Though they literally grew up across the street from one another, the two girls come from very different families. The Bridgerton parents married for love and, as a result, their family is warm and open with their affections, even when poking fun or squabbling with one another. The Featheringtons are colder and more distant, and, thanks to their apparently frequent financial struggles, Lady Featherington often seems to see her daughters as little more than commodities to be bartered on the marriage market. No wonder none of her girls have much in the way of self-esteem.
Despite their differences, Eloise and Penelope’s friendship is firmly grounded in the fact that they accept one another for who they are, oddities and all. Eloise loathes the society trappings that will necessarily accompany her coming out and isn’t particularly interested in marrying well or having children. She covets the opportunities her older brothers enjoy and longs to travel and tell everyone exactly what she thinks of them. Penelope, by contrast, very much wants the exact things her friend disparages but despairs of ever achieving them as a youngest daughter who is often overlooked. (Not to mention constantly dressed in unflattering colors.) Neither has the agency to truly change their circumstances, so it makes sense that they would find comfort in their respective situations together.
Unlike many similar period stories, which often default to placing women in direct competition with one another, Penelope and Eloise’s complex relationship in Bridgerton isn’t based on a shared desire for the same man. Instead, their innate bond stems from the fact that both are girls who fit poorly in the world they currently live in. They each long for a different sort of society, one that allows smart girls like Eloise access to a future that doesn’t involve marriage and motherhood and quiet girls like Penelope a shot at the spotlight on their own terms.
Rather than mooning over boys, the pair spend most of the first season mocking the fripperies of life during the London season, trading stories about their latest familial dramas, and attempting to uncover the secret identity of popular scandal sheet author Lady Whistledown. (Which is a whole other thing we’ll get to in a minute.) At one point the two even put their heads together to try and suss out how babies are made – important information for young women of any era to know, but perhaps a more pertinent question than ever in Regency England, when a whisper of such scandal can ruin a girl forever. See also: Poor Marina.
Importantly, however, their friendship is not presented as perfect or without its trials. Bridgerton smartly gives Eloise and Penelope’s relationship natural flaws, all of which are grounded in their individual life experiences.