In 1905 modernism and fantasy met in the jungles of colonial Ceylon


We know a lot about Woolf. He couldn’t have realized it then (though he probably had his suspicions), but his destiny lay with the inner circle of the ruling literary caste of the twentieth century. He was a harbinger of modernism, the school of Virginia Woolf and Joyce and Faulkner and Hemingway. But who was B. J. Dutton? There was no word for him in 1905, but we have one now: he was a nerd avant la lettre. And he was a harbinger, too, in his tiny, ineffectual way, of another of the twentieth century’s dominant literary traditions: fantasy. So far as I can tell, Woolf scholarship, at least of the Leonard variety, has until now remained innocent of Dutton’s full name, probably because nobody ever bothered to look him up. But he is eminently findable, even by an amateur literary sleuth. Woolf remarks in Growing that Dutton was four years older than he was. Woolf was born in 1880. Public records show many Duttons born in England in the 1870s, but only a handful of male Duttons, first initial B. And there is only one B. J.: Bernard Joseph Dutton, born 1876, bang on time, in Stoke on Trent. He is beyond a doubt, for reasons that will become clear, our B. J.

more from Lev Grossman at The Believer here.