Every Spring Christ Church hosts our Special Interest Event, where a group of specialists discuss the chosen topic in a series of lectures during the four-day event.

21–24 March 2024

'Bloomsbury and the Art of Being Modern’


Contact specialinterest@chch.ox.ac.uk for more details.

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

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 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.

Duncan Grant, View to the barns, Charleston, 1930s
2025 Event

The Late Great Thomas Hardy

Almost a century after his death on the 11th Jan 1928, Thomas Hardy’s life and work continues to attract admiration and controversy. Paula Byrne’s recently published biographical study Hardy Women: Mother, Sisters, Wives, Muses has renewed interest in the author’s innovative depiction of female agency and female desire and his profound sympathy with women inspired, in part, by the strong female role models in his own life and those whom he observed in the rural and urban environment. Ironically, many of his biographers have found this sympathy lacking in his personal dealings with some of the women closest to him.  

The publication of Hardy’s last great tragic, and most controversial, novel Jude the Obscure in 1895 (much of which is set in an imagined Oxford or ‘Christminster), featuring his most psychologically complex female character Sue Bridehead, aroused such hostility that Hardy abandoned novel-writing altogether to concentrate on publishing shorter fiction and establishing himself as a poet, which he always declared to have been his primary ambition.

Thomas Hardy is one of the few great writers to enjoy an equally illustrious career as a novelist, a short story writer and a poet. Our next Special Interest Event will concentrate on Hardy’s life and literary career from the publication of The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886) onward, and focus on his last great tragic novels, his shorter fiction, his poetry and some of the women who inspired his work.

Book tickets for the 2025 Special Interest Event here
Portrait of Thomas Hardy