British Author and Critic
Born 1875 Died 1948
Forrest Reid was born at 20 Mount Charles in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on the 24th June 1875, the sixth and youngest son of Robert Reid a shipping merchant. His father came from a well-established middle-class Ulster Protestant family, whilst his mother Frances Matilda Parr was descended from Katherine Parr, the last of Henry VIII's six wives. His father however died in 1881, leaving his widow rather badly off, and Forrest was raised in comparative poverty.
He was educated at Hardy’s Preparatory School and the Royal Belfast Academical Institution. After he left school in 1891 he suffered from depression and attempted suicide by taking laudanum, but recovered and was later in 1893 apprenticed to the firm of H & E Musgrave who were active in the tea trade. Twelve years later, at the age of thirty, he attended Christ's College, Cambridge where he read medieval and modern languages and graduated with second class degree in 1908. Forrest later described his time at university as "a rather blank interlude" in his life, and afterwards he returned home to Belfast where he eventually set up home at 13 Ormiston Crescent in Knock in 1924. He remained resident in Belfast until his death at 15 Seaview, Warrenpoint in County Down on the 4th January 1947, being later buried at the Dundonald Cemetery in Knock on the 7th January.
Strongly influnced by Henry James, with whom he corresponded, Forrest had already began writing prior to studying at Cambridge with both The Kingdom of Twilight (1904) and The Garden God (1905) appearing in print. He received further encouragment from E.M. Forster, whom he met at Cambridge and who later visited him in Belfast, and a series of further novels followed after his university days, although Reid himself later came to hold a low opinion of his early work which he regarded as a series of "false starts".
It wasn't until after the first volume of his autobiography Apostate had appeared in 1926 that he discovered his subject of youth and its recall in later life. His subsequent work consisted of a number of romantic and semi-mystical novels which featured a series of intelligent but sensitive young boys wandering about the quasi-paradisal Ulster landscape, the high point of which was his Tom Barber trilogy; Uncle Stephen (1931), The Retreat (1936) and Young Tom (1944), the last of which was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. He also wrote literary criticism and published critical studies of both W.B. Yeats and Walter de la Mare, the latter being a close friend of his, and produced some translations of Greek verse.
Reid was once described as "the first Ulster novelist of European stature" and his coming of age novel Following Darkness (1912), which was based on his own experiences of growing up in Protestant Belfast, was compared to James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1924), which is of course a novel about growing up in Catholic Dublin. While Pender Among the Residents, published in 1922, which featured a plot involving a murder and sundry ghostly events secured for him a rather ill-deserved reputation in America as a writer of the occult. However his books are not well known today, although some of his fiction has been reprinted by the Gay Men’s Press, since modern critics regard his work has having an homoerotic subtext and can therefore be "placed within the historical context of the emergence of a more explicit expression of homosexuality in English literature".
His work is however of limited interest today; as Forrest Reid himself admitted, he lost interest in his characters at "the point where a boy becomes a man", and there is a limited audience these days for homoerotic novels about teenage boys, and a certain suspicion about those that do display such an interest. Reid had some kind of relationship with a thirteen year old boy named Kenneth Hamilton, who later joined the Merchant Navy and emigrated to Australia. Reid's later work may be seen as an attempt to recreate and relive this relationship.
Forrest Reid was also an accomplished croquet player, winning the Norfolk County Croquet Club Challenge Cup in 1922 and was invited to joing the British team on a tour of Australia in 1925. An enthusiast of the opera, he built up a comprhensive collection of Victorian book and periodical illustrations which inspired his book Illustrators of the Sixties (1928). What is now known as The Forrest Reid Collection of Victorian Book Illustration was donated to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford 1946. He was also one of the founder members of the Irish Academy of Letters and is also credited with having influenced and encouraged young writers such as Robert Greacen and Stephen Gilbert.
Some of his original manuscripts are held by the Belfast Central Library, but most of his papers are held by the University of Exeter. A memorial plaque was unveiled at his old home of 13 Ormiston Crescent, Belfast in 1952.
Further reading. The University of Exeter reccommends
Note that Following Darkness (1912) was rewritten as
Peter Waring (1937), and that Denis Bracknel (1947), was simply a revision of the earlier work The Bracknels (1911).
John Bryson, ‘Reid, Forrest (1875–1947)’, rev. Brian Taylor, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
Forrest Reid at the Princess Grace Irish Library (Monaco)
Forrest Reid at the University of Exeter
Forrest Reid Bibliography at Bookseller World,