There's a certain kind of character commonly found in historical fiction set in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (though she can appear earlier or later, too). Her literary ancestress can be found in some of the best-loved novels of the Regency and Victorian eras. She's the girl who bends the rules just a little. Oh, she can dance a country dance or pour tea with the best of them, but she may also be a good walker or horseback rider. She may be the most intelligent girl in the story, and she's almost certainly the wittiest and the most outspoken, sometimes earning her the title of spitfire. She may be talented in more practical ways, as well: if given the opportunity, she may turn out to be a wise investor, and she may harbor talent for music, writing or art may that goes beyond drawing room entertainment and becomes a means of financial independence, if necessary. In rare cases, she may even solve a murder. She may run into some trouble, especially if she fails to obey the powers that be, but she usually comes through in the end . . . and will likely attract the hero as well.
The Spirited Young Lady
may have the same grace and style as the Proper Lady
, but she's got an added spark of attitude or rebellion
that's missing from her more-prim-and-proper literary cousin. This is what makes her such a popular character today: she's the character modern audiences can most admire or relate to. In historical fiction, she's likely to be a proto-feminist. In nineteenth-century literature, she may not speak out for women's rights generally (a few examples do), but she will speak out for her
rights pretty clearly. Her willingness to say what she wants is part of what makes her stand out. In unskillful hands, such a character may seem anachronistic, or may become a Sue
, though there are many examples that are both believable and well-rounded.
To sum up, here are the defining traits of a Spirited Young Lady
- She is a young woman, usually between 16-25.
- Her social standing/family background will be middle class or higher. Most often, her family comes from the landed gentry, though she may be a clergyman's daughter.
- She is witty and confident in her conversation.
- She is often quite intelligent, and may display other talents.
- She is independent and self-sufficient.
- She is generally honest and frank (though she may lie for a good cause).
- She may be outspoken, bold, or in some cases even defiant.
- Despite the above, she generally avoids going so far beyond the rules of her society that she would be labelled disreputable: she is, after all, a lady.
- Though the Spirited Young Lady is usually a heroine or positive supporting character, negative versions of this trope are possible. Only add such examples if is clear that they are treated as spirited young ladies in universe. If you're adding a villain or anti-hero as an example, please explain how she fits this trope rather than being just a period version of another trope.
The Proper Lady
and the Spirited Young Lady
are frequently paired together. If the Spirited Young Lady
is the heroine, the Proper Lady
may be her rival. In such cases the Spirited Young Lady
may serve to deconstruct the Proper Lady
. On the other hand, if the Proper Lady
is the heroine, the Spirited Young Lady
may serve as a bad example that the Proper Lady
must reject. However, the two tropes have been known to coexist quite happily together as siblings or friends, in which case their differing character traits complement each other.
Compare Rebellious Princess
, who's of a higher social standing but may behave similarly. The Spirited Young Lady
may also be a Plucky Girl
, but that isn't necessary to this trope. See also Yamato Nadeshiko
, which can serve as the Japanese counterpart to either this trope or the Proper Lady
- Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice exemplifies this trope. She's smart, loyal to her friends, athletic, and witty. She knows the rules of her society quite well, and is distinguished by her good manners, but she isn't afraid to say what she thinks, even to Lady Catherine. Her sister Jane is her Proper Lady counterpart.
- Mary Crawford from Mansfield Park definitely fits the trope, even though her lack of a moral compass ultimately keeps her from being admirable.
- The titular character of Jane Eyre is this in spades. She sometimes appears to be meek and mild, but don't be fooled. She knows exactly what she wants and she is willing to go through considerable hardship to get it. She also gets a rousing "women have the same needs men do" speech early in the novel.
- Many of Georgette Heyer's heroines count as this. One example would be Frederica, who at 24 is running her younger brother's estate and bringing up her younger siblings.
- Margaret Hale of North and South is a strong, determined woman who will put herself in the way of angry mob in order to protect someone in need. (Later events suggest that she's pretty good at business, too.)
- Scarlett O'Hara of Gone with the Wind displays the strength of character and drive for success associated with this trope. She also knows how to act the part of a lady, although her manipulation and bitchiness may suggest that she doesn't deserve that title. Melanie plays the Proper Lady counterpoint to Scarlett.
- Isobel Archer in Henry James' Portrait of a Lady.
- Among the March sisters in Little Women, Jo is one who best fits this trope, given her outspoken nature and her intellectual gifts. (Meg plays the Proper Lady in contrast.)
- In Black Beauty, the Lady Anne is a Spirited Young Lady, going by what little we see of her.
- Valeria Brinton of Wilkie Collins' The Law and the Lady is ladylike, graceful, and devoted to her husband. She also becomes one of the first amateur female detectives in the nineteenth-century novel.
- Definitely Alexia Tarobotti from The Parasol Protectorate series. She is a lady of high intellect and wit, who wears the appropriate clothing, and follows Edwardian manners to a T (except when it pleases her to break them for the purpose of moving things along because everyone else is being annoying and incompetent). In-universe, her 'spirit' is humorously attributed by her fellow Englishmen to her half-Italian blood, and her blunt and unsympathetic manner to her Soullessness. It Makes Sense in Context.
- Ada Lovelace from Robert Rankin's The Japanese Devil Fish Girl.
- Cecily Cardew from The Importance of Being Earnest. Her spirit and wit are vividly showcased in the tea scene, which quickly becomes a snark-off between her and Gwendolen Fairfax (who has elements of this herself).
- Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing counts, despite predating the Regency Era quite a bit: she is independent, intelligent and has quite the rapier wit with a sharp tongue. While not being a man-hater, she doesn't need a man to complete her life, and no one would (dare) suggest that she wasn't anything but an exceptional lady.
- Belle of Beauty and the Beast is a middle-class example: intelligent, witty, spirited in a subtly feminist way--but still feminine, refined, and gorgeous in a ballgown.
- Rapunzel from Tangled. She's pretty good about following Mother Gothel's orders, but she's even better at finding loopholes around those rules.
- Despite being dead, Emily of Corpse Bride plays the more spirited counterpart to the film's other heroine, a proper lady quite appropriately named Victoria.