The Girl Prince: Virginia Woolf, Race and the Dreadnought Hoax
A new look at a revolutionary writer, a diverse imperial city, and a controversial trick on the Royal Navy.
In February 1910, the future Virginia Woolf played the most famous practical joke in British military history. Blackening her face and masquerading as an Abyssinian prince, the young writer and her friends conned their way onto HMS Dreadnought, the Empire’s most powerful battleship. The stunt made headlines around the world, embarrassed the Admiralty, and provoked debate in Parliament. But who was the ‘girl prince’ unidentified 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 actual lived experience of Black people in Edwardian Britain, from real princes to Caribbean writers and South African activists. Using letters, diaries, reporting and newly discovered archives, Danell Jones describes an extraordinary chain of events, exploring why a boundary-pushing novelist once pulled a bigoted blackface prank, and 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.
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