Created By: peccantis on March 3, 2011 Last Edited By: peccantis on March 13, 2011


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Indexes: Always Female, Love Interests, Mary Sue Tropes, Purity Personified

Redirects (or alternative titles): True Lady, Angel In The House

"She [the perfect wife] was intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed daily. (...) Above all, she was pure."

What is a Proper Lady? Also known as a "real lady", a "true lady", simply a "lady", or an "angel in the house", she's the perfect lady in the Western (and especially Victorian British) mindset, and in that related to Yamato Nadeshiko, who is the perfect lady in the Japanese mindset. The two ideals share many, many qualities. A Proper Lady is like a mythical creature or an unattainable ideal, often referred to, but rarely seen. Actual Proper Lady characters are largely a Forgotten Trope by now, and modern ones are likely to be accused of being Purity Sue. However, Proper Ladies were widely used in Victorian (?) and earlier literature. Jane Austen was one of the first authors that introduced such qualities to heroines that did not fit into the strictest view of what is acceptable of a Proper Lady, beginning the slow death of this trope. The last time it was seen alive was around the 50s.

A Proper Lady is a gentle yet strong being, pure like the driven snow and Madonna-like in her virtues. She never contradicts her parents, husband, or other authorities in her life. She sacrifices herself for the better of her family, religion, and country. She is intelligent enough to smoothly run a household, and wisely spends her husband's money for the better of her family, never guilty of negligence or selfish frivolity. She possesses the wit, taste and esprit necessary to be a star of The Society, and never crosses the border of good taste and civility. She is devoted and loyal, never treacherous or scheming. Her manners are never less than impeccable, and her good will and charity are a beacon to those lucky enough to live around her. She is perfectly groomed, likely beautiful or at least comely, but more important than her personal looks is her gentle smile. Chances are that she is an English Rose, especially with dark hair and fair skin.

A Proper Lady might not always be able to defend herself, but should in most cases possess the strength of mind to not panic, andthe willpower to never give in to any vile demands. She certainly needs to be protected.

She is always upper class and nearly always married, often a mother. She might also be a redundant woman, in which case she will not be bitter about never getting married, and will instead direct her motherly instincts for the better of her sister's or brother's family. Lower class women and maidens can have many qualities of a Proper Lady, and should, per this trope and the ideals behind it, aim to be as like her as possible. There is no upper limit to being a Proper Lady. Widowed ladies might easily be double-qualify as DeterminedWidows. If a lady dies at high age, her death will be dignified, probably caused by old age, and if she dies young, it will be a heartbreaking tragedy. Her absence will leave behind a great void and she will be dearly missed by not only family members and friends, but also by those who only occasionally had the fortune to be graced with her presence.

Related tropes:

Anime and manga
  • Emma in Victorian Romance Emma starts as a poor peasant girl, becomes a flower girl, a maid, and ends up becoming a gentleman's sweetheart. While her background technically prevents her from becoming a true lady in the society's eyes, her angel-like disposition, good education, eventual marriage (although with Nouveau Riche) and careful grooming should make her one in all but name.

  • Melanie Wilkes in Gone with the Wind. Even the feisty Scarlett who originally disliked her comes to love and miss her. Rhett Butler claims to respect Melanie deeply. Scarlett's mother died before the story begins, but judging by how her family misses her, she might have been one as well.
  • Esther Summerson, from Charles Dickens' Bleak House, is a Victorian English specimen. She's kind, modest, sensible, and domestically competent, but too down-to-earth to be a Purity Sue.
    • Esther is also a partial deconstruction of the trope, as her extreme humility seems to be in part the result of an upbringing that would be considered emotionally abusive by most modern standards.
    • She could also be interpreted as just pretending to be one as a cover for her own management skills: she takes control over situations or exerts authority over people while presenting herself as modest, unassuming, etc.
  • The lady addressed/discussed in Coventry Patmore's 1854 poem The Angel in the House. This work named the ideal for the Victorian era.
  • Katy in the What Katy Did novels by Susan Coolidge is a Tom Boy who learns to be a Proper Lady.
  • Agnes from David Copperfield is beautiful and good enough to get Purity Sue accusations.
  • Fanny Price subverts this in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park. She is extremely gentle, passive and the doormat of pretty much everybody around her until they try to force her into marrying the man she doesn't love. Her firmness on this point makes her not quite a true lady, as her uncle spells out:
    Sire Thomas: I had thought you peculiarly free from wilfulness of temper, self-conceit, and every tendency to that independence of spirit which prevails so much in modern days, even in young women, and which in young women is offensive and disgusting beyond all common offence. But you have now shewn me that you can be wilful and perverse; that you can and will decide for yourself, without any consideration or deference for those who have surely some right to guide you, without even asking their advice. You have shewn yourself very, very different from anything that I had imagined.
  • Also in the Austenverse, Pride and Prejudice's Jane Bennet. She stubbornly believes the best of everyone, everyone loves her for her sweetness, and she's the only one with enough patience to put up with her perpetually querulous mother. But, like Fanny, in addition to being beautiful and kind, she's also intelligent, rational, and sensible.
  • Elizabeth "Beth" March evolves from a Fragile Flower into this in the second part of Little Women before dying. May have taken it after her mother, Margaret aka Marmee, who is this too after having been more Hot-Blooded in her youth - but with more emphasis in wisdom and strong will than humility and kindness.
    • In Little men, Meg's daughter Margaret "Daisy" Brooke fits as well.
  • Subverted with Maud Lilly from Fingersmith, who is supposed to be this but hides a dark secret.

Live Action TV
  • Lady Marjorie in Upstairs Downstairs is adored by her husband and servants, and a Proper Lady through and through. Her saintlikeness is tarnished only by a short affair she was quick to regret. Also gets a tragic death. Of course, after she dies, everything starts to slowly fall to pieces.

Real Life
  • The Virgin Mary is presented as the epitome of this trope, she being the perfect mother figure (indeed, the mother of Jesus Himself and spiritual mother to all His followers) and all. She's presented as beautiful and graceful, humble, chaste, wise, and altruistic. She is held up as the perfect woman, and many Christian girls (especially Catholic ones) are encouraged to be more like her.
    • Many female Catholic saints also qualify, although many others do subvert. Notably, along with Virgin Mary, they actually were an important part in forming this ideal.
  • Princess Alice of the UK, daughter of Old Queen Vicky, gives off the vibe once you read about her life.

  • My Fair Lady is about an attempt to groom a young low class woman into a lady. It works rather well.

Western Animation
  • Victoria from Corpse Bride is a rare clean-cut modern example without parody or deconstruction. With the Perfectly Arranged Marriage, you just know how devoted a wife she will be for lucky, lucky Victor.
  • Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas fits this trope pretty well. She has the modest, feminine personality and attire, and is domestic and sensible. It's kind of subverted by how she's a leaf-filled patchwork doll with stitches all over her body and puts deadly nightshade in her creator's food and drink to get out of the house.


More examples to be extracted from Yamato Nadeshiko once this gets launched.
Community Feedback Replies: 16
  • March 4, 2011
    Examples can be moved from the Yamato Nadeshiko's western folders.
  • March 4, 2011
    Thanks, I'll move some that I know will fit here better.
  • March 4, 2011
    Please delete the Real Life section. It appears to be already taking over the trope.
  • March 4, 2011
    ^Only because it has the list of Madonna + saints. There's a lot of media examples to be cut from Yamato Nadeshiko to balance it out, but I would prefer to move them only after this gets launched so there will be no edit warring. The saint section is long, you're right, and it could be cut down to give an overview... people will be able to get info on individual saints elsewhere, and the stories are rather uniform.
  • March 6, 2011
    Esther Summerson may or may not fit this trope. I think she actually uses her Proper Lady front as a cover for her own management skills: she takes control over situations or exerts authority over people while presenting herself as modest, unassuming, etc. I don't know whether that kind of manipulation fits in the Proper Lady trope or not. Something to think about? ETA: Agnes from David Copperfield is a good Dickens example.
  • March 6, 2011
    Thanks. I suppose Esther should stay: she either is sincere (played straight) or then she pretends (exploited), but she is an example in any case.

    edit// for future reference,
    Scarlett: Oh! You sir are no gentleman.
    Rhett Butler: And you Ms. are no lady. -- Don't think I hold that against you. Ladies have never held any appeal for me
  • March 7, 2011
    Maud Lilly from Fingersmith is supposed to be this but she hides a dark secret.
  • March 7, 2011
    Link this to the Oneesan (?) trope, from Japanese anime: Belldanday from Oh My Goddess, the elder sister in Ranma, the eldest sister in Miname-ke, etc.
  • March 8, 2011
    ^ Belldandy and Kasumi Tendo would be happy little homemakers, not "true ladies" necessarily. I'm more comfortable with calling Belldandy a Yamato Nadeshiko.
  • March 8, 2011
    Pygmalion? My Fair Lady?
  • March 8, 2011
    ^^^ @ced1106: Onee Sama.
  • March 8, 2011
    I wonder whether we really need all those Catholic saint subversions. Usually the reason you get canonized is for doing something extraordinary, and it's hard to be a proper lady and do extraordinary things. I bet we could find more female saints who weren't proper ladies than ones who were.
  • March 8, 2011
    Yeah. Many saints have been revered for certain qualities such as self-sacrifice and purity, but Catholic saints I suppose are more notable as influence. I'll cut.
  • March 10, 2011
    Looking to launch. Objections? Opinions on name?
  • March 10, 2011
    George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion is what the broadway show My Fair Lady was based upon. The story focuses on a man's project to convert a poor girl who is not a Proper Lady, into one.
  • March 10, 2011
    In older times, a Parasol Of Prettiness was a common accessory for this.

    Princess Classic combines this with Everythings Better With Princesses.