She is raised by Miss Barbary, a woman who calls herself Esther's godmother.
When she is 14, Miss Barbary dies and Esther is taken away by Kenge and put into a boarding school for six years. He reveals to her that Miss Barbary was actually her aunt.
At school it's all smiles and good times, and Esther loves it.
Esther leaves the school at 20 and goes to London, all on the instructions of a mysterious patron.
At the Chancery Courthouse she meets Ada Clare and Richard Carstone. The three of them are to go live with John Jarndyce, a cousin to Ada and Richard.
She also meets Miss Flite, an eccentric woman who's obsessed with the Court, and her landlord Krook.
Esther stays overnight at the house of the Jellyby family and befriends Caddy Jellyby.
Finally Esther goes to live at Bleak House, in the London suburbs, and is made housekeeper.
She meets Jenny and Liz, wives of some local brickmakers, and helps comfort Jenny after the death of her baby.
Guppy, a law clerk, comes to propose to Esther. When she declines, he promises mysteriously to look after her interests.
Esther and Jarndyce try to get Richard into one profession after another, but he is fixated on getting a large inheritance from the Jarndyce Chancery Court case.
Caddy Jellyby introduces Esther to her fiancé, Prince Turveydrop, and his selfish, deluded father. Caddy asks Esther to help her learn how to be a housewife. Afterward they go check on Miss Flite, who has been ill.
At Miss Flite's house, Esther meets Alan Woodcourt, a young doctor who treats the poor.
When Jarndyce's friend Harold Skimpole is almost arrested for debt, Esther finds out about the Neckett family, which now consists of three orphaned children, the eldest of whom – Charley – is a girl who works to support the younger ones.
One of the people who helps take care of the Neckett children is Mr. Gridley, a farmer who is hopelessly entangled in an endless case in the Court of Chancery.
Esther sees that Richard and Ada are falling in love. Richard, meanwhile, has left his medical apprenticeship and decided to try to become a lawyer instead.
Alan Woodcourt and his mother come to dinner at Bleak House.
Esther and the gang go visit Jarndyce's friend Boythorn, who lives next door to the Dedlocks.
At church Esther sees Lady Dedlock and has a panic attack.
Later they run into Lady Dedlock while walking around. She speaks to Jarndyce but ignores Esther and Ada.
Back at Bleak House Esther gets a visit from Hortense, Lady Dedlock's fired maid. She asks for a job but Esther says no.
Richard tells Esther that he is leaving the law for the army.
Esther helps Caddy tell her mother and Prince's father about their engagement.
Charley Neckett goes to work for Esther as a maid at Bleak House.
Esther goes with Richard to hear part of the Jarndyce case. Guppy finds them there and reunites Esther with Miss Barbary's maid. Esther is not that happy to see her, and vice versa.
Richard's army trainer, Mr. George, tells them that Mr. Gridley is on his deathbed at his shooting gallery. They go to see him and run into Bucket, a police detective. Esther watches Gridley die.
Young Dr. Woodcourt sails to China. His mother comes to stay at Bleak House and tells Esther that high birth is very important to her.
Esther helps Caddy Jellyby get married.
Jenny gets a visit from Esther and Charley. At her house they find Jo, a very ill poor crossing-sweep.
Esther takes Jo to Bleak House, but in the middle of the night he disappears.
Charley catches whatever fever Jo had and Esther nurses her.
As Charley gets well, Esther falls ill for a long time.
She temporarily loses her sight. She gets it back but her face is now scarred.
Esther goes to Boythorn's to recuperate.
There she runs into Lady Dedlock, who reveals that she is her mother, and that this secret must be kept from everyone.
Esther goes to visit Caddy, who is doing well.
Then the gang goes to visit Skimpole and sees how totally irresponsible the whole family is. They ask him to stay away from Richard, to no avail.
Sir Dedlock comes to see Esther and Jarndyce and to tell them they are welcome at his estate when they visit Boythorn.
Esther tells Jarndyce that Lady Dedlock is her mother.
Jarndyce writes Esther a long letter professing his love for her and asking for her hand in marriage. She says yes.
Esther then runs into Woodcourt, who has returned from China a hero. She thinks he is disappointed to see her disfigured face.
Caddy Jellyby falls ill after having a baby. Esther goes to take care of her and nurses her back to health.
She is so busy that she doesn't notice what Ada has been up to.
Esther and Ada go to visit Richard. It turns out he and Ada have been married for two months. Esther is super sad about the seemingly doomed marriage and cannot stop crying.
Woodcourt comes to tell Esther that Tulkinghorn has been killed and that Mr. George has been arrested for the murder. Esther goes to the jail to convince George to defend himself.
Esther is wakened in the middle of the night by Bucket, who is trying to find Lady Dedlock. She goes with him, trying to help find her missing mother. At last they find her, dead of exposure.
Richard and Ada are not doing well, and Esther goes to ask his lawyer, Vholes, to try to get him to stop with the Chancery stuff already. Not much luck there.
Ada tells Esther that she's pregnant and is worried that Richard won't live to see the baby.
Esther goes to tell off Skimpole and get him to leave Richard alone.
On the way back, she runs into Woodcourt, who confesses that he has always loved her.
Feeling guilty, Esther sets the date for her marriage to Jarndyce.
After making all the preparations, Esther is completely surprised to find that Jarndyce and Woodcourt have been planning all along for her to marry Woodcourt, and that Jarndyce has bought them a house.
Esther goes to court with Woodcourt and discovers that the Jarndyce lawsuit is over, because all the money has been used up in lawyers' fees. When she goes to tell this news to Richard, he peacefully dies.
The Woodcourts have two children and live happily ever after, with Esther finding herself busier than ever as a doctor's wife.