Sensing that her life is deprived of a happiness granted other children (her birthday is never celebrated), Esther Summerson, who has never known her parents, asks her godmother whether her mother had died while giving birth to her. Despite Esther’s anguish, the godmother refuses to answer the child and assures her that she will know everything that there is to know in due time.
One day, Esther is summoned by her godmother who is entertaining a guest, a portly pleasant-looking gentleman dressed all in black. Esther is asked to remove her bonnet so that the gentleman may have a good look at her. Esther obliges. She is then dismissed.
Two years later, when Esther is about 14 years old, Esther is reading aloud from the Bible when Esther’s godmother suddenly collapses on account of the Bible passage. She becomes ill and never recovers.
On the day after her godmother’s death, the portly pleasant-gentleman reappears and introduces himself as Kenge of the Kenge and Carboy law firm. He not only informs Esther that her godmother was her aunt, but that Esther has a patron, a Mr. Jarndyce, who will now see to Esther’s welfare. It is Mr. Jarndyce’s wish to have Esther sent to a boarding school where she will learn the art of being a governess. Esther doesn’t object.
On her way to the school, which is located in Reading and is called Greenleaf, Esther thinks about her godmother and begins to cry. A gruff but not unkind-looking man, with whom Esther is sharing the coach, chides her for being unreasonably unhappy and exhorts her to put on a pleasant face and be happy. Esther tries her best to oblige her fellow passenger.
By and by, Esther arrives at Reading where she is greeted by Miss Donny who is, in tandem with her twin sister, to be Esther’s guardian while Esther is a student and boarder at Greenleaf. The Miss Donnys are pleasant enough, and Esther spends six happy years at Greenleaf when one day Esther receives a letter from Mr. Kenge, informing Esther that she is to leave Greenleaf and go to London as Esther will now be a ward of Mr. Jarndyce and a resident at Mr. Jarndyce’s house.
Many tears are shed when Esther departs Greenleaf. Even the ugly lame old gardener, who had hardly spoken a word to Esther, comes running to give Esther a posy of flowers and to wish her the best. On her way to London, Esther resolves to stop crying and to look forward to her new life with all the positive energy she could muster.
When Esther arrives in London, an assistant clerk of Mr. Kenge greets her, informs her that the dense brown smoke, which is everywhere, is fog, and leads Miss Summerson to Mr. Kenge’s office. There she is informed that when Mr. Kenge joins her, which will be soon, they will have to appear before the Lord High Chancellor who is to settle the formalities concerning the official arrangement that would have Esther become a ward of Mr. Jarndyce.
Presently, Mr. Kenge, who is pleasantly surprised at Esther’s appearance since he last saw her, greets Esther Summerson, assures her that the business vis-à-vis the Chancellor is a mere formality, and then introduces her to two other young people who are also to be made Mr. Jarndyce’s wards. One of them is the beautiful, golden haired, and blue eyed Ada Clare, and the other is Richard Carstone, a handsome young man, who is Ada’s distant cousin. Instantly, Esther and Ada hit it off and become friends.
By and by, Mr. Kenge escorts the three young people before the Lord High Chancellor. The Chancellor makes the acquaintance of the three young people and ascertains their status vis-à-vis Mr. Jarndyce. This done, the Chancellor has a word in private with each of the three young people. The process of formalizing their relationship vis-à-vis Mr. Jarndyce comes to an end.
The young people are suffered to leave and transportation for their journey to Bleak House, Mr. Jarndyce’s residence in Hertfordshire, is arranged for. As the young people wait for their transportation outside the court, a little old woman, accosts them with great ceremony. She surmises that they are the wards of Jarndyce, and then goes on about how she has a judgment pending in court which when decided will make her fabulously wealthy. Richard is sure the little, old woman is mad. Presently, Mr. Kenge shoos away the old lady.