Lady Constance Malleson

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Lady Constance Malleson
Portrait of Lady Constance Malleson
Lady Constance Malleson in 1922
Constance Mary Annesley

(1895-10-24)24 October 1895
Died5 October 1975(1975-10-05) (aged 79)
Other namesColette O'Niel
Occupationwriter and actress

Lady Constance Malleson (24 October 1895 – 5 October 1975) was a British writer and actress (appearing as Colette O'Niel). The daughter of Hugh Annesley, 5th Earl Annesley, Malleson studied at the Royal Academy of Drama Art and was a popular theater performer.

During her twenty-year acting career she appeared in numerous productions across the United Kingdom including several productions at prominent theaters in London's West End and in Maurice Elvey's 1918 silent film Hindle Wakes. Before retiring from acting Malleson wrote and produced The Way a three act starring Una O'Connor, Charles Carson, and Moyna Macgill.

Active in pacifist and social reform efforts, Malleson spent the remainder of her career traveling and writing. She released several novels and autobiographical accounts, including In the north : autobiographical fragments in Norway, Sweden, Finland, 1936-1946 about her experiences in Scandinavia administering relief efforts in response to the Russo-Finnish War. Among her most notable releases is the 1933 novel The Coming Back. Though she denied the suggestion, it is understood as a roman à clef regarding Malleson's relationship with philosopher and political activist Bertrand Russell, with whom she shared an interest in pacifism. Friends until Russell's death, the pair were romantically involved from 1916 to 1920, during Malleson's mutually open marriage to actor Miles Malleson.


Early life[edit]

Castlewellan Castle (2009)

Malleson was born Constance Mary Annesley on 24 October 1895 at Castlewellan Castle in Castlewellan, Northern Ireland. She was the youngest child of Hugh Annesley, 5th Earl Annesley, and his second wife Priscilla Cecilia Armytage-Moore. Annesley's sister, Lady Clare Annesley, was a feminist and pacifist who stood as a Labour Party parliamentary candidate in the 1920s and 1930s. She also had two half siblings, Lady Mabel Annesley and Francis Annesley, 6th Earl Annesley, from her father's first marriage to Mabel Wilhelmina Frances Markham.[1] Malleson was home schooled by tutors until her father's death in 1908, at which time she was sent to Down House in Kent. Unimpressed with the school, she referred to it in her 1931 autobiography, After Ten, as "Damned Hell", demonstrating an early contempt for aristocratic decorum.[1]:4


Annesley enrolled at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 1913 after attending finishing school in Dresden and studying French in Paris.[1][2] While there she met Miles Malleson, whom she married on 12 April 1915 at the age of 19. The couple divorced in December 1922 after Miles failed to comply with a decree for restitution of conjugal rights obtained by Constance on 15 May the same year.[3][4] After graduating she and spent the 1922 season with the Plymouth Repertory Theatre as lead actress.[4][5][6] Malleson took up acting because she believed "that every woman ought to be able to earn a living."[7] She was concerned with fair wages for all actors going on to speak publicly about the importance of securing the minimum wage of 3 pounds a week and payment for rehearsal for everyone, not just lead actors.[8]

Malleson appeared in many West End productions, including The Orphans at the Lyceum Theatre,[9] and at least one film, Hindle Wakes. She joined the Hull Repertory Theatre Company for the 1925 season appearing in several productions including Peter and Paul and Advertising April, alongside actor Colin Clive, and a C. K. Munro production of At Mrs. Beam's.[5][10][11] Malleson believed that the short run plays that define repertory theatre were important for the development of young dramatists because they provided an opportunity to see how an audience reacts to one's work.[8] In March 1928, Malleson produced a stage version of her three-act play The Way at the Arts Theatre Club in London. The cast, which included Una O'Connor and Charles Carson, was headed by Moyna Macgill in the role of Rosaleen Moore, a part written for her by Malleson. The play, which debuted on 25 March, was performed twice and was reviewed by The Times as a "pretentious sham!"[12][13]

During the First World War, her pacifist opinions brought her into contact with Bertrand Russell. The pair met in 1916 at a trial for Clifford Allen, then, chairman of the No-Conscription Fellowship.[14][15]:248 Having mutually agreed to an open marriage with her husband, Malleson and Russell carried on a relationship until 1920.[16] During that time Russell struggled with how seriously Malleson took her career and her continued involvement with other men.[1] Their affair eventually ended because she did not want children.[17][18]:7 The pair remained friends and corresponded until Russell's death in 1970. He didn't feel that acting made sufficient use of her talents and encouraged a writing career after she rejected his suggestion to become more politically active. It was Russell who submitted Malleson's first published short story, "The End", which was released in the September 1919 edition of the English Review under the pseudonym Christine Harte.[19] Malleson eventually sold her letters from Russell and other mementos to McMaster University for inclusion in the Bertrand Russell Archives.[1]

Writing and travel[edit]

Map of Nordic countries

After retiring from acting Malleson moved to the country, traveled and authored several books. Her autobiography was published in 1931 followed by her first novel, The Coming Back in 1933. Despite claiming it as fiction the work is considered a roman à clef regarding her relationship with Russell. Described by John G. Slater as a "thinly disguised account", the novel features Russell as an astronomer from Cambridge, named Don Gregorio del Orellano, with other characters acting as stand ins for prominent people in Malleson's relationship with Russell, including Dora Russell, Clifford Allen, T.S. Eliot and Maurice Elvey. Malleson would later disown the work claiming it to be a "feeble first effort."[1]

Malleson traveled extensively throughout her life including visits to the Middle East and Africa, in addition to frequent trips to the Nordic countries. She carried out lecture tours in the Nordic countries during the 1930s and 1940s, speaking on social reform topics including mental health and blood supply.[20] In 1941, while working in Finland assist with relief efforts in response to the Russo-Finnish War, Malleson found herself stranded in a remote area of the country when the Germans took control of the country to fight Russian forces. She escaped by rowing 25 miles to Helsinki in a boat, where she was held for several days, before securing passage to Stockholm aboard a Swedish warship.[21] Her time in the Nordic countries resulted in the publication of In the North: Autobiographical Fragments in Norway, Sweden, Finland in 1946.[1]


Malleson died in a nursing home near Bury St Edmunds on 5 October 1975.[1]

Stage roles[edit]

Title Year(s) Role Theatre Notes Ref(s)
The World of Boredom 1915 Suzanne Queen's Theatre July [22]
L'Enfant Prodique 1916 Phrynette [23]
Fishpingle 1916 Lady Margaret Maltravers Haymarket Theatre May [22]
Phyl 1918 Maybel Ponsonby Gaiety Theatre May [22]
The King and Queen 1919 Ila The Comedy Theatre February [22]
The Trojan Women 1919 Helen Royal Victoria Hall October [4][24][25]
Sakuntala 1919 Anasuya Winter Garden November [22]
Abraham Lincoln 1921 Mrs. Otherley Lyceum Theatre July [4][22]
Deburau 1921 Mme. Rébard Ambassadors Theatre 3–26 November 1921 [26]
The Rise of Silas Lapham 1922 Nan Corey Lyric Theatre 20–24 February 1922 [26]
The Orphans 1923 Henriette Lyceum Theatre 28 February – 7 April [26]
The Country Wife 1924 Squeamish Regent Theatre 17–18 February [26]
John Gabriel Borkman 1925 Mrs. Wilton Hull Repertory Theatre Company September [27]
Peter and Paul 1925 Eva Hull Repertory Theatre Company September [28]
Young Heaven 1925 [Lead actress] Hull Repertory Theatre Company October [29]
Advertising April 1925 Rachel Shaw Hull Repertory Theatre Company November [30][31]
At Mrs. Beam's 1925 Miss Cheezle [5]
From Morn to Midnight 1926 Lady Regent Theatre 9–20 March [5][32]
The Cradle Song 1927 The Vicaress Hull Repertory Theatre Company October [5][33]
Belinda Unknown Unknown Unknown [34]



  • After ten. London: Cape. 1931. OCLC 847145287.
  • The coming back. A novel. London, Toronto: Cape. 1933. OCLC 7061516.
  • Fear in the Heart. A novel. London: Collins. 1936. OCLC 561597819.
  • In the north : autobiographical fragments in Norway, Sweden, Finland, 1936-1946. London. 1946. OCLC 614608702.
  • As the Sight is Bent (1964) (edited by Constance Malleson, an unfinished autobiography of her half-sister Mabel Marguerite Annesley with 35 of her wood engravings)

Stage plays[edit]

Short stories and articles[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Slater, John G. (31 December 1975). "Lady Constance Malleson, "Colette O'Niel"". Russell: The Journal of Bertrand Russell Studies (20). doi:10.15173/russell.v0i4.1435. ISSN 1913-8032. Retrieved 12 August 2016.
  2. ^ Clark, Ronald (2011). "Colette". The Life of Bertrand Russell. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 9781448202157. Retrieved 18 December 2016.
  3. ^ "Decree Against and Actor - Malleson vs Malleson". The Times (43206). London, England. 5 December 1922. p. 5. Mrs. Mary Constance Malleson, whose maiden name was Annesley, was granted a decree nisi dissolving her marriage with William Miles Malleson, an actor, because he failed to comply with a decree of restitution of conjugal rights and because of his adultery.
  4. ^ a b c d "Obituary - Miss Colette O'Niel: Actress and writer". The Times (59521). London, England. 8 October 1975. p. 16.
  5. ^ a b c d e Gardiner, Bennitt (1976). "Colette O'Niel: a Season in Repertory". Russell: The Journal of Bertrand Russell Studies: 26–36. Retrieved 2 November 2015.
  6. ^ C.E.B. (19 August 1925). "Bid for Popularity". Daily Mail (12441). Hull, England. p. 4. The leading lady, Miss Colette O'Niel, who is the daughter of Countess Annesley, has had considerable stage experience. After graduating at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art she studied in Paris and Dresden. She has played with Miss Sybil Thorndyke and was leading lady of the Plymouth Repertory Theatre for a season.
  7. ^ "ITEATABLETALK - Barry Dock News". South Wales Advertising, Printing, and Publishing Company. 29 August 1919. hdl:10107/4618173. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  8. ^ a b Portia (30 October 1925). "Miss Colette O'Niel - Address to Hull Women - The Real Actor's Intense Love of His Work". Daily Mail (12503). Hull, England. p. 3.
  9. ^ "Melville Collection". University of Kent Information Services - Special Collections. Retrieved 2 November 2015.
  10. ^ C.E.B. (8 September 1925). "Packed Out! Hull Little Theatre's Splendid Send Off". Daily Mail (12458). Hull, England. p. 3. The women were uniformly good. Miss Colette O'Niel played the part of an old maid with quiet distinction, while Miss Margaret F. Ross..
  11. ^ Rowell, George; Jackson, Anthony; Jackson, Tony (1984). The Repertory Movement: A History of Regional Theatre in Britain. Cambridge University Press. p. 71. ISBN 9780521319195.
  12. ^ "Arts Theatre Club - "The Way." by Constance Malleson (Colette O'Niel)". The Times (44851). London, England. 26 March 1928. p. 10.
  13. ^ a b C.E.B. (24 February 1928). "Musical and Dramatic". Daily Mail (13224). Hull, England. p. 8. A forthcoming production at the Arts Theatre Club, London, will be of more than passing interest to Hull Little Theatre supporters. "The Way" a three-act play by Constance Malleson (Colette O'Niel), is to be given on Sunday evening, March 25th, and the following Monday afternoon by a company headed by Moyna McGill, for whom the leading part was written. Miss O'Niel will produce.
  14. ^ Bell, Robert H. (Summer 1983). "Bertrand Russell and the Eliots". The American Scholar. 52 (3): 309–325. JSTOR 41210949.
  15. ^ Russell, Bertrand (23 April 2014). The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell. Routledge. ISBN 9781317835035. Retrieved 18 December 2016.
  16. ^ Wallace, Irving; Wallace, Amy; Wallechinsky, David; Wallace, Sylvia (2008). The Intimate Sex Lives of Famous People. Feral House. pp. 492–493. ISBN 9781932595291.
  17. ^ Burn, Michael (18 May 1972). "Bertrand Russell: St. George and the Dogma". The Times (58481). London, England. p. 18.
  18. ^ Tait, Katharine (31 December 1978). "Russell and Feminism". Russell: The Journal of Bertrand Russell Studies (29–32). doi:10.15173/russell.v0i1.1485. ISSN 1913-8032. Retrieved 18 December 2016.
  19. ^ Turcon, Sheila (1 December 2012). "A Bibliography of Constance Malleson". Russell: The Journal of Bertrand Russell Studies. 32 (2). doi:10.15173/russell.v32i2.2233. ISSN 1913-8032. Retrieved 18 December 2016.
  20. ^ Foster, John Wilson (May 2008). "Postscript. 'The Ladies' Road': Women Novelists 1922–1940". Postscript. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199232833.001.0001. ISBN 9780199232833. Retrieved 18 December 2016.
  21. ^ "Titled Lady Rows Amid Minefield". The Daily News (Paywall subscription) |format= requires |url= (help). Perth, WA. 11 November 1941. p. 11.
  22. ^ a b c d e f Who's who in the theatre. London: Pitman. 1922. pp. 626–627.
  23. ^ "Queen Alexandra and "L'Enfant Prodique"". The Times (41094). London, England. 19 February 1916. p. 10. It was played by the original cast, except that Colette O'Niel (Lady Constance Malleson) took the part of Phrynette, Mlle. Andrée Mielly being Pierrot and M. Gilbert Dalleu Pierrot père.
  24. ^ Turcon, Sheila (2010). "What did Colette know and when did she know it?". Russell: The Journal of Bertrand Russell Studies. 30 (Winter 2010–2011): 149–154. Retrieved 2 November 2015.
  25. ^ "Euripides at The Old Vic". The Times (42231). London, England. 15 October 1919. p. 10.
  26. ^ a b c d e Wearing, J.P. (2014). The London stage, 1920-1929 : a calendar of productions, performers, and personnel (Second ed.). Rowman & Littlefield. p. 1034. ISBN 9780810893023. Retrieved 2 November 2015.
  27. ^ "Drama at the Little Theatre - Clever Performance of Ibsen's "John Gabriel Borkman"". Daily Mail (12476). Hull, England. 29 September 1925. p. 7. ...while Colette O'Niel, as the divorced Mrs. Wilton, made the most of the typical vamp character
  28. ^ "Hull Little Theatre - Performers Who Will Be Seen in Next Week's Play". Daily Mail (12462). Hull, England. 12 September 1925. p. 2.
  29. ^ "Mixed Fair at Little Theatre - Fine Dramatic Acting and Excellent Comic Relief". Daily Mail (12482). Hull, England. 6 October 1925. p. 5.
  30. ^ "Little Theatre Anti-Climax - Unworthy Finish to Highly Successful Season". Daily Mail (12512). Hull, England. 10 November 1925. p. 8.
  31. ^ C.E.B. "Musical and Dramatic". Daily Mail (12509). Hull, England. p. 6.
  32. ^ Skal, David J.; Rains, Jessica (2009). Claude Rains: An Actor's Voice. University Press of Kentucky. p. 304. ISBN 9780813138855. Retrieved 2 November 2015.
  33. ^ C.E.B. (28 October 1927). "Musical and Dramatic". Daily Mail (13123). Hull, England. p. 8. The Hull Repertory Theatre have a splendid play to offer on Monday next, that exquisite comedy, “The Cradle Song.” of Martinez Sierra. Practically an all-woman cast is necessary, and patrons of the Little Theatre will welcome back the popular actress Colette O'Niel, which in addition to the clever performers Mr Whatmore is fortunate to have in this company will be Rita Trekelle in an important part.
  34. ^ Gardiner, Bennitt (1980). "The Wisdom of Colette". Russell: The Journal of Bertrand Russell Studies: 31–39. Retrieved 2 November 2015.

External links[edit]