Special Interest Event: Bloomsbury and the Art of Being Modern

21–24 March
Christ Church

Bloomsbury and the Art of Being Modern

Vanessa Bell, Charleston, 1938
Vanessa Bell, Charleston, c.1938
Artwork: © Estate of Vanessa Bell. 
All rights reserved, DACS 2023. 
Photo: © The Bloomsbury Workshop, London / Bridgeman Images

Was Virginia Woolf right when she proclaimed that ‘on or about December 1910, human character changed’? She and her fellow members of the Bloomsbury Group certainly did not lack ambition and a high sense of purpose. She made this claim in 1924, thinking about the exhibition of post-impressionist art organised by her brother in-law, Clive Bell, and her friend Roger Fry. For the first time, Londoners had seen paintings by Cézanne, Van Gogh and Gaughin, and many reeled in horror from these dazzling attempts to capture the sensual world in paint. 

For Woolf, this wasn’t just a revolution in fine art. It was a new way of thinking about the world where the individual consciousness mattered above all and old ways of seeing were overturned. Her husband, Leonard Woolf, later wrote that ‘what was so exciting was our feeling that we were part of the revolution, that victory or defeat depended, to some extent, on what we said or wrote.’

This year’s conference will take Woolf and the cohort loosely grouped around her in Bloomsbury and beyond to explore the modernist creative explosion of the early twentieth century.  

The Woolfs were at the centre of a group of writers, artists and thinkers who between them in the decades after 1910 did indeed transform the cultural landscape. Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, E.M. Forster, D.H. Lawrence, Rupert Brook; Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Clive Bell, Roger Fry; Maynard Keynes, Bertrand Russell, G.E. Moore. Between them they translated and published Freud in Britain; they forged new ways of living against a background of war; they risked imprisonment by living openly as homosexuals; they fought for ideals of internationalism that resulted in the League of Nations.

Duncan Grant, View to the barns, Charleston, 1930s
Duncan Grant, View to the Barns, Charleston, 1930s 
© Estate of Vanessa Bell. All rights reserved, DACS 2023

Looking across literature, fine art, music and philosophy, speakers will explore what was so radical about this moment of modernism. Was it irresponsible during the First World War to care so much about the rhythm of a sentence, the line of a paintbrush, or the curve of a chair, while young men’s bodies were smashed to pieces day after day in the trenches? 

This was a moment when the stakes of art felt high enough that it really did feel possible that the right poem, or painting, or essay, had the power to change how people thought and thus to end the war. We’ll use this weekend to revisit that moment during another era when the end of the world as we know it can feel frighteningly close.


Download the digital brochure here

14.00 – 15.30 Registration and Afternoon Tea
16.00 Programme Welcome
16.15 Introduction to Bloomsbury - Professor Lara Feigel
18.30 Welcome Drinks Reception
19.30 Dinner

8.00 – 9.00 Breakfast
10.00 – 10.30 Morning Refreshments
10.30 Forster’s Imperial Ejaculations - Professor Santanu Das
12.45 – 13.30 Lunch
14.00 Bloomsbury and Education - Dr Natasha Periyan
15.30 – 16.00 Afternoon Refreshments
16.00 Truly Many Waters: Ling Shu Hua’s Friendship Scroll - Dr Heidi Stalla
19.30 Dinner

8.00 – 9.00 Breakfast
9.15 Bloomsbury and Literary Modernism - Professor Peter Boxall
10.45 – 11.15 Morning Refreshments
11.15 Purple Triangles and Other Shapes: Virginia Woolf and the Visual Arts - Professor Alexandra Harris
12.45 – 13.30 Lunch
14.00 Afternoon optional activities
15.00 – 16.00 Afternoon Refreshments
16.30 Katherine Mansfield and the Short Story - Tessa Hadley
19.00 Closing Drinks Reception
19.30 Gala Banquet

8.00 – 9.00 Breakfast
9.30 Musical Bloomsbury - Dr Kate Kennedy
10.45 – 11.15 Morning Refreshments
11.15 Virginia Woolf and Laughter - Dame Professor Hermione Lee
12.45 Lunch
14.00 Depart

How to book

The programme fee is £730 per person and the en suite supplement is £100 per room. The fee includes the full lecture programme,
three nights’ accommodation, all meals, dinner wines and refreshments as timetabled. Gratuities are not expected.

Bookings can be made online or by phone. Full payment must be made at the time of booking. Click here for online booking.

A full refund [subject to an administration fee] will be offered in the event of cancellations made up to and including 60
days prior to the start of the event. No refunds will be offered after this time. All monies are held by Christ Church.

Please direct enquiries to:
Special Interest Event, The Steward’s Office
Christ Church, Oxford, OX1 1DP
Tel: +44 (0)1865 276174
Email: specialinterest@chch.ox.ac.uk

The College reserves the right to make alterations and substitutions to the programme. It will not be liable for any non-performance under this contract arising out of circumstances beyond its control.

View across Tom Quad. Photograph: Edmond Blok