"Sarah Harrison disrupted her own wedding ceremony in 1687. When asked if she would love, cherish, and obey her husband, she responded "no obey", and persisted in that answer until her husband agreed to marry on her terms."
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 that goes beyond drawing room entertainment and might become a means of financial independence if necessary. In rare cases, she may even solve a murder. Though she occasionally runs into some trouble, especially if she fails to obey the powers that be, she usually comes through in the end. She will be the Veronica of a Betty and Veronica
love triangle, and the hero is likely to find her more enticing than her more docile sisters.
The Spirited Young Lady has the same grace and style as the Proper Lady
plus 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 has less interest in lady-like activities (such as embroidery) and might enjoy "unladylike" things (such as foxhunting) more than would be proper for a lady.
- She is independent and self-sufficient. She anticipates, or even expects, to marry someday, but she does not need a man to give her life purpose.
- 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 it 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. (See Tomboy and Girly Girl
for a similar dynamic).
Compare Rebellious Princess
, who's of a higher social standing but may behave similarly. The Spirited Young Lady may also be a Plucky Girl
and/or Well, Excuse Me, Princess!
, 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
. For ladies that hide their 'spark' in Politeness Judo
and Passive-Aggressive Kombat
, see Silk Hiding Steel
Anime and Manga
- Victorian Romance Emma:
- Although Vivian is a little too young to be eligible for being a young lady, she is certainly spirited enough to become a Spirited Young Lady with a few more years. Her older sister Grace is much closer to the conventional Proper Lady.
- Monica is a queer case. She does have the guts to pooh-pooh stiff propriety whenever it's necessary and my does she speak her mind; however, she knowingly play-pretends to be a fragile flower for her husband, and seems enthusiastic about getting rid of Victorian fashions and customs in India - and then again, she's a tiger when it comes to some young man breaking her dear little sister's heart.
- Candy White Andree from Candy Candy strives to be this. As a Heartwarming Orphan who is taken in by a rich clan, and has been through lots of hardships in her life, it won't be easy. But she won't stop trying.
- ∀ Gundam has Sochie Heim, a loudmouthed Tsundere born into a wealthy, high-class family.
- Yoruichi Shihouin from Bleach, before she ran away from Soul Society to join Urahara after he's framed.
- Elizabeth from Black Butler is growing into this.
- Akiko from Kasei Yakyoku, to a degree.
- Lizzie of Lady Detective/Lizzie Newton: Victorian Mysteries.
Film - Animated
- In "Iron Hans", once the princess spots the prince's golden hair, she orders him up to her room on the pretext of flowers and then tears his cap off to verify it. She still ends up marrying him.
- In "The King Who Would Be Stronger Than Fate", the princess is so taken with the young man, she alters the order for his death to one that they should be married at once.
Film — Live Action
- 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.
- 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. Note she was, according to the film's screenwriter, based on the above-mentioned Jo March from Little Women.
- Tiana from The Princess and the Frog. Nothing can stop her from fulfilling her ambitions.
- Rapunzel from Tangled. She's pretty good about following Mother Gothel's orders, but she's even better at finding loopholes around those rules.
- Ariel from The Little Mermaid.
- Viper from Kung Fu Panda is, well, a viper, but she certainly qualifies. Kind to everyone, lovely, feminine, but also a skilled kung fu artist.
- Princess Anna in Frozen pretty much fits most of the defining traits mentioned above.
- Rose DeWitt Bukater from Titanic has the manners and class standing of a lady, but she's willing to make choices that fly in the face of the standards of her day.
- Elizabeth Swann, from the Pirates of the Caribbean films, especially in Curse Of The Black Pearl.
- Georgiana from The Duchess very much fits.
- Rachel Weisz' character from The Mummy Trilogy.
- In The Hairy Bird, the girls at boarding school are taught to be this, but the ones who are most like this are Verena and Odie.
- The Mask of Zorro has Elena who can both dance gracefully with Captain Harrison Love or sword fight with Zorro.
- Ever After has the lady-turned-servant Danielle De Barbarac dressed up as a courtier who climbs trees and rescues servants.
- Though Grace Kelly often plays a Proper Lady, she often goes into "spirited" territory, particularly in To Catch A Thief and Rear Window.
- Jane Austen (reportedly something of a spirited young lady herself) absolutely adored this trope:
- Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice is the best-loved example. She's intelligent, witty and lively, but dutiful to her parents and loyal to her friends. She knows the rules of society, and is distinguished by her good manners, but she isn't afraid to break rules that strike her as obsolete or to say what she thinks — even to the redoubtable Lady Catherine. Her sister Jane is her Proper Lady counterpart.
- Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park is witty and lively, and she enjoys horseback riding and takes pride in being physically strong. However, she also plays the harp and is interested in fashion, and she likes nothing like a life in the city. Her lack of a moral compass ultimately keeps her from being admirable.
- Handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, Emma Woodhouse from Emma is a self-assured, intelligent, and snarky lady, and talented in many things like music or painting, though a bit of Brilliant, but Lazy. She loves long walks and is an excellent dancer. She isn't afraid of crossing swords with even Mr Knighley, who everybody looks up to, and importantly, she is capable of self-reflection and she can judge what is right or wrong in her character.
- Flora Poste in Cold Comfort Farm. She's like Emma Woodhouse ... but right!
- Jane Eyre of Jane Eyre 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.
- Amanda Fitton in the Campion novels. Her brother and sister are smart too but she is the most energetic and practical of the three. She decides she is putting Campion to "the top of her list" at age 17 and ends up marrying him in her mid-twenties when they meet up after her employer becomes involved with Campion's sister Val. She also keeps her job as an aircraft engineer after her marriage. Her sister Mary Fitton is her Proper Lady counterpart and ends up marrying Campion's friend.
- Many of Georgette Heyer's heroines exemplify this trope. One example would be Frederica, who at 24 is running her younger brother's estate and bringing up her younger siblings.
- Jean Paget in A Town Like Alice.
- 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.)
- The title character of The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle shows the making of a Spirited Young Lady: embarked as a tween-aged Proper Lady on a sea voyage, she is confronted with the immorality and cowardice of grown-ups she has heretofore obeyed without question, begins to defy them, and sheds her prejudices as well as learning a bit of seafaring. At the end of the story, she runs away from home to go to sea again, almost but not quite going beyond the bounds of a lady entirely.
- Scarlett O'Hara of Gone with the Wind is a rare Anti-Hero specimen. She displays the strength of character and drive for success associated with this trope. She also knows how to act the part of a lady when she needs to, although her manipulation, bitchiness, and decidedly unladylike antics note suggest that she doesn't deserve that title. Her character is written much like a deconstruction of a Spirited Young Lady, as she is practically everything the trope is, just way too much so. Melanie plays the Proper Lady counterpoint to Scarlett.
- Isobel Archer in Henry James's 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's 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.
- Rachel Verinder from The Moonstone is a well known example from Wilkie Collins.
- The Woman in White has Marian Halcombe; unfortunately a Butterface, but that girl rocks. She's intelligent, plays chess, is extremely strong and physically fit, honest, outspoken and she's got spunk. Her half-sister Laura Fairlie is a Proper Lady and a beauty, but she pales in comparison to Marian. They love each other dearly and are devoted to each other.
- 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.
- A lot of the heroines in the Pink Carnation series, though they vary as to how much rule-breaking they do.
- Kate de Vries from Airborn. The trope is actually lampshaded in how Kate, after petitioning the Zoological Society to investigate the existence of the creatures her grandfather saw, was told to return to "young lady's pursuits," much to her disgust.
- Enola Holmes, in the Enola Holmes series, pushes this to the brink. She's a very Rebellious Spirit with an unconventional upbringing. She's very intelligent and outspoken (the true sister of her brother Sherlock), and though she understands the rules of society well, she's often manipulating them to help solve a crime. However, she does secretly crave the stability of a loving family, as long as they won't repress her spirit as well.
- Emily Byrd Starr, throughout the Emily of New Moon trilogy by L. M. Montgomery, is intelligent and considered eccentric ("temperamental") by those around her. She adores taking long walks in nature (as usual for a LMM heroine) more than mingling in society, and by the end of her series she is able to make a living by writing stories. (She has no Proper Lady her own age, however — she's in fact proper compared to her dashing and flamboyant best friend, Ilse.)
- The Story Girl in Montgomery's books. Unconventional, the leader of her gang of friends, and frequently squabbling with her Proper Lady cousin, Felicity. At the end of The Golden Road her remarkable talent for elocution turns into her vocation, and it's never even stated that she marries.
- Montgomery used the trope in her most famous work Anne of Green Gables, with Anne being the Spirited Young Lady in contrast to her best friend Proper Lady Diana. They also fit Tomboy and Girly Girl, by turn-of-the-century standards.
- In the Doctor Syn novels, Charlotte Cobtree in Doctor Syn Returns and her sister Cicely in The Shadow of Doctor Syn.
- In the Aubrey-Maturin series, Diana is an extreme example, contrasted with her Proper Lady cousin Sophie.
- Both protagonists of Sorcery and Cecelia qualify: Cecy has a keen eye for fashion and is intensely jealous that her cousin gets to have her London season while Cecy stays behind, holds a very low opinion of her love interest's ability to sneak around (she can do much better), and arranges for magic lessons behind her aunt's back. Kate thoroughly enjoys the London social scene, worries quite a lot about embarrassing herself by being clumsy, has an incredible talent for telling believable lies, and has very little patience for her fiance's attempts to protect her from his enemies.
- Amelia Peabody. Definitely. (Aside from being a little long in the tooth - early 30s at the start of her series.)
- Shakuntala and Irene in Belisarius Series. Irene isn't precisely identified as "young" but would otherwise fit.
- Royesse Iselle from Lois McMaster Bujold's novel The Curse of Chalion. Though a royesse is technically a princess, Iselle fits the description on this page to a T, far better than the Rebellious Princess description. (There's probably a reason for this, since Ms. Bujold is a known fan of Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen.) She would never do anything so improper and counterproductive (in her situation) as running away to become an Action Girl. Chalion needs her and her tactical brain right where they are, so instead she attempts to thwart the Evil Chancellor's plans and lift the royal family's curse by more Proper means, specifically arranging her own marriage to a neighboring prince she's never seen. It only partly works. But at least they like each other.
- In Paladin of Souls, Cattilara is a slight subversion in that she does need a man to give her life purpose. Specifically, she needs her husband Arhys to give her life purpose. This also makes her a villainous example (or at least an anti-villain example) of the trope when her determination to keep Arhys as her husband rises to Well-Intentioned Extremist levels after he is killed.
- Gemma Doyle in the Gemma Doyle trilogy.
- Referenced by Cassandra in I Capture the Castle, when she compares herself and her sister to the Bennet sisters of Pride and Prejudice.
- Most of the heroines in P. G. Wodehouse's works. Some of them get a Romantic Two-Girl Friendship with the Proper Lady, who then becomes part of the Beta Couple.
- The world of A Brother's Price has very few men, so many gender roles are reversed and skewed about. In some senses it is a Romance Novel, and Jerin is in many ways a Spirited Young Gentleman, helped along by a more egalitarian upbringing than is common. He knows how to read and write, ride horses (though badly), break coded cyphers, pick locks, and use a gun (though firing it utterly horrifies him), while still cleaving neatly to how men in his world are expected to dress and act.
- The title character from Lisa See's Peony in Love is very much a Spirited Young Lady, even after she dies and becomes a ghost.
- The A Song of Ice and Fire series has a few examples of women from noble houses who are quite spirited, active, and tomboyish. There's Lyanna Stark, Danaerys Targaryen, and minor character Dacey Mormont of the Bear Islands.
- Julia Valerian of The Mark of the Lion is a well-bred wealthy aristocrat’s daughter, intelligent if somewhat naïve, but she desperately wants control over her own life and tends to act out in small ways. She gradually begins growing out of the “lady” part of this trope as the series continues, though since the setting is Ancient Rome, her increasingly promiscuous behavior that would be considered abominable by Regency or some modern standards is not as reprehensible.
- From Elizabeth Gaskell's Wives and Daughters:
- Molly Gibson is a seventeen-year-old daughter of a respected country doctor. She's intelligent, well-read, and later takes an interest in science. She loves fresh air, gardens and is often outdoors, and is not very good at needlework. She's not afraid to speak her mind even to people who are of higher social rank and she has a bit of a quick temper. However, her character has also strong shades of Proper Lady and English Rose. She's very domestic, caring and devoted to her family and friends.
- Lady Harriet, the youngest daughter of Lord and Lady Cumnor. She's twenty-nine, but doesn't consider herself Christmas Cake a bit. She enjoys her high position, being a lady of great influence and consequence, and treats Molly with refreshing kindness and interest. She even acknowledges Molly to be her "little mentor".
- Lady Barbara Wellesley from the Horatio Hornblower book series. Although she's out of the 16 - 25 age bracket, she fits all the other qualifications. She's traveling without a male companion, doesn't mind the tiny accommodations, and is basically described as being so capable that it aggravates Hornblower, who thinks that a properly feminine woman should at least be a little incompetent.
- Lady Sandrilene fa Toren of Circle of Magic is the equivalent of a countess, but her unconventional upbringing (first by globetrotter parents and then by temple mages) gives her an elegant bearing and zero hesitation about defending others or going into danger if she has to. Her thread magic makes her very good at dealing with tough situations, because everyone who wears clothes is vulnerable to her power.
- Also from Tamora Pierce is Saraiyu Balitang from Daughter of the Lioness in the Tortall Universe. She's the daughter of Duke Mequen and the scion of the raka royal house and fits every trait on the list: she's a skilled rider, used to learn swordplay until her stepmom vetoed it, is smart and confident, and rather too outspoken for the rebel leaders' comfort. She also elopes with a healer rather than face the prospect of an arranged marriage.
- Diane Chambers from Cheers is a "modern-day" (during The Eighties, when it first aired) example of this trope—while she as a rule retains the classic characteristics: spirited and at times quite feisty, Diane is nonetheless typically well-mannered, proper, and very ladylike. Ironically enough, she is actually on the opposite end of the typical female "pairing" described at the top of the page, as the show's other female regular (her Friendly Enemy) is The Lad-ette and relative tomboy Carla Tortelli.
- Edwardian-era Downton Abbey:
- Lady Mary, the earl's oldest daughter, is in most ways a textbook example of this trope because she's a self-assured and outspoken lady, though her selfishness and occasional malice are subversions.
- The youngest daughter, suffragist Lady Sybil. In her case "spirit" may reach Rebellious Princess levels.
- Lady Morgana from Merlin, at least before her Face-Heel Turn.
- Katherine Pierce/Katerina Petrova from The Vampire Diaries is an example of this both in the books and the series. Charming and intelligent, yet conniving, outspoken, and bold, she's not a lady you want to mess with.
- Xiao Yan Zi in Princess Returning Pearl sweeps into the palace, shouts in the Emperor’s face, calls him out on his bad treatment of his concubines and generally causes chaos everywhere she goes, capturing the heart of a Prince Charming in the process.
- Lydia Martin from Teen Wolf counts as a modern, high-school example. She's feisty, passionate, intelligent, and ambitious.
- 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.
- The Takarazuka show A Second Fortuitous Meeting features Sylvia, an outspoken young girl from an aristocratic family who makes clear her unhappiness at having to marry and switches places with her maid to spy on her potential suitors (but wears a gown that would be the envy of any Disney princess and does marry a suitable man at the end).
- Maddy from Crankrats is quite a firecracker, and proud of it.
- Asami Sato from The Legend of Korra. Sweet, polite, daughter of the wealthiest man in the city, also an expert driver and martial artist.