see her doing so and can also see that Kitty is wearing a jacket that belonged to Esme that she had always liked. Despite Kitty's convincing words to herself she was never really in Esme's corner and seemed quite happy to take whatever was Esme's that she had envied. In old age she develops Alzheimer's although Iris suspects that she understands more than she leads them to believe.
Esme's mother is an emotionally remote parent whose love is conditional upon her daughters conforming to the stereotype that she requires. Chiefly this involves marrying well - although Esme is a good student and excelling at academics she is not allowed to stay on at school or further her education as her mother believes it is kore important that a woman married well than has a career - or is happy. She is froM the "spare the rod and spoil the child" school of thought when it comes to punishment and will be cruel in dishing punishment out to Esme. She clearly favors Kitty. She endured some great losses as she had miscarriages and gave birth to a stillborn child as well as losing her only son Hugo.
Esme's father is not interested in finding out why his daughter acts the way that she does - he just requires that she stops. For this reason he washes his hands of her and has her committed into a hospital for the insane. This is a huge betrayal as she loves her father very much. He is an authoritarian and closed the book on Esme as soon as she is admitted to the institution.
Dalziel seems at first to be Esme's knight in shining armor; she likes him, he claims to want a wife who is a challenge, and he enjoys courting her. She finds herself liking him more and actually finds the idea of marrying him rather attractive, not least because he is fun, has a piano and would get her out of her parents' house. He comes from a well-established upper class family and is one of the most eligible bachelors in town. He is also arrogant and a bully. Dalziel rapes Esme at his family's New Years party and is the father of her child although he does not know it.
Duncan Lockhart is Dalziel's best friend and Kitty's husband. He is also totally lacking in passion, overly concerned about propriety (telling Kitty her name is not suited to married women and demanding she use her given name, Kathleen) and completely disinterested in sex with his wife. He moves into the guest room barely a week into their marriage.
Alex is Iris' step-brother and is in love with Iris; unfortunately he is married to a woman he does not love and wants to leave. He was the child of divorced parents and a father who cheated on his mother and then Iris' mother; as a child Alex loved her home more than his and ended up living with Iris and her mother in school vacation time, hating his father more every day. Alex is a very protective young man and concerned about Esme's presence in the flat although this dissipates after he meets her and they get along easily and well. Alex is the reason Iris cannot commit to another man as she is as in love with him as he is with her.
Luke is Iris' current lover and threatens to leave his wife for her. This makes running into him arm in arm with his pregnant wife, Gina, all the more surprising.
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The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell.