The Girl Prince

Virginia Woolf, Race and the Dreadnought Hoax

October 2023 9781805260066 376 pp, 12 pp b&w illus
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Available as an eBook
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In February 1910, the young woman who would become Virginia Woolf played the most famous practical joke in British military history. Blackening her face and masquerading as an African prince, with friends she conned her way onto the Dreadnought, the Empire’s best battleship. The stunt made headlines around the world for weeks, embarrassed the Royal Navy, and provoked heated discussions in parliament. But who was the ‘girl prince’ unidentified in public debate at the time, and what was she doing there?

The Girl Prince intertwines three fascinating stories: a scandalous prank and its afterlife; Woolf’s ideas about race and empire; and the true Black experience in Britain, from real princes to Caribbean writers and South African activists. Woolf’s social circle was almost exclusively white, but Black lives edged and echoed hers within the rich fabric of national culture, including in response to the hoax. Using letters, diaries, reporting and newly discovered archives, Danell Jones describes an extraordinary chain of events, exploring how and why this future revolutionary novelist joined in a bigoted blackface prank, and probing what it tells us—about Woolf’s Britain and Woolf’s work.

This is a tantalisingly fresh take on an iconic writer and her deeply problematic stunt.


Danell Jones is a writer and scholar with a PhD in literature from Columbia University. She is the author of The Virginia Woolf Writers Workshop; the poetry collection Desert Elegy; and An African in Imperial London (also available from Hurst Publishers), which won the High Plains Book Award for Nonfiction.

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