At age 19 Janet Summerhayes must leave the village of Clover and go out into the world as a governess - but she is young enough to view the change as an adventure. Her new position in St John's Wood is with the Harwood family - Mrs Harwood, daughter Gussy age 19, and daughter Julia age 14 (Janet's pupil). There is also a son Adolphus, away at Oxford much of the time.
Things start well, as Janet gets the rebellious Julia under control. But Charley Meredith, a flirtatious young man with fine eyes, throws temptation in Janet's way to flirt back - even though he is calling on Gussy. Another disquieting factor is a mysterious manservant who is seen going into the shutup portion of the house - a subplot reminiscent of Jane Eyre.
Janet is not a wholly sympathetic heroine - though perhaps the more interesting on that account. The Prologue to this novel provides insight into an upbringing whose underlying message was that "the natural object of solicitude was always oneself". This background, and her youth, explain her "domestic treachery", which in the end sets the stage for several revelations.
It is recommended that the Prologue, also named Janet, be read before this novel. (See Series entry below.)
Biographical and other notes
Fyi, Janet Summerhayes has similarities to another Janet - see "2 Related Story Lines" below.
In America this novel was published under the title The Story of a Governess, which had been the subtitle of the novel when originally serialised in the Lady's Pictorial.