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The Girl Prince : Virginia Woolf, Race and the Dreadnought Hoax - Danell Jones

The Girl Prince

Virginia Woolf, Race and the Dreadnought Hoax

By: Danell Jones

Hardcover | 1 February 2024

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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.

Industry Reviews

'An entertaining, inventive dissection of the mores and contradictions of Woolf's life and times.'

-- The Sydney Morning Herald

'[A] kaleidoscopic study ... [Jones's] thorough overview of the hoax and its afterlives presents a unique window onto the early 20th-century British empire.'

-- Publishers Weekly

'Jones introduces many of the extraordinary Black individuals' resident in the U.K. at the time, including in Woolf's Bloomsbury, some of whom would go on to play crucial roles in the dismantling of Empire (arguably still ongoing).'

-- The New York Journal Review of Books

'A fascinating, unnerving, and enlightening perspective on a transformative writer and the society that forged her sensibility, radical creativity, and despair.'

-- Booklist

'The Girl Prince is at its most interesting when Jones draws in the contemporary experiences of black people in Britain.'

-- Literary Review

'A superb book, splendidly written, deeply researched and richly contextualized.'

-- Virginia Woolf Miscellany

'Deeply researched and marvellously written, this is the book about Bloomsbury and the Dreadnought Hoax that we've been waiting for. Jones gives an essential racial and historical context for the event and its aftermath, which continues to this day.'

-- Gretchen Gerzina, author of Black England: A Forgotten Georgian History

'An enlightening and insightful book that keeps you reading.'

-- Remi Adekoya, author of Biracial Britain

'An enthralling book. Danell Jones at last provides the nuanced context and deep historical research so often lacking in commentary on this infamous incident.'

-- Mark Hussey, author of Virginia Woolf A-Z and Clive Bell and the Making of Modernism

'While some may feel they already know all there is to know about the Dreadnought Hoax, until they read The Girl Prince, they really don't.'

-- Virginia Woolf Bulletin

'A captivating exploration of a little-known chapter in the life of Virginia Woolf, blending history, race, and identity into a compelling narrative.'

-- Oxford University Press blog

'Shows how the Dreadnought hoax ignored its implicit but negative impact on Black people in Britain and around the world... . A fine book.'

-- National Maritime Historical Society

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