Warning: This piece contains spoilers for Netflix’s Bridgerton: Season 1. Be sure to read IGN’s Bridgerton review as well.
Though it took Quinn four novels to reveal the gossip writer’s identity, Bridgerton revealed Lady Whistledown’s identity in its Season 1 finale: Eloise Bridgerton’s wallflower best friend, Penelope Featherington.
In Bridgerton, the mystery of Whistledown is a key subplot in a way that it isn’t in the books. In Quinn’s novels, Whistledown serves as a side-narrator of sorts, with her columns adding spice to the beginning of each chapter. In the series, Lady Whistledown’s regular newsletter, read far and wide across the city, spills the beans on the most eye-opening details of society, including rumors of affairs, out-of-wedlock children, financial ruin, and what may or may not be going on behind closed doors. For Daphne, the poisonous pen of Lady Whistledown is particularly harmful, as it puts her own marriage prospects at risk, forcing her into a fake romance with the highly eligible but stoic Duke of Hastings. Of course, that development only fuels Lady Whistledown’s words even more.
The “Lady Whistledown” subplot gets brought to the forefront early in Season 1 when the second oldest Bridgerton daughter, Eloise, takes it upon herself to uncover the truth of the writer’s identity. She is even encouraged in her detective work by Queen Charlotte herself. By the end of the season, however, she is left none the wiser about the writer’s identity, but viewers get the big answer Eloise was seeking in the final minutes of the finale.
Netflix’s Bridgerton: Season 1 Official Photos
What makes the reveal of her identity all the more fun is that Eloise, more or less, is on the right path for most of the season. Eloise quickly surmises that Lady Whistledown would require access to the prestigious homes and locations of London in order to get her information. Initially, she believes the culprit to be one of her own family’s maids. Later, she discusses with Penelope the possibility that Whistledown could be a widow of prominent means, and so the main culprit of this new focus is Lady Danbury. Eloise’s final suspicion is that Lady Whistledown would be a tradesperson, someone with independent financial means and an occupation that would allow them to interact regularly with sources. This leads her to deduce that the culprit is Genevieve Delacroix, the local dressmaker. By the finale, she’s realized she’s been wrong about all her leads, and is left as in the dark about Lady Featherington’s identity as she was in the premiere.
Penelope isn’t for one moment considered a possible candidate — both by Eloise and, Bridgerton seems to presume, by the viewer — which makes her the perfect person to be Lady Whistledown. Nobody ever pays attention to her at major events, not even her own mother, and no one would ever suspect that a young unmarried woman on the marriage market would risk it all in such a flagrant manner.
Though viewers know the real identity of Lady Whistledown by the end of Season 1, Bridgerton likely will follow the roadmap of Quinn’s novels and delay the in-series reveal of Penelope’s alter ego for several seasons, causing even more dramatic tension between her and her best friend Eloise. Future seasons of Bridgerton will likely continue to lean heavily Lady Whistledown’s writing (and the framing device of her narration) to weave through the love stories of the next Bridgerton siblings, so the fact people watching will know it’s Penelope wreaking havoc on the ton in each future Season will make the drama that much more delicious.
It also will add much more complexity to the relationship between Eloise and Penelope. While neither character is featured heavily in Quinn’s first novel, The Duke and I (the basis of Bridgerton: Season 1), both women become the focuses of future novels in the series. Establishing early on that Eloise has great respect for Lady Whistledown, both because of her candid power through her writing but also because she imagines the writer to be a woman of freedom, allows Lady Whistledown becomes a symbol for her of the independence she could have, a life of financial strength and public awe that never taints her reputation. It makes it all the more exciting to imagine Eloise’s reaction to eventually discovering that Penelope is indeed Lady Whistledown.
As for what’s to come in Season 2, Penelope is in a worse situation than Eloise — who has much disdain for the society season and no desire to be pawned off for marriage — because Lord Featherington is dead, the family’s finances are in a questionable position, and the Featherington estate is to be inherited by a mysterious distant male relative. Penelope may have power and, presumably, some money in the bank from her Whistledown exploits, but she remains in a deeply precarious position. She exposed her own family’s secrets to prevent Marina from marrying Colin Bridgerton, a man Penelope has loved all her life. She and her family will surely face further ruin if her identity is revealed, and the Queen is more determined than ever to unmask her.
If Bridgerton is renewed for a second season, it is likely that the show will further deviate from the books as it expands the story and ensemble. If that’s the case, then we may see more of Penelope’s adventures as Lady Whistledown and the peril she puts herself in to expose the truth of London society.