Despite having published Jane Eyre, Shirley and Villette pseudonymously, Charlotte had, by that time, become a - somewhat reluctant - literary celebrity. Gaskell noted the portrait of her over the fireplace, commissioned by her publisher from the fashionable artist George Richmond. The experience of sitting for it had been a trial for the self-conscious Charlotte, who had collapsed into mortified tears when asked by the artist to remove something odd from the top of her head (he thought it was possibly a bit off the inside of her hat, but it may have been, even more embarrassingly, an unsuccessful hairpiece). Richmond nevertheless captured the fire in Charlotte's eyes, even if he flattered and conventionalised the rest of her face, which Gaskell found plain, with missing teeth and irregular features.
Despite the welcoming warmth of the décor, the parlour retained an aura of melancholy. Charlotte's sisters Emily and Anne had died in 1848 and 1849 - Emily is said to have died on the sofa in this room - and the space seemed to resonate with a sense of loss. After Gaskell had retired for bed in the room directly above, she could hear Charlotte's footsteps in the parlour. The servant told her how the three sisters had been used to walking round the table as they talked late into the night: "Miss Emily walked as long as she could, and when she died Miss Anne and Miss Brontë took it up - and now my heart aches to hear Miss Brontë walking, walking on alone."