Biography

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 660

Forrest Reid, Irish author of childhood and the supernatural, was born on June 24, 1875, in Belfast, Ireland, the son of Robert Reid and his wife, Frances Matilda Parr Reid. He was the youngest of twelve children. His father met with business misadventures and lost considerable money investing in ships that tried unsuccessfully to run a Civil War blockade to the United States. As a boy, Reid enjoyed a close family life, but he spent a large amount of time by himself, roaming the fields of Ulster and developing his imaginative powers to the point where dream and reality became almost indistinguishable. He became interested in memory, in time, in the spiritual demands of animals, and in a kind of youthful pantheism. He was tutored at home until he was eleven; he hardly ever attended church, perhaps because he found his needs met during his wanderings over the countryside.

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He was educated at the Royal Academical Institution in Belfast and then at Christ’s Church, Cambridge, where he received his B.A. He was not impressed by Cambridge or by intellectual company of the sort he found there, and he was happy to return to Belfast. He lived in a small suburban house, doing most of his own housekeeping and leading a simple life. He took a job as a clerk in a Belfast tea warehouse and apparently enjoyed working there, performing simple duties, receiving an adequate income, and using his mind imaginatively in the creation of ideas and stories.

His first novel was The Kingdom of Twilight, a book he later wished he could disown; the story was good enough to interest Henry James, who wrote to Reid and encouraged him. Reid responded by dedicating his second book, The Garden God, to James. In 1911 he made the acquaintance of E. M. Forster, to whom he dedicated Following Darkness (later rewritten and reissued as Peter Waring).

Reid continued to write novels and critical studies, amassing a small but enthusiastic group of readers. He amused himself by playing croquet, at which he was so expert that he became a champion and made periodic trips to England to engage in tournaments. He loved dogs, as his readers know, and made them his close companions. He had a loyal group of literate and appreciative friends. He enjoyed bridge, book hunting, print collecting, dog shows, and stamp collecting. These interests were satisfied by the small income he received from his books, and he was content to be free to write as he pleased.

His trilogy, Tom Barber (published in one volume in 1955), will probably endure as his masterpiece, for as the culmination of his work in the novel it has all the virtues of Reid at his best: the radiance of happy childhood, the peculiar aura of supernatural elements, a continuous beauty of setting and character, and a charming and restrained humor. The trilogy is composed of novels written in reverse order to the chronology of the story: Uncle Stephen, the last of the series, appeared first in 1931; The Retreat, in 1936; and Young Tom, with which the trilogy begins, in 1944. Probably no better expression of the spirit of Reid’s own childhood can be found than in his evocation of the experiences of Tom Barber.

In his work Reid sought what he called in his autobiographical Apostate “a sort of moral fragrance.” Because his novels present an atmosphere of good and evil as it made itself felt to him in his childhood, his works are not burdened but enlightened by the depth of his moral involvement. Biographer Russell Burlingham characterized Reid’s work as “a world full of sunlight and earth’s loveliness, yet ever haunted by mystery and fringed with dream.” Reid was a member of the Irish Academy of Letters and a recipient of an honorary D.Litt. from Queen’s University in Belfast in 1933. Unmarried, he lived most of his life at 13 Ormiston Crescent in Belfast. He died on January 4, 1947, at Warrenpoint, Ireland.

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