Reid, Forrest, 1875-1947

Alternative names
Birth 1875-06-24
Death 1947-01-04

Biographical notes:

English novelist.

From the description of Autograph letter signed : Belfast, to Edward Wagenknecht, 1939 Jan. 30. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270865097

Northern Irish novelist Forrest Reid was also a biographer, critic, essayist, and translator.

Born on June 24, 1875 (or 1876 according to some sources), in Belfast, Ireland, Forrest Reid was a founding member of the Irish Academy of Letters.

Reid's last original novel, Young Tom, or, Very Mixed Company, was published in 1944 and won the James Black Tait Memorial Prize for the best work of fiction. Reid died on January 04, 1947, in Belfast, Ireland.

Dublin-born Denis Canon O'Keeffe (1882-1952) became an MA in philosophy of th Royal University in 1904 and was ordained a priest in 1908. O'Keeffe was affiliated with Queen's University, Belfast, from 1909 until 1925, when he was appointed chair of ethics and politics at University College, Dublin. He later became dean of the faculty of philosophy at UCD. In Brian Taylor's The Green Avenue: the life and writings of Forrest Reid, 1875-1947 , Father O'Keeffe is mentioned on pages 181 as the partial basis for the Jesuit "Father O'Brien" character in Reid's novel Pirates of the Spring . It further mentions that Father O'Keeffe was connected with Queen's University in Belfast.

"Forrest Reid." Contemporary Authors Online. (reproduced in Gale Biography In Context). (accessed July 2011). Taylor, Brian. The Green Avenue: the life and writings of Forrest Reid, 1875-1947. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980. Page 181. Ryan, Arthur H. "Denis Canon O'Keeffe, M.A.," in Studies: an Irish Quarterly Review Vol. 41, No. 163/164 (Sep.-Dec., 1952), pp. 309-316. (accessed 2011 August 10).

From the guide to the Forrest Reid letter to Father O'Keeffe, 1918 January 22, (University of Delaware Library - Special Collections)

Reid was born in 1875, the youngest child of a Presbyterian family in the shipping trade; on his mother's side he could claim descent from Katherine Parr, wife of Henry VIII, a source of some wistful pride to the young Forrest. Educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, he did not excel, but equally found that his studies provided little strain. The family had suffered a fall in circumstances as the father's shipping ventures had collapsed, so the young Forrest found that the family's middle class gentility was distinctly frayed at the edges, and although never poor, his upbringing was one of forced economies and the keeping up of appearances. Indeed, fear of social descent and a flickering snobbishness were to permeate many of his youthful characters in his writings. His father died when he was young, and his mother was a remote figure, who demonstrated little warmth. Reid's chief parental figure had been his beloved nurse Emma Holmes, who was forced to leave the family employ following the death of Reid's father in 1881. A decline in social fortunes had thus robbed Reid of the one source of affection and unqualified love.

A shy and sensitive child, Reid showed a penchant for play that involved collecting and make believe. But insularity did not mean passivity, and Reid showed a youthful disdain for middle class mercantile and Protestant values of probity and religious observance. The young Reid rejected the family's Christian conformity, instead opting for a code of spirituality and individualism based on the teachings of ancient Greece. This dislike of middle class rectitude, materialism and conformity was to prove a strong theme throughout his works.

Reid was apprenticed to the tea trade as a young man, but eventually went up to Cambridge. This did not lead to a blossoming of his literary talent as Reid was to describe his time at university as a "rather blank interlude". He returned to Belfast, and during the next forty years lived privately and unostentatiously in the east of the city. Reid corresponded widely however, and his novels established for him a reputation as a notable prose stylist.

The central theme throughout much of his works was boyhood and youth, and Reid himself noted his limitations of scope by pondering that some "arrested development" prevented him from fully realizing a world of only adult relationships. Nevertheless, his novels were rich in themes of dream landscapes, animism, paganism, magical transformation, loss and class decline.

Reid wrote 17 novels most of which focus on boyhood, adolescence and friendship, as does his autobiographical work Apostate (1926). The first Kingdom of Twilight (1904) was warmly supported by Henry James, but the second The Garden God (1905) was repudiated in an angry letter by James because of its homoerotic overtones. The Spring Song ( 1916) and Pirates of the Spring (1919) depicts childhood friendship and terrors in a pastoral setting, whilst At the Door of the Gate (1915) portrays class tensions and prejudices in Belfast, and a young man's resentment at the middle class pretensions of his struggling family. Peter Waring (1937) is a root and branch revision of the earlier Following Darkness (1912) which tells the story of a boy's unhappy development in the households of a cold schoolteacher father and his vulgar Belfast relations. Denis Bracknell (1947), another overhauling of an earlier work, also portrays a stern father heading a somewhat dysfunctional family, whilst the son is a paganistic Moon worshipper who rejects the claustrophobic values of his middle class family. Brian Westby tells the story of a reunited father and adolescent son, whilst Demophon (1927) is a coming of age story filled with beings from Greek mythology. Arguably Reid's best fiction can be found in the Tom Barber trilogy, comprising the novels Uncle Stephen (1931), The Retreat (1936), and Young Tom (1944), this last segment winning for Reid the James Tait Memorial prize. The trilogy explores myths and dreams through a boy's eyes at different stages of his life, but can also be read as a simple celebration of the vitality and imagination of youth, and a sense of connection with nature.

A powerful nostalgic yearning for youth, love, the pastoral and the certainties of the imagination fuelled Reid's writings. As Reid put it, the "primary impulse of the artist springs, I fancy, from discontent and his art is a kind of crying for Elysium".

Reid also wrote highly regarded critical studies of Yeats and Walter de la Mare, an examination of nineteenth century art, and many essays and short stories. His collection of original illustrations of English woodcut artists of the 1860s is held at the Ashmolean Museum. Many of his original manuscripts are also held in the Belfast, Ulster and Irish Studies of the Belfast Central Library.

Reid died at Warren Point, County Down in January 1947 and was buried in Dundonald cemetery, Knock, Belfast.

From the guide to the Forrest Reid Collection, 1895-1960, (Queen's University Belfast)


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  • Publishers and Publishing
  • Literature
  • Irish literature
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  • Ireland (as recorded)
  • Northern Ireland (as recorded)
  • Belfast (Northern Ireland) (as recorded)