Agnes is a dutiful clergyman's daughter who goes into the world to seek employment as a governess in order to contribute to her family's financial well-being. Her several positions are described with deadly accuracy--the bratty children, the yapping dogs, the secretly disdainful other servants, the uninvolved parents. All are rendered here in minute and telling detail.
In working with two different families, the Bloomfields and the Murrays, she comes to learn about the troubles that face a young woman who must try to rein in unruly, spoiled children for a living, and about the ability of wealth and status to destroy social values. After her father's death Agnes opens a small school with her mother and finds happiness with a man who loves her for herself. By the end of the novel they have three children, Edward, Agnes and Mary.