Born in London to an Italian expatriate father, Gabriele Rossetti, and Frances Mary Lavinia Polidori, a devout Anglican of Italian ancestry, Christina Rossetti is one of the great Victorian poets. She came from a literary family: her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti was a famous painter and poet; her other brother William was a respected critic; her sister Maria, an Anglican nun, wrote a highly regarded essay on Dante; her father and maternal grandfather were both translators and scholars; and her uncle, Dr. John Polidori, was Lord Byron’s physician and the author of The Vampyre. She was especially close to her mother and wrote her first poem in 1842, when she was eleven, for her mother’s birthday. Rossetti’s maternal grandfather, Gaetano Polidori, encouraged her poetry writing from the time she was a child and privately printed her first small volume of poems, Verses: Dedicated to Her Mother (1847).
As a child, Rossetti was exuberant and outgoing, and she had a bad temper. During her teen years she transformed herself into a reserved and self-effacing adult. At twelve years old, she became a member of the Tractarian parish of Christ Church, Albany Street, and was strongly influenced by Tractarian teachings. Tractarians were adherents to the principles of the Oxford Movement, which began in the 1830s. A reaction against secular encroachments on the authority and power of the Anglican Church, the Oxford Movement called for a return to the faith of the early Christians, emphasized the sacredness of the apostolic succession, and sought to reform Anglican worship along more Catholic lines. In 1845, one of the most respected leaders of the Oxford Movement, John Henry Newman, converted to Roman Catholicism, inspiring many High Church members to follow him. These events resulted in a huge national scandal, and throughout the 1840s, the danger of conversion to Catholicism was a topic that was debated with increasing antagonism.
These events affected the life of the young Christina Rossetti in a number of ways. In 1848 she became engaged to James Collinson, but she broke off the