Michael Reid’s (English) dissertation is an interdisciplinary study of the lived experience of gay men in eighteenth-century England. Michael is a Chancellor Jackman Graduate Fellow.
JHI: What are your main research interests?
MR: I study eighteenth-century British literature as well as queer literature. I am especially interested in satirical depictions of sexual irregularity, which often betray a voyeuristic and not-altogether-detached interest in their unseemly subjects. On the other end of the emotional spectrum, I study eighteenth-century correspondence between men, with special attention to the inside jokes, allusions, and codes of queer coteries. There is a real treasure trove of effusive love letters between men—what Robert Halsband calls "sentimental sodomy"—that still has not received sufficient attention from scholars. Lastly, I am interested in the sexual subtexts of Gothic fiction.
JHI: What research project(s) are you working on now at the JHI and why did you choose it?
MR: My project explores the literature and social history of homosexual men in eighteenth-century Britain. Of course, as historians remind us, there were no "homosexuals" in the eighteenth century, at least not in the modern sense of the word. But the eighteenth century had its own names for them, a copious vocabulary of variously hateful and playful attitudes—sodomites, mollies, unnaturalists, woman-haters. Whatever we call them, how can we reconstruct the lived experience of these sexual outsiders—that special category of person for whom stealth, evasion, and disguise are everyday necessities? My research has uncovered case studies of startling contraries: the culture of terror and vulnerability produced by targeted blackmail schemes, where everyone seemed in danger of a deadly sodomy accusation; the temporary delight and escapism of the Grand Tour (the rite of passage for all wealthy bachelors) and the gay resorts along the way; and the pleasures of misogyny, which woman-haters were reputed to indulge in only because they harbored too much love for men. These are alien contexts that bring us closer to understanding the queer (in more ways than one) literature of the period.
JHI: What experiences are you hoping for while you’re at the JHI?
MR: I've already had so many wonderful experiences at the JHI! I think the real privilege is the opportunity for interdisciplinary discussions on methodology—how to research historically remote languages and cultures, how to collect records of ephemera like folk dances or perfumes. I've noticed an emphasis on writing and its difficulties, which has been most welcome (and validating!). Fostering an environment for the cross-pollination of ideas—this seems to be exactly what the JHI was designed to do. I'm blown away by the expertise and diversity of approach.
JHI: Share something you read/watched/listened to recently that you enjoyed/were inspired by.
TV: Michaela Coel's HBO miniseries I May Destroy You (2020) is terrific. She really captures the entanglements of sex, race, violence, activism, hookup culture, social-media-narcissism, etc. I still don't think I've fully reckoned with it!
Fiction: I've been working chronologically through Alice Munro's entire oeuvre—one short story a day. I'm on Open Secrets (1994) now. She's my favourite living writer.
Music: I'm a former choir boy and listen to sacred music while I work. Right now, it's Fauré's Cantique de Jean Racine.
Poetry: Justin Phillip Reed's The Malevolent Volume (2020). Stirring meditations on monstrosity and metamorphosis, the inhuman categories so often ascribed to the marginalized. I especially love this section from "About the Bees":
what kind of future
they could die for if
punching me into their stings --
what future without risking
the same; and while, in either body
the buzzards of hunger conspire,
what kind of new
this shape we take?
JHI: What is a fun fact about you?
MR: I run a monthly book club for senior women in North York. And Linda Feng's Swimming Back to Trout River is on the roster!
This profile is part of the JHI Circle of Fellows Spotlight, a series where we highlight each Fellow, their interests, and their research so that you can get to know them a little better.