Papers of Madeleine Lucette Ryley

Scope and Content

The playscripts contained in this collection were all written by Madeleine Lucette Ryley in the course of her work as a dramatist. They demonstrate her versatility as a writer as they cover a range of theatrical genres, including translations (for example, The Great Conspiracy), historical drama (for example, Richard Savage), adaptations from novels (for example, The Lady Paramount), farces (for example, The Mysterious Mr Bugle) and comedies (for example, The Sugar Bowl). They represent the most comprehensive surviving record of Ryley's work as a playwright.

Administrative / Biographical History

Madeleine Lucette Ryley (1865-1934) spent her working life in the theatre. She began her career as a performer when she was a teenager on the London stage and later toured with light opera companies across Britain and America before becoming a dramatist. Ryley's trajectory as a professional playwright was relatively short lived but spectacular. It spanned a period that began in 1893 when she turned her hand to writing the musical, The Basoche, which was produced in New York, and ended in 1907 when the comedy The Sugar Bowl had its opening in London. During those fourteen years, Ryley surpassed the commercial success of most men and women dramatists of that era in either Britain or America.

Born to Alfred and Madeleine Bradley in London on 26 December 1865, Madel[e]ine Matilda Bradley, made her stage debut as Miss Lucette at the age of fourteen when she performed the role of the Queen of the Fairies in an annual Christmas pantomime. She subsequently toured extensively in Britain and America playing parts in light opera, including D'Oyly Carte Opera Company's Comedy Opera Company Ltd. By 1881 she was appearing at the Standard Theatre and Bijou Opera House in New York. It is likely that Madeleine Lucette met her future husband, the English singer and actor John Handford Ryley (c 1841-1922), in America during the 1880s, when they were both performing for D'Oyly Carte. A press cutting relating to a production of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Sorcerer from 1882 refers to Madeleine as "Mrs. J.H. Ryley", however, the couple were not legally married until 1890.

While still acting on stage, Madeleine Lucette Ryley had begun to write short stories and sketches for magazines. She was also producing unaccredited dramatic pieces for performance with the McCaull Opera Company. Her motivation to write for the theatre appears to have been stimulated, on a professional level, by the fact that plays of merit were expensive and difficult to come by. On a personal level, the profession of playwright afforded Ryley financial independence and freedom from punishing touring schedules. As she observed in an interview given to Godley's Magazine in January 1896: 'For five years I never saw Mr Ryley except in the summer, and that explains why I am writing instead of acting.'

Madeleine Lucette Ryley wrote her first play, Lady Jemima in two weeks in 1890. It was later produced by Minnie Maddern née Fiske without great success. She is also thought to have produced another play in 1891 called Valentine's Day which has not survived. In an interview she gave to Dramatic Mirrorin April 1896, Ryley recalled that she had produced the libretti for four comic operas which are thought to include an adaptation of La Basoche, by Carre and Andre Messanger, Lo lo l'a Dit, Honeymoon and The Merchant of Pongee. Her career as a professional dramatist was successfully launched in 1895 with the work known as Jedbury Juniorin Britain, and Christopher, Jr. in America. Others followed including, The Time of Strife (1896), The Mysterious Mr. Bugle (1897), A Coat of Many Colours(1897), An American Citizen (1897), The Voyagers (1898), an adaptation of a work by Alexandre Bisson called On and Off (1898), Realism (1900), My Lady Dainty (1901), Richard Savage (1901), Mice and Men (1901), The Grass Widow (1902), An American Invasion (1902), The Altar of Friendship(1902), The Lady Paramount (1905), Mrs. Grundy (1905), an adaptation of a work by P. Berton called The Great Conspiracy (1906) and, in 1907, The Sugar Bowl. Her work was extremely popular and in 1897 she established a record for a woman dramatist by having three plays running in New York simultaneously.

The period during which Ryley was writing plays was marked by the paying public's inclination to valorize the personalities of the actors as "stars". Playwrights were therefore required, by theatre managers, to produce material that was suitable for use as a vehicle for star performers. Dramatists, as a consequence, played a subservient role within the production process of performance as their work had to be tailored to suit the needs of those actors that audiences relished as "star turns". As Madeleine Lucette Ryley herself observed in the pages of The New York Times (9 September 1906, page 10): 'First, of course comes the star who is to be fitted. He, or she, must feel in perfect sympathy with the part provided, or failure is inevitable. Then, hardly less important, is the manager ... to be appeased in every detail of construction, more particularly in matters of expense and what will attract the masses. Thirdly, the public itself is to be considered ... The matinee girl too, is a factor that, in these days, comes more and more to be considered every hour'. Governed by popular melodrama, musicals, comedies, farce and burlesque, playwriting of this period appears to have been an occupation in which women were not only on equal terms with men, but also given opportunities for handsome economic renumeration. Ryley is a figure of considerable significance in theatre history since she seems to have been the most commercially successful playwright of her generation, in Britain or America, irrespective of gender.

Around 1907, having attained financial security, Ryley returned to England to live in semi-retirement. However, she was to remain actively involved in London's theatre community well into the 1920s and would occasionally return to the stage, usually to support charitable causes. By this time, although it was not made known to the public, she was living separately from her husband who died in 1922 at the age of eighty.

Throughout her retirement Ryley was also a staunch champion of women's suffrage and espoused the feminist cause. She became a prominent member of the Actresses' Franchise League (AFL) serving as vice-president from its formation in 1908 until it was dissolved in 1918 with the passage of the Women's Suffrage Act.

After suffering an incapacitating illness in which she was partially paralyzed, Madeleine Lucette Ryley died on 17 February 1934. She left bequests of £1,000 to both of her surviving sisters Anna Roberts and Kate Bradley and her niece Madeleine Tearle née Roberts. Her housekeeper received £500 with a life annuity of £104 per year. Additionally, she gave bequests to the Actors' Benevolent Fund and the Actors' Church Union.


This collection consists of a set of fifteen plays in typescript. The scripts conform to a standard format and appear to have been made as a single series around the period 1895-1907. The exact order in which they were created has been lost so their arrangement here reflects the order they were in when they came to the Library.

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

After Madeleine Tearle's death in 1979, this collection was acquired for the JRUL through the offices of Viv Gardner, Professor of Drama, at the University of Manchester.

Alternative Form Available

Copies of some of the scripts extant in this collection have survived in the Shubert Archives, New York; Lord Chamberlain's Collection, British Library; and Billy Rose Collection, New York Public Library.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Custodial History

The scripts were produced and accumulated by their creator, Madeleine Lucette Ryley. On her death, she bequeathed all her personal belongings, including these scripts, to her niece Madeleine Tearle née Roberts who was known by the stage name Jane Comfort. When Tearle died in 1979, she had the distinction of being London's oldest understudy for a role in Agatha Christie's long-running play The Mouse Trap.

Related Material

Other known primary source materials include: a series of pen, ink and watercolour sketches made by Eric Forbes-Robertson for a production of Mice and Men (1902), and a poster for a production of Jedbury Junior at Terry's Theatre, London (1896) which are held at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The British Library, London also holds a theatre programme for a production ofMice and Men which was performed by the Plymouth Repertory Players Ltd., in [1930].


Katharine Cockin, Women and theatre in the age of suffrage: the pioneer players, 1911-1925(Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001) .

Sherry D. Engle, New women dramatists in America, 1890-1920 (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007) .

Undated typescript notes produced by Viv Gardner in archivist's Collection File.