O. Henry

A picture of the author O. Henry

O. Henry (1862 - 1910) was an American short story author whose real name was William Sydney Porter. Henry's rich canon of work reflected his wide-range of experiences and is distinctive for its witticism, clever wordplay, and unexpected twist endings.

Like many other writers, O. Henry's early career aspirations were unfocused and he wandered across different activities and professions before he finally found his calling as a short story writer. He started working in his uncle's drugstore in 1879 and became a licensed pharmacist by the age of 19. His first creative expressions came while working in the pharmacy where he would sketch the townspeople that frequented the store. The customers reacted warmly to his drawings and he was admired for his artistry and drawing skills.

O. Henry moved to Texas in March of 1882 hoping to get rid of a persistent cough that he had developed. While there, he took up residence on a sheep ranch, learned shepherding, cooking, babysitting, and bits of Spanish and German from the many migrant farmhands. He had an active social life in Austin and was a fine musician, skilled with the guitar and mandolin. Over the next several years, Porter -- as he was still known -- took a number of different jobs, from pharmacy to drafting, journalism, and banking.

Here's where the twists and turns really started. Banking, in particular, was not to be O. Henry's calling; he was quite careless with his bookkeeping, fired by the bank and charged with embezzlement in 1894. His father-in-law posted bail for him, but he fled the day before the trial in 1896, first to New Orleans, then to Honduras, where there was no extradition treaty. He befriended a notorious train robber there, Al Jennings, who later wrote a book about their friendship. O. Henry sent his wife and daughter back to Texas, after which he holed up in a hotel to write his first collection of short stories, Cabbages an Kings published in 1904. He learned his wife was dying of tuberculosis and could not join him in Honduras, so he returned to Austin and turned himself in to the court. His father-in-law again posted his bail so he could remain with his wife until her death in 1897. He was sentenced and served in Federal prison in Ohio for five years from 1989-1902. During his jail time, he returned to practicing pharmacy and had a room in the hospital, never having to live in a cell.

O. Henry was always a lover of classic literature, and while pursuing his many ventures, O. Henry had begun writing as a hobby. When he lost his banking position he moved to Houston in 1895 and started writing for the The Post, earning $25 per month (an average salary at this time in American history was probably about $300 a year). O. Henry collected ideas for his column by loitering in hotel lobbies and observing and talking to people there. He relied on this technique to gain creative inspiration throughout his writing career; which is a fun fact to keep in mind while reading an imaginative masterpiece of a story like Transients in Arcadia. The many twists and turns of his own life, including his travels in Latin America and time spent in prison, clearly inspired his stories' twists and wordplay.

O. Henry's prolific writing period began in 1902 in New York City, where he wrote 381 short stories. He wrote one story a week for The New York World Sunday Magazine for over a year. Some of his best and least known work is contained in Cabbages and Kings, whose title was inspired by Lewis Carroll's poem, The Walrus and the Carpenter. The stories were set in a midwestern American town in which sub-plots and larger plots are interwoven in an engaging manner. His second collection of stories, The Four Million, was released in 1906. The stories are set in New York City, and the title is based on the population of the city at that time. The collection contained several short story masterpieces, including The Gift of the Magi, The Cop and the Anthem, and many others. Henry had an obvious affection for New York City and its diversity of people and places, a reverence that rises up through many of his stories.

O. Henry's trademark is his witty, plot-twisting endings, and his warm characterization of the awkward and difficult situations and the creative ways people find to resolve them. His most famous short story, The Gift of the Magi, epitomizes his style. It's bout a young married couple, short on money, who wish to buy each other Christmas gifts. That problem -- their lack of funds -- finds a famously endearing and ironic resolution. The Cop and the Anthem is about A New York City hobo with a creative solution for dealing with the cold city streets during winter. Another story, A Retrieved Reformation, is about a safecracker, Jimmy Valentine, fresh from prison, whose life takes an unexpected turn while trying to come clean (or is he casing his next crime scene?) The Ransom of Red Chief, a story about two hapless kidnappers who snatch a heinous boy whose menacing ways turn the tables on them. All of O. Henry's stories are highly entertaining, whether read for pleasure or studied in classrooms around the world.

In 1952, Marilyn Monroe and Charles Laughton starred in O. Henry's Full House, a film featuring five of O. Henry's short stories. The film included The Cop and the Anthem, The Clarion Call, The Last Leaf, The Ransom of Red Chief (starring Fred Allen and Oscar Levant), and The Gift of the Magi.

Unfortunately, O. Henry's personal tragedy was heavy drinking. By 1908, his health had deteriorated and his writing dropped off accordingly. He died in 1910 of cirrhosis of the liver, complications of diabetes, and an enlarged heart. The funeral was held in New York City, but he was buried in North Carolina, the state where he was born. He was a gifted short story writer and left us a rich legacy of great stories to enjoy.

Enjoy some illustrated Short Stories from O. Henry; click to read.

facebook share button twitter share button google plus share button tumblr share button reddit share button share by email button share on pinterest pinterest

Short Stories

A Bird of Bagdad
A Blackjack Bargainer
A Call Loan
According to Their Lights
A Chaparral Christmas Gift
A Chaparral Prince
A Comedy in Rubber
A Cosmopolite in a Cafe
A Departmental Case
A Dinner at--------*
A Double-Dyed Deceiver
A Fog in Santone
After Twenty Years
A Harlem Tragedy
A Lickpenny Lover
A Little Local Colour
A Little Talk About Mobs
A Madison Square Arabian Night
A Matter Of Mean Elevation
A Midsummer Knight's Dream
A Midsummer Masquerade
A Municipal Report
An Adjustment of Nature
An Afternoon Miracle
An Apology
A Newspaper Story
An Unfinished Christmas Story
An Unfinished Story
A Poor Rule
A Retrieved Reformation
Aristocracy Versus Hash
A Ruler of Men
A Sacrifice Hit
A Service of Love
A Snapshot at the President
A Strange Story
A Technical Error
A Tempered Wind
Babes in the Jungle
Between Rounds
Bexar Scrip No. 2692
Blind Man's Holiday
Brickdust Row
Buried Treasure
By Courier
Calloway's Code
Cherchez La Femme
Christmas By Injunction
Compliments of the Season
Confessions Of A Humorist
Conscience in Art
Cupid A La Carte
Cupid's Exile Number Two
Dougherty's Eye-Opener
Extradited from Bohemia
Fickle Fortune or How Gladys Hustled
Friends in San Rosario
From Each According to His Ability
From the Cabby's Seat
Georgia's Ruling
He Also Serves
Hearts And Crosses
Hearts And Hands
Holding Up a Train
Hostages to Momus
Hygeia At The Solito
Innocents of Broadway
Jeff Peters as a Personal Magnet
Jimmy Hayes and Muriel
Law and Order
Let Me Feel Your Pulse
Little Speck in Garnered Fruit
Lord Oakhurst's Curse
Lost on Dress Parade
Madame Bo-peep, Of The Ranches
Makes the Whole World Kin
Mammon and the Archer
Man About Town
Masters of Arts
Memoirs of a Yellow Dog
Modern Rural Sports
Money Maze
Nemesis and the Candy Man
New York by Camp Fire Light
Next to Reading Matter
No Story
One Dollar's Worth
One Thousand Dollars
Out Of Nazareth
Past One at Rooney's
Proof of the Pudding
Psyche and the Pskyscraper
Queries and Answers
Roads of Destiny
Roses, Ruses and Romance
Rouge et Noir
Round The Circle
Rus In Urbe
Schools And Schools
Seats Of The Haughty
Shearing the Wolf
Sisters of the Golden Circle
Sociology In Serge And Straw
Sound and Fury
Springtime a la Carte
Squaring the Circle
Strictly Business
Suite Homes And Their Romance
Telemachus, Friend
The Admiral
The Adventures of Shamrock Jolnes
The Assessor of Success
The Atavism of John Tom Little Bear
The Badge of Policeman O'Roon
The Buyer From Cactus City
The Caballero's Way
The Cactus
The Caliph and the Cad
The Caliph, Cupid and the Clock
The Call of the Tame
The Chair of Philanthromathematics
The Champion of the Weather
The Church with an Overshot-Wheel
The City of Dreadful Night
The Clarion Call
The Coming-Out of Maggie
The Complete Life of John Hopkins
The Cop and the Anthem
The Count and the Wedding Guest
The Country of Elusion
The Day Resurgent
The Day We Celebrate
The Defeat of the City
The Detective Detector
The Diamond of Kali
The Discounters of Money
The Dog And The Playlet
The Door of Unrest
The Dream
The Duel
The Duplicity of Hargraves
The Easter of the Soul
The Emancipation of Billy
The Enchanted Kiss
The Enchanted Profile
The Ethics of Pig
The Exact Science of Matrimony
The Ferry of Unfulfilment
The Fifth Wheel
The Flag Paramount
The Fool-Killer
The Foreign Policy of Company 99
The Fourth in Salvador
The Friendly Call
The Furnished Room
The Gift of the Magi
The Girl and the Graft
The Girl and the Habit
The Gold That Glittered
The Greater Coney
The Green Door
The Guardian of the Accolade
The Guilty Party - An East Side Tragedy
The Halberdier of the Little Rheinschloss
The Handbook Of Hymen
The Hand that Riles the World
The Harbinger
The Head-hunter
The Hiding Of Black Bill
The Higher Abdication
The Higher Pragmatism
The Hypotheses Of Failure
The Indian Summer Of Dry Valley Johnson
The Lady Higher Up
The Last Leaf
The Last of the Troubadours
The Lonesome Road
The Lost Blend
The Lotus And The Bottle
The Love-Philtre of Ikey Schoenstein
The Making of a New Yorker
The Man Higher Up
The Marionettes
The Marquis and Miss Sally
The Marry Month Of May
The Memento
The Missing Chord
The Moment Of Victory
The Octopus Marooned
The Passing of Black Eagle
The Pendulum
The Phonograph and the Graft
The Pimienta Pancakes
The Plutonian Fire
The Poet and the Peasant
The Pride of the Cities
The Princess And The Puma
The Prisoner of Zembla
The Proem
The Purple Dress
The Ransom Of Mack
The Ransom of Red Chief
The Rathskeller and the Rose
The Red Roses Of Tonia
The Reformation Of Calliope
The Remnants of the Code
The Renaissance at Charleroi
The Roads We Take
The Robe of Peace
The Romance of a Busy Broker
The Rose Of Dixie
The Rubaiyat of a Scotch Highball
The Rubber Plant's Story
The Shamrock and the Palm
The Shocks of Doom
The Skylight Room
The Sleuths
The Snow Man
The Social Triangle
The Song And The Sergeant
The Sparrows In Madison Square
The Sphinx Apple
The Tale of a Tainted Tenner
The Theory And The Hound
The Thing's the Play
The Third Ingredient
The Trimmed Lamp
The Unknown Quantity
The Unprofitable Servant
The Venturers
The Vitagraphoscope
The Voice of the City
The Whirligig Of Life
The World And The Door
Thimble, Thimble
Tobin's Palm
To Him Who Waits
Tommy's Burglar
Tracked to Doom
Transformation of Martin Burney
Transients in Arcadia
Two Recalls
Two Renegades
Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen
Ulysses and the Dogman
Vanity and Some Sables
What You Want
While the Auto Waits
Whistling Dick's Christmas Stocking
Witches' Loaves

Anton Chekhov
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Susan Glaspell
Mark Twain
Edgar Allan Poe
Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Herman Melville
Stephen Leacock
Kate Chopin
Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson