|“||Oh, yes! Aqueous martinis are in! I'm Esmé Gigi Geniveve Squalor, the city's sixth most important financial advisor. Even though I am unbelievably wealthy, you may call me Esmé. I'll learn your names later. I'm very happy you're here, because orphans are in, and when all my friends hear that I have three real live orphans, they'll be sick with jealousy, won't they, Jerome?||”|
— Esmé, meeting the Baudelaire orphans
Esmé Gigi Geniveve Squalor is a very fashionable dresser who is well-known for her obsession with fashion and status of what is in. She is a major antagonist in A Series of Unfortunate Events introduced in The Ersatz Elevator. She adopts the Baudelaires orphans with her husband Jerome because she claims orphans are "in", showing them the lifestyles of the rich and famous.
However, it is revealed during the book that Esmé is an ally of Count Olaf. She eventually becomes his girlfriend and joins his group of associates in their schemes of stealing the Baudelaire fortune, and begins stalking and tormenting the Baudelaires in The Vile Village and onwards.
In The Penultimate Peril, Olaf eventually decides to leave her behind due to her obscene obsession with fashion. Olaf says he is tired of having a girlfriend obsessed with fashion and that all she does is sit around relaxing while he runs around doing all the hard work. Even after Esmé defends herself, saying she was on guard, Olaf fires her anyway. Esmé refuses to be fired, saying she quits, and Olaf says she can leave by mutual agreement.
Esmé is very materialistic and vain, obsessed with popularity, status, trends and fads. She is primarily focused on fashion and doing things that are "in" or stylish, disregarding practicality. For example, she smokes simply because cigarettes are in, even though she hates the taste and smell of them, and hates that they're unhealthy, so she prefers to use a long holder. She even buys aqueous martinis and parsley soda. She leads a life of crime because it is "in" and is obsessed with collecting money because money is "in", even though she is already "unbelievably wealthy."
When she appears, she sometimes appears in "fashionable" outfits, treating life like a fashion show and trying to find every opportunity to flaunt her outfits. While the Baudelaires are concerned about not dying, Esmé is concerned about what to wear. In The Hostile Hospital, Lemony Snicket calls Esmé a slave to fashion, a phrase which here means "dressed in incredibly expensive, and often incredibly absurd, outfits."
She is very selfish and inconsiderate towards everyone such as Jerome, the Baudelaires and Count Olaf often. The only exception seems to be Carmelita Spats, whom she develops motherly tendencies for, freely buying her the same stylish things she herself is obsessed with. She spoils Carmelita as if she isn't already spoiled enough, enabling Carmelita's greedy behavior. Parents with narcissistic personality disorder, which Esmé likely has, often view their children as extensions of themselves, which may explain why Esmé spoils Carmelita.
Like Count Olaf, she could also be considered a psychopath, due to her engaging in various crimes that often violently impact the lives of others. In The Slippery Slope, Esmé is "astonished" when the White-Faced Women refuse to throw Sunny Baudelaire off a mountain.
Considering her overall personality, it should be no surprise that Esmé does not care about the welfare of animals and is willing to wear fur coats. She wears one in The Hostile Hospital. Lemony Snicket notes, "This evening she was wearing a long coat made from the fur of a number of animals that had been killed in particularly unpleasant ways."
Before The Ersatz Elevator
Esmé is "the city's sixth most important financial advisor" and an actress.
She starred in Al Funcoot's One Last Warning to Those Who Try to Stand in My Way. Lemony Snicket published a scathing review of the performance in The Daily Punctilio saying that Esmé "was simple dreadful", "cannot act", and "cannot sing." This resulted in Eleanora Poe firing Lemony and printing a public apology to Esmé. The Daily Punctilio also ran a special article about her entitled "Actress, Financial Advisor, and Unmarried Woman: How Does Esmé Do It?"
Geraldine Julienne, a reporter from The Daily Punctilio, is huge fan of Esmé. After Esmé wrote to her, Geraldine wrote back to tell Esmé about Jerome Squalor. The information included that Jerome is unmarried, that he recently bought the penthouse at 667 Dark Avenue, and that "every morning he has breakfast down the street at the Veritable French Diner...between seven thirty and eight thirty A.M." where Esmé could "'accidentally' bump into him."
Later, Jacques Snicket received a wedding invitation from Jerome announcing his upcoming wedding to Esmé. Jacques sent an urgent letter to Jerome telling him "that under no circumstances should you marry that woman". However, Jerome never receives that letter. The pair married at the Vineyard of Fragrant Grapes with the food coming from Café Salmonella.
The Ersatz Elevator
Esmé was first introduced in Book the Sixth as the city's sixth most important financial advisor. She is the wife of Jerome Squalor and the new guardian of the Baudelaire children. Esmé and Jerome live in a tall apartment penthouse at 667 Dark Avenue with many flights of stories.
Esmé's obsession with fashionable things (what is "in" and what is "out") reveals itself when she announces that she only took the Baudelaires into her home because orphans are now "in". Her kind husband wanted to take care of the children as soon as he heard of their troubles, but his wife firmly refused because orphans were "out".
She does not care about the children, doesn't want to hear them complain that their friends (the Quagmires) were abducted by Count Olaf, and ignores them as she prepares for the upcoming "In Auction". Her assistant auctioneer, Gunther, is recognized to be Count Olaf in yet another disguise. They attempt to warn both the Squalors of his true identity, but Jerome thinks they are merely suffering from xenophobia and doesn't believe them. Esmé, however, reacts more sinisterly and pushes the three orphans down an empty elevator shaft, revealing to them that Count Olaf is in fact her former acting teacher.
In the finale of the book, when the Baudelaires rush to Veblen Hall, Esmé is present and surprised to see the Baudelaires. When the Baudelaires manage to foil Olaf's plot, she leaves her husband to run off with Olaf. She and Olaf escape in a black truck with a big red herring with the Quagmires inside.
The Vile Village
Likely to cover up her reputation, The Daily Punctilio writes an article claiming that Esmé was abducted by Olaf.
Esmé and Olaf, posing as Police Officer Luciana and Detective Dupin (it is implied that Olaf murdered the real police chief), follow the Baudelaires to the Village of Fowl Devotees. Olaf murders a man with a similar tattoo of an eye named Jacques Snicket and frames the Baudelaires with his girlfriend's assistance. The children attempt to escape in their new guardian Hector's Hot Air Mobile Home with their friends, the Quagmires, but Esmé shoots the rope ladder with a harpoon gun and manages to prevent the Baudelaires from leaving, though the Quagmires and Hector manage to escape. When Esmé accidentally injures a crow in the process, the Village turns on her and Olaf and they skip town on a motorcycle.
The Hostile Hospital
Esmé poses as a doctor and chases the Baudelaires around the library of records. Since her stiletto heels are actually made with daggers as heels, her shoes keep sticking to the floor and she is unable to properly run after the three orphans. Thinking outside the box, she shoves over heavy cabinets of documents which fall over like dominoes, trapping and capturing Violet in the process. She, along with other members of Olaf's theatre troupe, arrange for Violet -now called Laura V. Bleediotie- to have the world's first ever "cranioectomy", a surgical procedure to remove Violet's head from her body. When Klaus and Sunny foil this plan, the hospital goes up in flames and Esmé escapes with Olaf.
The Carnivorous Carnival
Esmé wishes to celebrate the fact that everyone thinks Count Olaf is dead and the Baudelaires are thought to be his murderers. In reality, Count Olaf murdered Jacques Snicket - making everyone think Snicket was really the Count - and framed the Baudelaires for the crime in The Vile Village. But before they can celebrate, Count Olaf wants to find out where the Baudelaires are first. Though they hope that one or two burned to a crisp in the hospital fire, Olaf admits all three are alive and well. If two Baudelaires had died, Olaf hopes Violet survived because she's the prettiest, the Hook-Handed man hopes Sunny survived because he wants to stuff her in a birdcage again, and Esmé doesn't care who the survivor would be, she just wants to know where they are.
The troupe goes to Madame Lulu, a fortune teller who has accurately predicted the location of the Baudelaires every time Count Olaf lost track of them. Madame Lulu seems to have been romantically involved with Count Olaf and flirts with him enough to make Esmé very jealous.
When the Baudelaires use Olaf's and Esmé's clothing and makeup supplies to disguise themselves as carnival freaks, Esmé approves of their style. She laughs along with everyone else when Violet and Klaus - disguised as a two-headed person - struggle to eat an ear of corn, and wants Sunny - disguised as Chabo, a half-human, half-wolf baby - to stay away from her because the wild child may ruin her outfit.
Speaking of outfits, she dons a variety of items, including a sash reading "I Love Freaks", in order to seem accepting of the people employed in Caligari Carnival's freak show. She appears to care about their fates and attempts to convince them all to join Olaf's troupe, flattering most of the freaks into adoring her. The freaks are excited at the idea of joining Olaf's troupe, but the price they'd have to pay is throwing Madame Lulu into a pit of lions. Esmé is jealous of the fortune teller and is sick of Olaf buying her presents, so in order to quell the freaks' misgivings she gives them gifts to help them appear more normal. The freaks are thrilled and agree to murder Madame Lulu.
Once Lulu is out of the picture, a happy Esmé and Olaf decide to burn down Caligari Carnival to remove all the evidence of their being there. Esmé travels with Olaf to the Mortmain Mountains in order to find the V.F.D. headquarters.
The Slippery Slope
Esmé, Olaf, and the troupe escape to the Mortmain Mountains, where they force Sunny to do ridiculous chores, and discuss their plan of action with the Man With A Beard But No Hair and the Woman With Hair But No Beard. In her latest "in" escapade, Esmé smokes a Verdant Flammable Device, which she thinks are cigarettes, and dons a dress that resembles a large fire. Hoping to trade Esmé for Sunny, the Baudelaires set a trap for Esmé, but then in a moment of conscience, they prevent her from falling into it. Esmé meets Carmelita Spats and decides to adopt her, much to Olaf's chagrin.
The Grim Grotto
Esmé wears a large octopus costume and slaps children with a giant noodle (or Tagliatelle Grande), forcing them to power Olaf's submarine. She continues to fuss over Carmelita and insists that Olaf give in to the girl's every whim, such as changing the name of the submarine from "The Olaf" (which Carmelita insists is a "cakesniffing name") to "The Carmelita."
The Penultimate Peril
Esmé appears at the Hotel Denouement's rooftop sunbathing salon wearing nothing but strategically placed lettuce leaves and strange telescopic glasses. She is followed by reporter Geraldine Julienne, who continues to hang on her every word. Later on, she states that she owns the sugar bowl. She also leaves Olaf's theater troupe and dumps Olaf himself. During the trial, she submits ruby-encrusted blank pages as evidence. When the Baudelaires set fire to the hotel, Esmé is inside. Whether or not she escapes is unknown; this is the last time she is seen in the series.
In the TV series, Esmé's role is largely the same in the books, except for a few divergences.
In The Ersatz Elevator, she shows impressive physical strength when she has to drag Jerome's unconscious body up to her penthouse and all 65 flights on stairs. She is remarkably strong and is seen carrying Jerome over her shoulder with ease.
- The Vile Village - Esmé disguises herself as Officer Luciana
- The Hostile Hospital - Esmé disguises herself as a doctor
Behind the scenes
She is portrayed by Lucy Punch in the TV series.
Esmé Squalor's name is a reference to J.D. Salinger's short story "For Esmé, With Love and Squalor" from his collection Nine Stories.
Esmé is a French name that means "esteemed", a nod to her high self-esteem and image.
Gigi is a French name that means "trustworthy", which is ironic.
Geniveve means "woman of the race".
Squalor is not a name, but a noun that means "a state of being extremely dirty and unpleasant, especially as a result of poverty or neglect." Esmé Squalor is unpleasant, but the rest of the definition is ironic because instead of "dirty, poor, or neglected," Esmé is stylish, rich, and famous.
The initials of her name form "EGGS". It is unknown if this was intentional or not.
- "Jerome, children, listen to me--dark is out! Regular light is in! I'll go turn on all the lamps in the penthouse. Quickly, before anybody sees that this apartment is still dark!"
- "Don't talk nonsense. If we give money to poor people, then they won't be poor anymore." (to Jerome)
- "Perhaps we should listen to me. I am Esmé Gigi Geniveve Squalor, the city's sixth most important financial advisor. I live on Dark Avenue, and I am unbelievably wealthy."
- "Well, if you want to continue to live with me, you will call this man by his proper name, and this goes for you three children as well. I go to the trouble of buying you some smashing pinstripe suits, and you start accusing people of being in disguise! You and your siblings will call this man Gunther or you will make me very, very sorry I took you into my glamorous home."
- "I wouldn't say you were O.K. You're alive, but you're definitely not O.K. As soon as the auction is over and the Quagmires are on their way out of the city, Gunther will come and get you, and I can guarantee that you three orphans will never be O.K. again. What a wonderful and profitable day! My former acting teacher will finally get his hands on not one but two enormous fortunes!"
- "But I want to steal from you. I want to steal from you the way Beatrice stole from me."
- "I'm going to flatten you! Olaf and I are going to have a romantic breakfast of Baudelaire pancakes! You're never going to get out of this room alive, you imbeciles!"
- "Allow me to explain. I am a medical professional, just like Dr. Flacutono, Dr. O. Lucafont, Dr. Tocuna, and Nurse Flo. You can see that from our medical coats and surgical masks."
- "Your fancy words won't save you now, you twerp." (to Klaus)
- "I'm not going to dig a pit. I might break a nail."
- "I'm Count Olaf's girlfriend, and my suit is in, not silly."
- "There you go, babbling away. This is why I never want to have children. Except as servants, of course."
- "Well, she's certainly not sleeping with me. It's not in to have a baby in your tent."
- "I need a little while to choose what I'm going to wear. It's not in to burn down a headquarters without wearing a fashionable outfit."
- "Being well-read won't help you in this world. Many years ago, I was supposed to waste my entire summer reading Anna Karenina, but I knew that silly book would never help me, so I threw it into the fireplace. Look at your precious headquarters, volunteers! It's as ruined as my book. And look at me! I'm beautiful, fashionable, and I smoke cigarettes! If you didn't spend all your time with your heads stuck in books, you'd have that precious baby back."
- "That's a difficult decision. On one hand, it's been enjoyable having an infant servant. But it would be a lot of fun to smash Klaus's glasses and watch him bump into things."
- "Fiona isn't a very in name. I think I'll call her Triangle Eyes. Are you really willing to join us, Triangle Eyes?"
- "You can't fire me! I quit!" (to Count Olaf)
- "Pinstripe suits are in! And those horrible clothes you're wearing are out."
- "Ahhhhhh! This sofa belonged to the King of Arizona, you don't recline on it." (when Jerome is almost injured/killed by a falling lamp)
- Jerome: "Shouldn't we give the proceeds to those who need it? Perhaps those starving people we're reading about in the paper."
Esmé: "Starving people can't eat money. Plus, if we give money to poor people, they won't be poor anymore and we won't have anyone to feel sorry for."
- "Are we living in garbage?" (in Herring Houdini restaurant)
- Mr. Poe: "Now that I see you eating in a stylish restaurant, I know you'll be properly cared for by the city's seventh most powerful financial adviser."
Esmé: "SIXTH! SIXTH! Sixth most.... sixth."
- "Sleep is a natural part of life, like cosmetics or frivolous lawsuits."
- Klaus: "We need to tell [Jerome] something important."
Esmé: "You can tell me. I'm important."
- "I love a happy ending. It's like Wuthering Heights, which I never read."
- As a fashionable and psychopathic woman who is a greedy criminal, she is reminiscent of previous characters such as Madame Medusa and Cruella De Vil.
- One strong difference between Esmé and these characters is that Esmé is portrayed as being more normal and less "obviously evil" looking (as making characters "ugly" to denote them as "evil" is a common and arguably overused trope which can teach children bias). In The Carnivorous Carnival, Esmé is depicting having a slim and normal figure. She is also portrayed by Lucy Punch in the TV series, who could be considered an attractive woman.
- Esmé Squalor has an unofficial fan club of sorts, likely due to being very popular and a very "in" member of the city. The only known member is Geraldine Julienne. In reality, it's really a team of fire-starting V.F.D agents. Their only known action is when they successfully took away the Mamba du Mal from the fire-fighting V.F.D. The fan club is mentioned in Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography.
- Esmé being the city's "sixth" most important financial advisor may be related to the Number of the Beast symbolism, as she lives on 667 Dark Avenue. However, it could also simply be a reference to her appearing in the sixth book.
- In the books, her entire face is never depicted in detail (excluding the Russian version), forcing readers to imagine her face. Even when her face is shown, her eyes are covered. This makes her similar to Sara Bellum from The Powerpuff Girls.
- The UK cover has been criticized for spoiling the plot twist that Esmé is a villain and that she shoves the Baudelaires down the elevator.
- Esmé's character could be seen as a foil to Violet, and a warning to what kind of woman Violet may become if she inherited the Baudelaire fortune (materialistic and vain). In the book illustrations, she is seen wearing purple like Violet and has black/dark brown hair like Violet. Esmé also captures Violet specifically in The Hostile Hospital. In The Penultimate Peril, Violet is specifically ordered to go to the sunbathing salon where Esmé is.
- In the TV series, Esmé speaks with an English accent, while the books do not mention any accent. This could mean that in the TV series canon Esmé is from England or that English accents are "in".
- In the TV series, Esmé's fur dress is fake fur.
- The Ersatz Elevator
- The Vile Village
- The Hostile Hospital
- The Carnivorous Carnival
- The Slippery Slope
- The Grim Grotto
- The Penultimate Peril
- The End (mentioned)
- A Series of Unfortunate Events (TV series)