Agnes is very naïve, looking forward to her new position where she thinks she can "train the tender plants, and watch their buds unfolding day by day!" She very quickly realises that her task is not an easy one - made harder by the lack of any support from the children's mother. The theme of how to discipline children runs throughout this book and is still topical today as teachers frequently debate the best methods of disciplining their pupils. Agnes states, "The name of governess, I soon found, was a mere mockery as applied to me; my pupils had no more notion of obedience than a wild, unbroken colt." The description of Tom's cruelty to animals and birds is quite disturbing, as is his father's encouragement of his cruel practices. Tom is only seven years old and sets traps for birds which he then kills. When he does this, his uncle says "he is a fine boy."
This is quite a short book and relatively easy to read so would make a good introduction to reading Victorian novels. I enjoyed this book although I had expected more about the problems facing governesses in the 19th century. Although Agnes Grey is not as dramatic as Jane Eyre, it certainly opens a window on the plight of the governess in Victorian times. As Sally Shuttleworth says in the introduction to the book, "the 'quiet virtues' of Agnes Grey are deceptive. It possesses an inner intensity which belies its outer form."