Is that an instrumental arrangement of a modern pop song I hear? Yep, Bridgerton is back for Season 2. While most eyes and ears may have been on Anthony and Kate’s longing looks, sexy whispers, and that time he saw her bare knee, I found myself more interested in the B-plot surrounding Lady Whistledown herself, Penelope Featherington. She’s already left her mark on screen, but as a fan of Julia Quinn’s eight-novel Bridgerton book series, the show’s spicy source material, I know there’s so much more in store for her.
Each Bridgerton novel follows one of the eight Bridgertons as they meet their match, fall in love, and fade into the background, leaving the next sibling to their own devices for their own story. Everyone comes and goes, except for Penelope Featherington. Throughout the series, she’s always watching, writing, and dreaming, even as she believes she’ll never get her own happily ever after. Her story is an exciting tale of changing friendships, alter egos, escape from a toxic family, and because it’s Bridgerton, quite a bit of sex.
Based on what the show has set up so far, and given Bridgerton’s renewal through at least Season 4, Pen has the potential to have the most satisfying Bridgerton character arc of all. The series has made clever changes from page to screen to establish Penelope as the true main character early on — most notably revealing she’s Lady Whistledown in Season 1, rather than waiting until Book 4, when her love story is front and center. But with the show on the brink of exploring said love story, I’m cautioning the writers to tread carefully in how they deviate from the books, and what they keep the same, lest they break the beating heart of Bridgerton.
Warning: Spoilers for Bridgerton Season 2 and Bridgerton Book 4, Romancing Mister Bridgerton, follow. While Penelope’s story isn’t fully told until Book 4, many Bridgerton fans speculate she and Colin Bridgerton will take the lead in Season 3, giving Book 3 star Benedict a little more time to enjoy art and opium before getting serious about love. Season 2 certainly seemed to tee this up. As in Season 1, Penelope’s mother, sisters, and the majority of society still dismissed her as a wallflower with little hope of finding herself a husband. But fans got to watch her alter ego, Lady Whistledown, rule the social scene, getting more daring with each column.
She also had to make hard (and, TBH, questionable) decisions this season: When the queen accused Eloise of being Whistledown and threatened to ruin her family, Whistledown simply revealed Eloise’s secrets in an effort to clear her name. Eloise then discovered the truth about Pen’s secret double life and felt totally betrayed, leading to a blowout fight that broke up #Peneloise. To make matters worse, Pen also overheard love-of-her-life Colin tell his friends that he would never marry her. So Penelope ended Season 2 alone, heartbroken, and ready to put absolutely all of her energy into the only thing that makes her feel alive: spilling the tea on the ton.
Regardless of whether Penelope takes the spotlight in Season 3 or later, fans already know certain plot points are going to be significantly different than they are in Romancing Mister Bridgerton. The book opens with Colin having just returned from his trip abroad (which he’s already done in Season 2), when he suddenly finds a deeper connection with Penelope. The two grow close until Colin discovers her Whistledown secret. Naturally, it has a massive impact on their relationship, completely changing the way he looks at her and the way he looks at himself. Ultimately, it forces Penelope to reckon with Whistledown in a way she hasn’t had to before (basically, what’s already happened with Eloise on the show).
Given the sped-up and altered timeline, there’s a lot of mystery surrounding how Penelope’s story will play out on screen. It’s exciting and a little nerve-wracking, especially considering how much Kate and Anthony’s romance was changed from Book 2 to Season 2. They were given a lot more obstacles and a lot less sex, but I’m hoping that’s not the case when it comes to Penelope and Colin. In fact, if we’re making more changes from page to screen, I suggest fewer obstacles and more sex for our heroine.
There’s also the question of how the show will handle Penelope’s “transformation,” which is referenced quite a bit on the page. Book 4 makes sure readers know Penelope — who was described as “round” and “plump” in earlier books — has lost weight by the time Colin finally starts paying attention to her. I’m cautiously optimistic the series will nix this character detail altogether. While Portia Featherington did make references to Penelope's weight in Season 1, she didn’t specifically use her size as a reason to repeatedly dismiss her youngest daughter, especially not in Season 2.
It’s possible this deviation from the books can be credited to the actor who plays Penelope, Nicola Coughlan, who has been outspoken about the comments made about her physical appearance. “If you have an opinion about my body please, please don’t share it with me,” she wrote on Instagram in January. Let’s hope this applies to Penelope, too. In fact, the only discussion of Penelope’s body should be when it’s being celebrated by an enamored lover, ideally in a steamy sex scene that lives up to the standards set by Season 1.
Finally, there’s a bit of a question mark around Penelope’s age, since Romancing Mister Bridgerton takes place more than a decade after Daphne met the duke. On screen, Pen is still a teenager. Unless the show has a major surprise time jump (which some fans think it might), Pen will be making some big life decisions without that extra decade of life experience to help shape her. On the other hand, allowing Penelope to fall in love at 18 might be a lot nicer than having everyone refer to her as a spinster when she’s 28, as they do in the book. The rule of thumb here should just be to treat Show Penelope better than Book Penelope at every opportunity.
As an occasionally awkward professional writer and lover of romance and gossip, my affection for Penelope is a given. But her importance to me, and to so many fans of the original Bridgerton books, goes beyond that. She’s the stand-in for the audience, observing, commenting on, and fantasizing about the drama around her. She’s also the show’s best opportunity for a satisfying long-term payoff. The Duke of Hastings can come in and seduce us all for a few episodes before leaving us in the dust, but Penelope is getting multiple seasons to grow and evolve before getting her due. Hopefully, when it finally comes, it will be everything Pen deserves — and sexy as hell to boot.