Chapters 1-4 Summary

On a fog-enshrouded day in November, the Lord Chancellor sits in the Court of Chancery hearing another presentation on the interminable case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, which involves a contested series of wills from several generations past. An old woman sits in the chamber, as she does every day, following the arguments of the cases brought before the court. The Lord Chancellor begs Mr. Tangle, leading expert on Jarndyce and Jarndyce, to save his information for later because he must deal with two wards of the court, involved in the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, who are seeking to be placed with their distant cousin.

Lady Dedlock has come up to London from her country estate in Lincolnshire because the rainy weather there has caused her to feel “bored to death.” She and her husband, Sir Leicester (who is twenty years her senior and married her for love rather than position, of which she had none), are on their way to Paris. Mr. Tulkinghorn, Sir Leicester’s attorney, comes to present news about Jarndyce and Jarndyce, on which Lady Dedlock has a distant claim. Lady Dedlock listens to Mr. Tulkinghorn read from the proceedings but begs him to skip as much of the legal jargon as possible. She notices the handwriting on the legal papers and asks Mr. Tulkinghorn if it is called a “legal hand.” Mr. Tulkinghorn informs her that it is merely the handwriting of the scribe who was hired to make the copies. He notices that Lady Dedlock suddenly looks faint. She excuses herself and goes to her bed chamber. Sir Leicester is concerned because he has never before seen his wife swoon.

Esther Summerson presents her own story as that of an orphan reared by her godmother, Miss Barbary. Esther has no friends except her doll, though she attends school with other girls. On her birthday, Esther asks her godmother about her mother. Miss Barbary tells Esther that her mother is her disgrace, and she is her mother’s disgrace. When Esther is...

(The entire section is 550 words.)