Spirited Young Lady

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

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 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 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.

Examples of Spirited Young Lady include:

Anime and Manga

  • Although Vivian in Victorian Romance Emma 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.
  • Turn A 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.
  • Most of the central cast of Princess Principal, as befitting a group of aristocratic teen girls (one of whom is a literal princess) from a quasi-Victorian alternate England who are a team of spies.


  • 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.
  • Jean Paget in A Town Like Alice.
  • 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.


  • 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.
  • 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 heroine's sister Susan Price provides a positive example.
  • 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 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 [1] 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' 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.
    • Rachel Verinder from The Moonstone is another, perhaps better known, example from the same author.
  • 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.
  • 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.)
    • Similarly, the Story Girl in her own 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 must like this trope because it is also used in her most famous work Anne of Green Gables, with Anne being the Spirited Young Lady in contrast to her best friend 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.
  • 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.
  • Gemma Doyle in the Gemma Doyle trilogy.

Live-Action TV

  • In the Edwardian-era Downton Abbey, Lady Mary, the earl's oldest daughter, is in most ways a textbook example of this trope—though her selfishness and occasional malice are subversions. The youngest daughter, suffragist Lady Sybil, qualifies as well, although in her case "spirit" may reach Rebellious Princess levels.


  • 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).

Western Animation

  • Belle of Beauty and the Beast is a middle-class example: humorous, energetic, 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.
  • 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.
  • Asami Sato from The Legend of Korra. Sweet, polite, daughter of the wealthiest man in the city, also an expert driver and martial artist.
  • Merida from Brave combines this with a goodly dose of pure Tomboy.

Web Original

  1. such as being a coquette, stuffing her face at parties, wearing evening (=sexy) dresses during daytime, throwing fierce temper tantrums, defying conventions for fresh widows, knowingly stealing her sister's dear fiancé, indepentently running a business, weaving shrewd plots, shooting a man...