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Spirited Young Lady

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"On the outside, I was everything a well brought up girl should be. On the inside, I was screaming."
Rose Calvert (Old Rose), Titanic (1997)

There is 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 is 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 is 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 is missing from her more-prim-and-proper literary cousin. This is what makes her such a popular character today: she is the character modern audiences can most admire or relate to. In historical fiction, she is 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.

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. If she's not a clergyman's daughter, she may be a professor's; if so, she's helped her father with his research/experimentation, and even if she lives before women went to university, she has the equivalent of at least an undergraduate degree in his subject. She may also be a doctor's daughter and have helped him enough to be qualified as a nurse or midwife.
  • 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 too lady-like 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; though the Spirited Young Lady and Proper Lady both qualify as Girly Girls, in historical works a Tomboy often grows up to become a Spirited Young Lady as she conforms a bit to the requirements of society.)

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. The Lady of Adventure practically has being this as a requirement. 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. May overlap with Girliness Upgrade or Tomboy with a Girly Streak. She may grow up to be a Grande Dame and/or Cool Old Lady.

Compare and contrast with her descendants The Suffragette and The Flapper.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Emma: A Victorian Romance:
    • 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.
  • Benio Hanamura of Haikara-san ga Tooru is one for the Taisho era. While she does dress in feminine clothing and is the daughter of a lieutenant, she's very outspoken on women's rights to marry for love, enjoys kendo, and hits the sweet spot for age at 16.
  • Elizabeth from Black Butler is a daughter of the wealthy Middleford family, she's brought up to be sweet and proper, but in reality, she's also a practiced swordswoman that aims to protect Ciel and his household. In her case, she didn't want Ciel to know about that side of her, thinking he'd prefer it if she was "cuter".

    Audio Play 
  • Charlotte "Charley" Pollard, self-styled "Edwardian Adventuress" in the Big Finish Doctor Who Eighth Doctor stories is a younger child of a wealthy stockbroker who, when the Doctor first meets her, has Sweet Polly Olivered her way onto an airship crew, before becoming the Doctor's Plucky Girl companion.

    Film — Animated 
  • 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 Jo March from Little Women.
  • Maria from The Book of Life, lives in the 1920s and enjoys reading, something people find weird. In fact, her father sends her to Spain in order to have her become more of a Proper Lady. That doesn't stop her from taking up no less than two un-ladylike electives at the convent.
  • 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. Emily is vivacious, enthusiastic, outspoken, and fights hard for her chance to love and be loved.
  • Pocahontas from Pocahontas is a chief's daughter. She refuses to be married off to a man she doesn't love, Kokoum, as she always craves for adventures.
  • Rapunzel from Tangled. She's pretty good about following Mother Gothel's orders, but she's even better at finding loopholes around those rules.
  • Jane Porter in Tarzan might have tried to be a "proper lady" back in England, but she's intelligent enough to function as an assistant to her professor father and artistic enough to make very good drawings of the animals of the African jungle. And even though she has a Damsel in Distress scene early on, she quickly adapts to life in the jungle after that.
  • In Turning Red, the main characters' ancestor Sun Yee was implied to have been one in her youth. Judging by her and her daughters' clothing, she must have lived some point during China's Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). However, in spite of living in a historically misogynistic time period where women were seen as inferior and their education was often not prioritized, Sun Yee is also described to be a scholar and a poet, implying she was more educated than most women were in her time.

    Film — Live Action 
  • Becoming Jane: Historical Domain Character Jane Austen is about twenty and a daughter of a clergyman. She's an accomplished woman and an aspiring writer with a famously sharp tongue. She plays baseball and loves being outdoors, but she's also interested in dances and balls. She's an affectionate sister.
  • Peggy Carter from Captain America: The First Avenger continues to be a spirited young lady in her spin-off series Agent Carter, but unfortunately the sexism of the 1940s works against her as she struggles to make a place for herself at the SSR, where she is often dismissed as a "stray kitten" or a "secretary turned damsel" who needs to be protected from the harsh realities of the job even though she knows more about the dirty work of espionage than most of the people around her.
  • Colette tells the story of a woman whose inner voice as a writer has long been denied. She is willing to take extraordinary measures to promote the emergence of her inner voice as a new writer. Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette is a young woman from a country village and marries a charismatic and dominant Parisian. Under his auspices, she is initiated into the bohemian lifestyle of Paris where her creative appetites are triggered.
  • Edith Cushing from Crimson Peak is a fairly conventional unmarried, wealthy 24-year-old woman in 1901- she acts as her widowed father's hostess, wears stylish (if rather artistic) clothing, delivers her cutting remarks through a veneer of courtesy, is well-versed in the rules of polite society, and seems perfectly ready to run her husband's household just as she did her father's. She expresses distaste for parties and scorn for the social-climbing machinations of other young women in her circle, though, and dreams of becoming a Gothic novelist. Word of God says she once wanted to attend university, and she supports women's suffrage.
  • The Duchess of Devonshire, known for her beauty and fashion sense, desperately wants to make a love connection. After her husband betrays her she turns to the man who shares her political ideals, Charles Grey, whom she campaigned for. When the statesmen around her were interested to know her thoughts she expressed to them her option that the concept of freedom is an absolute.
  • The titular teenage heroine of Enola Holmes, who was raised in the countryside by a liberal non-conformist mother. She is fittingly free-spirited, knows how to fight, and would rather go on adventures and solve mysteries than being restrained in a finishing school. However, she can convincingly pass for a young lady if she puts in the effort.
  • Ever After has the lady-turned-servant Danielle De Barbarac dressed up as a courtier who climbs trees and rescues servants.
  • Shannon Christie in Far and Away is the daughter of two wealthy parents, who yearns to be "free" to own land and play the "band" music that she likes, and not follow in the footsteps of her proper lady mother.
  • Charlotte Dalrymple in Hysteria is a Spirited Young Lady from Victorian London. She actually crosses a line to an early feminist. She is very rebellious, fights (at times rather aggressively) for a better society, tries to improve the sad situation of the poor, helps prostitutes (and does not blame them for what the society forces them to do, neither is she condescendingly compassionate to them) and is unapologetic about her progressive opinions. Her appearance is very feminine though, and at the ball, she enchants almost everybody with her beauty and charm. Some narrow-minded and illiberal people do not consider her a lady, but the more sympathetic characters do. Her Proper-Lady-like sister Emily admires her very much.
    Mortimer Granville: How is it, Miss Dalrymple, that you are so much the ideal and your sister is so... so volatile?
    Emily Dalrymple: Well, I'm hardly ideal, Doctor, and... Charlotte, she just... feels everything so strongly. If you truly knew her, you would see she is terribly clever and wonderfully charitable.
    Mortimer Granville: Well, if she's earned such love and admiration from one so kind and gentle as yourself, I shall never speak poorly of her.
  • The film adaptation Mansfield Park (1999) has the novel's timid heroine Fanny Price spiced up and transformed into a Spirited Young Lady. Fanny's situation is the same as it was in the book (girl from poor family gets adopted by wealthy and genteel relatives) but she gets Jane Austen's wit, sharp tongue, and serious interest in writing.
  • In The Mask of Zorro Elena wants to keep the commandments and tries to behave the way her father would like her to but her heart is too wild. She can both dance gracefully with Captain Harrison Love or sword fight with Zorro. She also makes her view of politics known at dinner. And while she is just proper enough to be visibly upset when Zorro gives her a Shameful Strip (and horrified at being caught in this state of undress by her father), her spirited side clearly enjoys it on some level.
  • Rachel Weisz' character from The Mummy Trilogy. She's often quite ladylike, but she's also very intelligent and has an adventurous streak.
  • Ophelia in Ophelia, a Perspective Flip of Hamlet. She is ladylike and compassionate, yet has a sharp wit, a rebellious streak, and a love of learning. She knows how to read in a time when most women save for those in the higher classes couldn't, expresses an interest in learning about herbs and poisons even though it's linked with witchcraft, opposes an arranged marriage, and also politely yet firmly argues against some of the sexism aimed at her and other women.
  • Lisa Fremont from Hitchcock's Rear Window. Played by Grace Kelly—and therefore highly feminine, elegant, and dignified—Lisa is nonetheless a professional model and saleswoman for a luxury clothing company, and is quite well-off and influential. She dotes upon the man she loves—L.B. Jefferies, played by Jimmy Stewart—but gets understandably miffed when he chafes against her efforts to "fit into" his world of "tough" photography. She defies the gender conventions he seems to take for granted—and ultimately proves him wrong as the film progresses.
  • Rosaline: Rosaline is a well-bred nobleman's daughter who scares off her suitors and has ambitions to become a cartographer, unlike her more ladylike cousin Juliet. An early sign that she and Romeo are not meant for each other is that she blanches when Romeo suggests she'll spend her time as her wife raising their children, and she ends the film with Dario, who is likely to be encouraging of her adventuring.
  • Outwardly, Rose DeWitt Bukater from Titanic (1997) was everything a well brought up girl should be, poised and well-mannered, but she dreams of riding, chewing tobacco, and spitting like a man. Despite her high-class upbringing, she is very witty. After she tells Mr. Ismay that Dr. Freud's ideas about the male preoccupation with size might be of particular interest to him, Molly Brown calls her a pistol. When the ship is sinking she loses all her lady-like qualities and shouts that she's through being polite.
  • Pert Kelly, from Why Be Good?, is a flapper, so she's automatically a contrast to her female peers. Free-spirited, intelligent, and able to hold her own as a working girl, she spends a lot of time subverting what was expected of young women during the 1920s; making her own money, buying her own clothes, and partying without chaperones. Unfortunately, her unconventional ways give her a bad reputation—because of the social morals of that time—; however, Pert considers herself to be a dignified girl, as she doesn't go to extremes. She even points out the double standards that are held against women in general to her boyfriend when he tries to confront her about her flapper ways.

  • Jane Austen (reportedly something of a spirited young lady herself) absolutely adored this trope:
    • Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice. She's a daughter of a land-owning gentleman. 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 a rich young woman. She stays in the Mansfield Parsonage with her sister and brother-in-law. Mary 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. She makes it clear she wants to marry well (somebody rich; an heir with title would be best). 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 openly talks about not wanting to get married because she's rich and therefore it would be silly to get married without love. She isn't afraid of crossing swords with even Mr Knightley, 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.
    • Marianne Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility, dashing and lively, described by the narrator as sensible and clever, but too eager in everything she does, both her sorrows and her joys. She is generous, amiable, interesting, but not prudent. She's from a genteel family though her mother and sisters must learn to live in reduced circumstances. She's very well-read, she loves poetry especially, and she plays the piano with rare mastery.
    • Louisa Musgrove from Persuasion, a daughter of a rich land-owning family. She demonstrates that being spirited is one thing, but it's important to couple it with common safety sense. She's forthright and firm, and open in her liking for Wentworth, but insists on making a dangerous jump from stone steps against the urging of everyone present and sustains a serious head injury. After she recovers, her brother Charles says that she's not as lively as she used to be.
  • Jane Eyre:
    • 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. She is a child brought up by her rich jerkass family, then is sent to school and starts working as a governess which is the only genteel enough job for ladies. She later gets an Unexpected Inheritance and is reunited with her upper-class relatives, and finally she marries the gentleman she loves.
    • Jane's cousin Diana Rivers is a strong woman and a natural leader who is not afraid to joke with her strict brother St. John. She's a daughter of Impoverished Patrician and her brother is a parson. Her younger sister Mary is quieter and her disposition is less cheerful than Diana's.
  • Esperanza of These Savage Bones would rather spend her time reading books published by Isaac Newton than worry herself about finding a husband. And she doesn't care what that makes other people think.
  • 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.
  • Georgette Heyer:
    • The protagonist of Frederica, who at 24 is running her younger brother's estate and bringing up her younger siblings. As one character notes, "the girl has breeding", and knows how to act in polite society — but when she's alone with Alverstoke, she peppers her conversations with boxing slang and other decidedly unfeminine references. Some of the tension in the book arises from her trying to flout what she considers stupid rules; for example, when she takes a walk alone with her dog instead of taking a maid with her.
    • Sophy in The Grand Sophy. She flouts conventions and has spirited quarrels with the bossy head of the house.
  • Margaret Hale of North and South is clearly a lady in her dress and manners, but she's also a strong, determined woman who will put herself in the way of an 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.
  • Wilkie Collins:
    • Valeria Brinton of 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. She is never unladylike, but she is strong-willed and independent—willing, even, to withhold vital information from the police about the theft of the titular stone.
    • The Woman in White has Marian Halcombe; unfortunately a Butterface, but that girl rocks. She's lives with her half-sister, Laura Fairlie, who is rich and from a noble family. Marian is intelligent, plays chess, is extremely strong and physically fit, honest, outspoken, and spunky. Laura is Marian's Proper Lady counterpart and a great fair 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.
  • 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.
  • L. M. Montgomery's works tend to have spirited young ladies as heroines:
    • Emily Byrd Starr, throughout the Emily of New Moon trilogy, 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's most famous work Anne of Green Gables has Anne Shirley, who, at first, is all catastrophes and accidents, but she slowly makes fewer mistakes as she matures. By the end of the first book, Anne is quite a graceful and accomplished young lady, but she never completely loses her imaginative and spirited nature. Even as a child, outspoken Anne longs to fit traditional models of ladylike beauty (i.e. the "alabaster brow" and raven hair she desires) and despairs over her red hair and freckles. She matures to the point of forgiving Gilbert for the wrong that he committed when they met even though she was determined to never accept his apology. Her best friend Diana is her Proper Lady contrast.
  • Both protagonists of Sorcery and Cecelia:
    • 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.
  • 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 A Song of Ice and Fire series has a few examples of women from noble houses who are quite spirited, active, and tomboyish.
    • Lyanna Stark was fair and beautiful, if unconventionally, but she was realistic about her Arranged Marriage to Robert, voicing her belief of his probable infidelity. Ned said also she had a bit of the wolf blood and was proficient in horseback riding, among other things.
    • Dacey Mormont of Bear Island. She's fought in every battle with Robb Stark but is just as comfortable in a fancy gown as she is in armor.
  • 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. She's also very domestic and caring. She starts as somewhat naive and awkward but blooms fully in the course of the novel.
    • Molly's step-sister Cynthia is more worldly than Molly (as she has been educated in France) and more rebellious (because of her overbearing mother). She's very beautiful and fascinating, and she's described as charming, sparkling, quick, graceful, and witty. She's always merry, full of pretty mockeries, and hardly ever silent. There's her "never varying sweetness of her temper" and she never refuses to do a kindness if she's asked by her family. However, it's revealed that she plays up her cheerfulness because of her dark secret.
    • Lady Harriet, the youngest daughter of Lord and Lady Cumnor. She's twenty-nine, but doesn't consider herself an Old Maid and quite openly talks about her age. 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.
  • Tamora Pierce's Saraiyu Balitang from the Trickster's Duet 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.
  • Among the March sisters in Little Women, Jo is one who best fits this trope, given her outspoken, tomboy nature and her intellectual gifts. Though she starts off as more of a Tomboy, she gradually conforms a bit more to society's standards as she ages: witness her very domestic mending of Professor Bhaer's clothes as an adult. (Meg plays the Proper Lady in contrast and younger Beth is another little "angel of the house".)
  • Simona Ahrnstedt usually has a Spirited Young Lady as female protagonist of her novels:
    • Beatrice Löwenström from Överenskommelser might be the best example, as she lives in 1880s. After her father dies, she has to fight against her Evil Uncle for her right to be intelligent, competent, and assertive. She has a Proper Lady contrast in her beautiful but docile cousin Sofia.
    • Illiana Henriksdotter from Betvingade is a 14th-century version of this trope. She's a brilliant medicine woman and clearly intelligent. She also has moments when she speaks for women's and children's rights.
    • Magdalena Swärd in De skandalösa is a 17th century example. She's not a Plucky Girl, like Beatrice and Illiana. Instead she's a Broken Bird and a Stepford Snarker. But she too is an intelligent proto-feminist. She has a Proper Lady contrast in her beautiful but docile friend Venus.
  • Laura of Little House on the Prairie is an example who is a tomboy as a child but who conforms a bit more to society's gender standards as she ages. She still chafes against having to wear a corset as a teenager, and she always prefers horses to sewing, but she becomes more ladylike as she matures and by the last several books she has a notable interest in fashion. She's contrasted with her older sister Mary, who is the Proper Lady of the two.
  • Chalet School: Mary-Lou Trelawney has some Spirited Young Lady tendencies - she's notorious for saying whatever pops into her head and getting away with it, and unlike many other girls, she's more interested in a career than marriage. She's mischievous, has her own clique, and sometimes breaks the rules, but isn't malicious with it.
  • Hungry as a Wolf has Susannah Twohill, the mayor's daughter, who has been raised to be a proper young lady but still knows how to use a shotgun and stows away on a journey up to a zombie-infested gold mine to find her brother. She comports herself about as well as one would expect a civilian to when faced with a horde of the undead—that is, she's scared but ultimately holds her own.
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events: Violet Baudelaire is a beautiful girl and her hobby is to invent and fix things and only wears a ribbon to tie her hair back and help her think. She's also the responsible Team Mom to her younger siblings and rescues them from time to time. She also can play the damsel in distress role occasionally, has romantic feelings for a boy, and her default attire is a purple dress. While she can forget her manners sometimes she is very polite on the whole and would occasionally disguise herself in an outfit where she would wear pants instead of a dress.
  • In A Room with a View, Lucy Honeychurch is a naive but somewhat adventurous young woman who has fewer inhibitions than her cousin Charlotte and enjoys the way in which George Emerson and his father both flout convention. Although she is living in an era (the Edwardian times) in which women could have slightly more freedom and independence than previously, she is still chafing at the carryover from the Victorian times manifesting in some of those around her - particularly her stuffy fiance Cecil.
  • Miss Barbora Terebová from Saturnin is an attractive, modern, and sportive young woman, the narrator's Love Interest and a Spirited Young Lady. The book is set in a time when young ladies had more freedom already (Genteel Interbellum Setting in Czechoslovakia, though one small detail hints it could be during World War II), but the narrator does take note of her not-quite-ladylike comments on his ability to play tennis.
  • The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, published in 1880—81: Isabel Archer (the lady from the title) is a young American woman who is beautiful and intelligent, and very well aware of that. She leaves America for Britain in company of her estranged aunt. She enjoys travelling, and her ambition is to see the world and find her own purpose in life. Isabel values her independence and at times she seems to act independent just to prove that she can. After the death of her uncle Mr. Touchett, Isabel inherits a large sum of money. She feels that wealth has both given her more freedom, but also taken away the specific kind of independence she had when she was just a rather poor girl from a good family. She is a very charming young lady, and almost every male character is enchanted with her or falls in love with her.
  • Airborn: Kate de Vries is a heroine from an alternate history period that is close to our Edwardian era, in the steam-punk style. She's a young woman from a wealthy family, so she's expected to behave like a lady, but she has an adventurous streak. Lampshaded after she petitions the Zoological Society to investigate the existence of the creatures her grandfather saw, she's told to return to "young lady's pursuits", much to her disgust. She becomes Lady of Adventure with her numerous expeditions to the upper sky and to space in search of unknown forms of life.
  • The Essex Serpent:
    • Cora Seaborne is called a "spirited widow" in one review. She's in her early thirties and she's an independent lady from the upper-class English society, rich and attractive. Her husband dies at the beginning of the novel and she realizes she's never been happier. She thoroughly enjoys her independence and freedom. She doesn't much care about her appearance (though if she combs her hair and dresses with care, she passes as good-looking and lady-like) and she's very open-minded. She loves science, especially biology and paleontology, and hopes to discover the Essex Serpent, a living proof of evolution and scientific explanation for the monster that has been tormenting the village of Aldwinter.
    • Thirteen-year-old Joanna Ransome, a daughter of the village reverend from a prominent family, suddenly feels she has outgrown her childhood games and spells. She has always read a lot and many different books, even if they're not appropriate for her age. Cora's and Martha's examples inspire her to pursue science and knowledge even more and she aspires to be an educated lady. She hopes she might become a doctor or an engineer and string of other prestigious professions mostly reserved for gentlemen. She studies diligently and works on her dreams, but she's aware of unfair inequalities as she won't be allowed to study at university. When she resides in London, the narrator notes she gets interested in things like curling her hair, too.
  • In The Lady Grace Mysteries, Lady Grace Cavendish. She's a bit younger than most examples, having turned thirteen at the start of the series. She's a noble lady in Elizabethan England who is rather forward-thinking for her time, regarded as "hoydenish" (old-fashioned term for a tomboy), and does things like investigating murders and robberies at court, though she usually does so in a discreet and socially-acceptable manner. She has done more 'out-there' things like dress up as a boy to stow away on a ship or infiltrate a prison, though she is very secretive about this so as not to cause a scandal. She has also been known to play up the 'delicate and overly-emotional lady' stereotype for her own advantage; she herself is quite resilient and sensible.
  • A Memoir By Lady Trent: Isabella Hendemore is the only daughter of a Scirling nobleman, and is expected to focus on ladylike pursuits rather than her true passion, dragon biology. When forbidden from studying natural history (including dragons) as a teenager, she turns to horses since they're an acceptable pastime for young ladies. She eventually satisfies both her parents and herself when she marries Jacob Camherst, who is fully supportive of his wife's scientific career, and interested in dragons himself.
  • In the Aubrey-Maturin novels, Sophia "Sophie" Williams seems at first like a properly demure young lady waiting for a properly rich husband to come along. As Jack and Stephen learn in the novels Post Captain and HMS Surprise, she has much more spirit than they first gave her credit for. First she threatens to smack her cousin, Diana Villiers, over some snide comments about Jack. Then she seeks passage on Jack's ship to get back home from Plymouth, scandalizing her overbearing mother. In perhaps the best example, she sneaks out of an inn in the middle of the night to meet with Jack miles away, knowingly risking her public reputation in a ploy to force her mother to accept Jack's suit for her hand.
  • Bazil Broketail: Lagdalen comes from the noble Tarcho family. She's witty, intelligent, confident, and pretty uninterested in more traditionally feminine activities. Though willing to bend the rules when necessary, she's still good and fights against terrible enemies. Lessis chose her as her precisely for these traits.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Bridgerton: Eloise Bridgerton and Kate Sharma famously share their cynical views toward the patriarchal high society.
    • Despite she's blue-blooded, Eloise tends to dislike societal functions. She's not interested in marrying; she prefers reading books, dreaming of attending university, writing in her diary, and investigating the identity of the mysterious Lady Whistledown as opposed to doing more proper things.
    • Raised at court and the stepdaughter of a noblewoman, Kate is well educated and knows how to be a lady of society. Yet, she has a wild streak and does unladylike activities such as hunting and solo horseback riding. She is competitive, sharp-tongued, fiery, and quickly established as a rule breaker with little regard for propriety — she is first introduced riding astride unchaperoned with her leg exposed. She also doesn't mind being considered a spinster as she is aware of her commoner status and never intended to marry.
    Kate: Oh, you and your rules.
  • Cranford: Erminia Whyte, Mr Buxton's ward and niece (she's an orphaned daughter of his sister). Erminia has lived abroad, has finished an expensive education in Brussels, and has just returned to Cranford in England. She's gorgeous, wears modern clothes, and is admired for her fashion sense. She's musical, active, and full of life. She's also very opinionated and outspoken. Don't you try to dictate to her what to do or who to marry. She also says men expect women to pretend they are weak to make them feel strong.

  • The Doctor Who companion Victoria Waterfield. She's a prim, proper Victorian girl, but soon adjusts to wearing modern clothes and high hemlines (thanks to the Doctor's and Jamie's influence), and has a good understanding of science due to her father being a time travel pioneer and alchemist. Despite being from the 1860s her views are significantly more progressive than the racist and sexist future human civilisation encountered in "Tomb of the Cybermen".

  • Edwardian-era Downton Abbey:
    • Lady Mary, the earl's oldest daughter. She's proud of her beauty and very satisfied with her high position in society, though unsatisfied that she has to marry an appropriate gentleman because their estate is entailed (meaning) it'll pass to a male relative). She's a self-assured and outspoken lady, though occasionally selfish and malicious. She's interested in upper-class pursuits like horse-riding or fox-hunting. By the 1920s, she finds herself as a supremely self-assured businesswoman, running her family's estate as a modern, efficient agricultural and real-estate concern.
    • The youngest daughter, suffragette Lady Sybil: She spends her time attending political rallies, helping housemaids move up in the world, befriending her father's socialist chauffeur and once wearing bloomers instead of dresses. In Season 2 she learns to cook, and even trains as a nurse to find a purpose and use in life (because she chooses to, not because she needs to). In her case "spirit" may reach Rebellious Princess levels.
    • Lady Edith proved her worth during the War years of Series 2, and after Sybil's death in season 3, she supplants her as the Spirited Young Lady of the family by beginning a career in journalism, becoming something of a fashionista (she dresses up especially when visiting London), and charming a dashing (but married) man, Michael Gregson. She also finds her calling in business—specifically publishing, as Gregson ended up leaving her his ladies' magazine in his will, which Lady Edith managed with gusto.
    • Lady Rose MacClare. She's cheeky, spirited, and exuberant, but her rebellious nature is hardly surprising given the tense relationship with her overbearing mother. She's a little kookier and a little less elegant than her cousin Mary. She represents the new breed of "Bright Young Things", who delighted in shocking society with their antics. She's quite the flapper — she often wears a fashionable curly bob, headbands, and knee-length dresses. However, she can also look very lady-like in the proper way, such as when she is formally presented at the Court.
  • House of the Dragon: Fifteen year-old Princess Rhaenyra doesn't fully fit in the mold of a Proper Lady as a young woman since she much prefers being a Dragon Rider, but she's not rebellious against royal court things either. Notably, she defies her father's order and puts herself at risk to fly to Dragonstone and confront Daemon, though it's because she knows she can sway him into returning the dragon egg he stole without bloodshed, and she successfully accomplishes this.
  • In The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, Galadriel has all the refinement expected from an elvish woman, but she is also stubborn and unyielding. She defies Gil-Galad's orders to return to Valinor.
  • 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.
  • In the Regency episode of The Supersizers Eat, Sue plays an upper-class young woman who has no dowry, although her brother is a rich land-owning gentleman. She must rely on her natural charms and accomplishments to secure a husband. She tries all the gorgeous period dresses and natural beauty remedies of the era. Sue's as snarky and charming as ever, but as the episode progresses, she grows more and more desperate and her playful flirting becomes rather too vehement. An unmarried gentlewoman without money had it tough.
  • Elizabeth Thatcher, the heroine from When Calls the Heart (set in 1910) is a young lady from an upper-class Canadian family who travels to Northwest Canada to teach the children of Coal Valley, a small mining town nestled in the mountains. Elizabeth is a very independent, vivacious, determined yet proper young lady. She stubbornly decides to move away on her own to another town to become a teacher and is always quick to speak her mind whenever anyone doubts her intelligence and abilities.

  • Angelica Schuyler Church from Hamilton is definitely a lady, but she's also very intelligent, opinionated, and able to hold her own against Alexander Hamilton. In contrast, her little sister Eliza is more of a Proper Lady.
  • 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. But still, no one would dare suggest that she wasn't anything but an exceptional lady.
  • Oscar Wilde:
    • 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.
    • An Ideal Husband: Mabel Chiltern, Sir Robert Chiltern's sister, is clever, pretty, and lady-like. She rejects countless suitors who she finds boring despite their eligibility in status and wealth. She's outspoken, bold, and highly flirtatious with the man she sets her sights on and matches his considerable wit.
  • The Takarazuka Revue 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).

  • Madame Outlaw: Estelle Dumont, a French-American heiress in 1842 Virginia, is restricted by the machinations of her family and husband and rebels against them without sacrificing her femininity.

    Western Animation 
  • Arcane: Caitlyn as a child. She dresses and behaves with all the refinement a nobleman's daughter should have, but she has a mind of her own and isn't afraid to snark with her friend Jayce. Post Time Skip, she graduates to full-on rebelling against her parents by becoming an Enforcer against their wishes.

    Real Life 
  • In 1908, The Women's Social and Political Union, in its campaign for Women's suffrage in the United Kingdom, encouraged its members to dress a certain way. It was important to the women to be feminine in their appearance and not to appear mannish, as the opposition liked to render them. They would often wear dresses of white delicate fabrics, with purple and green sashes. Still, several of them studied judo and gave policemen a big surprise.
  • Margaret Brent, who in early 17th C. Maryland was—between what her father left her and what she controlled as guardian for her nephew after the death of her sister and brother-in-law—the richest woman in the colony, and the second richest person after Lord Baltimore himself. She practiced law, served as a judge, and when Lord Baltimore had to go back to England on business he made her his deputy, which meant essentially she was Acting Governor of Maryland. None of this was forbidden for an unmarried gentlewoman over 21, but it was unusual enough to raise eyebrows.
  • Theodore Roosevelt's oldest child (and only one by his first wife), Alice, was a headstrong girl raised largely by his equally headstrong sister, Anna. note  Anna instilled her fiery and unconventional for the time period personality onto Alice. She once said of her beloved aunt, "If auntie Bye had been a man, she would have been president." When her dad became president in her teens, her antics made her an instant celebrity. She rode in cars around Washington with strange men, she had a pet boa constrictor, she gambled, she smoked in public, and she cursed. In 1905, she was sent on her father's behalf on a state visit to East Asia and on the boat trip, she jumped into the pool fully dressed. In her eighties, she became friends with Bobby Kennedy and when she told him the story, he chided her for doing such an outrageous thing given the time period. She said that it would have only been outrageous if she'd taken off her clothes. She would also bust into her father's meetings and he once told one of his advisors during such an interjection, "I can either run the country or I can attend to Alice, but I cannot possibly do both." One time after her father left office, she stopped by the White House to say hello to the household staff and got kicked out for making a dirty joke at Woodrow Wilson's expense.