O Henry


Advanced Search

O. Henry, pseudonym of William Sydney Porter (1862-1910), noted American author of hundreds of short stories including "The Ransom of Red Chief" (1910), "The Duplicity of Hargraves" (1902), and "The Gift of the Magi" (1905);

One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one's cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.

William Sidney Porter was born 11 September, 1862 in Greensboro, North Carolina, to physician Algernon Sidney Porter (1825-1888) and Mary Jane Virginia Swaim (1833-1865). The two brothers of William were Shirley Worth (1860) and David Weir (1865) who both died in early childhood. Mary was a graduate of Greensboro Female College (founded in 1838) now Greensboro College. She wrote poetry and had a promising artistic temperament with a natural eye for drawing and painting, surely a talent which young Will inherited. She ran her household with a firm but loving hand. Tragically she died of tuberculosis at the age of thirty when Will was only three years old. His father Sidney was a gentle and good humoured man, gregarious, and generous to a fault. Absent-minded with a long flowing beard, he travelled Guilford county visiting his patients. As was the custom of the time, he never sent invoices to his patients; they were expected to settle once a year. Without his wife to stay on top of their accounts, finances dwindled and Sidney started to drink.

After Mary's death, widower Sidney and his shy, freckle-faced son moved to his mother's farm, that of Will's paternal grandmother Ruth Coffyn Worth Porter (1805-1890). Sidney became increasingly occupied with various inventions he was developing, poking about in his workshop with such contraptions as a perpetual motion water wheel. Also living at the farm was Will's aunt, Evalina Maria Porter or "Miss Lina" as she was known. She would become the most influential person in the first 20 years of Will's life. She became teacher, parent, and mentor to him. She had started a school at her mother's home that was soon established in it's own building on the Porter property. Will studied the basics there, writing and arithmetic, and he read classic literature and poetry. He was very clever with a pencil and loved to draw caricatures.

At the age of fifteen Porter began working as a clerk in his uncle Clark Porter's store. The combined pharmacy, soda fountain, tobacco shop, and newsstand was the local gathering spot. Porter became immersed in the social scene, entertaining the customers with stories and drawing caricatures of them for which he became well known. He saw the humour in the everyday, and made notes of all the colourful characters he encountered, fodder for his future stories. He also obtained a pharmacist license in 1881. Small town life was not to hold him for long, however, and he had developed a persistent cough. Thinking that a change of climate would do him well, at the age of eighteen he moved to Texas, settling in Austin in 1884. He was already writing short stories while he held a number of jobs including pharmacist before working with the Texas Land Office. Around this time he met Athol Estes Roach. They married in 1887 and had a daughter, Margaret Worth (d.1927), in 1889. With a steady income Porter was now able to focus on his writing. In 1891 he began work as a bank teller with the First National Bank. The Porter's were living in the house which is now known as the O Henry House Museum. In 1894 Porter launched a humorous weekly magazine The Rolling Stone (no relation to the current magazine, founded in 1967.) It featured political and every day satirical articles and cartoons, all by Will himself, which he also published. 1895 found the Porter's living in Houston, Texas, where Porter started a column in the Houston Post.

After time spent in Honduras, during which Porter coined the term "banana republic", he had to return to Texas to face charges of embezzlement. His wife was also was suffering from tuberculosis and he rushed to see her. Athol died in July of 1897. At that time Margaret was living with Athol's parents. They then moved to Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. Margaret never knew that her father had spent time in prison. She was always told he was away on business. After inconsistencies were found with Porter's First National Bank records, Porter was charged with embezzlement. In 1898 he began a five-year sentence in Columbus, Ohio federal prison. Around this time he changed his name to Sydney. The following year, in 1899, from prison, Porter began his short story career by contributing "Whistling Dick's Christmas Stocking" to McClure's Magazine. Thereafter a number of his stories written in prison appeared in print, always under a pseudonym, his favourite being "O. Henry". The general public did not know of his prison term until after his death.

After being released from prison in just three years, Porter moved on to the next chapter in his life: New York City. This was where he really came into his own and all his previous life's experience served to inspire stories. Porter crafted everyday tales of myriad characters, many recurring, based in New York City with humour, wit, and realism. His stories often have a surprise or twist ending, and Porter's fans looked forward to more in such publications as World, Ainslee's, and McClure's. Porter has been compared to other masters of the short story including Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol, Bret Harte, Rudyard Kipling, Mark Twain, and French author Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893). Porter also wrote numerous stories set in Western and South and Central America. Despite many of his works being panned by the critics he was becoming one of America's most popular short story authors. So much so that several collections were published including Cabbages and Kings (1904), The Four Million (1909), Options (1909), Roads of Destiny (1909), The Trimmed Lamp (1910), Strictly Business: More Stories of the Four Million (1910), Whirligigs (1910), Sixes and Sevens (1911), The Gentle Grafter (1919) and Rolling Stones (1919).

Troubled by ill-health and heavy drinking for many years, surely Porter was happy when he married his childhood sweetheart from Greensboro, Sara (Sallie) Lindsey Coleman, in 1907. But Porter was living an extravagant lifestyle amid increasing pressure to keep his commitments to publishers for more and more stories. This stress plus added financial problems led to Sara leaving in him in 1909. William Sidney Porter died of cirrhosis on 5 June, 1910. A funeral was held in New York City. He now lies buried at the Riverside Cemetery in Asheville, North Carolina. His daughter was later buried beside him. His last complete short story is "Let Me Feel Your Pulse". The O. Henry Museum in Austen, Texas, open to the public, serves to preserve artifacts and archival materials related to O. Henry.

"You can tell your paper," the great man said,
"I refused an interview.
I have nothing to say on the question, sir;
Nothing to say to you."

And then he talked till the sun went down
And the chickens went to roost;
And he seized the collar of the poor young man,
And never his hold he loosed.

And the sun went down and the moon came up,
And he talked till the dawn of day;
Though he said, "On this subject mentioned by you,
I have nothing whatever to say."


And down the reporter dropped to sleep
And flat on the floor he lay;
And the last he heard was the great man's words,
"I have nothing at all to say."--"Nothing To Say", poem by O. Henry

Biography written by C.D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc 2013. All Rights Reserved.

The above biography is copyrighted. Do not republish it without permission.

Recent Forum Posts on O Henry

Help-An O.H. Short for Young Kids?

Greetings! I recently sponsored a Great Books Club for 4th through 6th graders and would love to have them read an O Henry short story that is appropriate for their age, especially one that features a child so they could better relate. I'd prefer saving the great Gift of the Magi for Xmas time. Can someone who really knows their stuff suggest a good one? (I did thumb through an anthology of his works, but didn't find one yet myself.) Thank you very much! :hurray:


Need the title of O.Henry Story

I've been looking for a story about an aging couple that give gifts to each other. IT'S NOT "THE GIFT OF THE MAGI" but is similar in some ways. She gives him a gift to match his blue eyes --they are still blue to her but are clouded now, maybe cataracts. He gives her a gift to match her hair color (red I think) but it has turned gray. In other words, they don't see that the other has grown old, they see each other as they were when they fell in love. I need the reference for a piece I am writing about couples that reconnect after many years, very grateful for help. Sonoma


Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen

Ironically, and quite unplanned I happened to read this story during Thanksgiving Week. It was within a collection of short stories I have, and just so happened to be the next story in the collection I came to right around Thanksgiving time. This was my second (technically my first as I read it before Mammon and the Archer) O Henry story, and when I read this story I did not even realize it was one of his, as well I hadn't paid that close attention to the authors name when I started reading. I have to say that thus far I really do like his work though I have only read two stories, I enjoyed both of them a great deal and find that he truly is a master and clever craftsman with his stories. One of the things of which I enjoy in his stories is there is something of an almost charming quality about them, even when the stories themselves are not always what one would call upbeat or completely optimistic. I found there was an underlined humor within the irony of this story. It was a story about two men whom were so sit within their ways, and their routine, that ultimately they both ended up killing themselves when they could have saved each other, if either of them had been willing to speak up instead of feeling it so necessary to fulfill what they saw as their obligation to each other. Much like with Mammon and the Archer, there is something within this story that is endearing and yet disturbing at the same time which really makes one thing. On the one hand it is admirable the way in which the men whom are near strangers to each other, put each other before his own personal comfort, but on the other hand it is almost cowardly the way neither is willing to come forth and tell the other the truth about their current states which would have been the difference between life and death.


Mammon and the Archer

Prior to this forum I have never actually heard of O Henry before, but since being here I have heard bits and pieces about him. I have heard that he does write horror stories and things of that nature so I have been curious to read his works. I it was by chance that I came across one of his stories within one of my short story collections. I was surprised by how expertly written each story I have read so far was, as I did not really recognize any of the authors names included within the collection, until I came across O Henry. Now I am intrigued to look up the other authors included to see if they too are all known writers who are simply not known to me. Mammon and The Archer was quite an amusing and charming tale about the power of money and love and perhaps which truly has more power and which really ends up victorious. The story does leave some rather mixed feelings, though like all of the stories within this collection I think it is a story that is intended to make one think. The story depicts a man whom appears to care about little more than his money, and seems to be quite out of touch with anyone or anything else. His son comes to him with a problem he has regarding a girl whom he has feelings for but he never gets a chance to speak to, and now she is set to be leaving for Europe he will only have a few minutes time for her. While the father as he listens continues to brag about his wealth and they get into a discussion about money's inability to buy time and ends up leaving his father sulky with his problem unresolved. When his aunt goes to the boy and gives him a small gold ring she says for luck in love. He is to pick up the girl in a cab and take her the movies, when he drops the ring and has to stop and pick it up, by the time he returns back to the cab a traffic jam occurs and the boy and girl end up having 2 hours time alone together and in that become engaged. On the one hand it is tempting to want to believe that it is a story of fate working in loves favor but in the end it is revealed that the traffic gridlock was contrived by the father in which he paid off everyone involved to hold up the traffic to give his son more time with the girl. In the way it is almost heart warming to see that he truly does care about his son and was not as out of touch as he appeared, and in spite of his smugly proving his point about money's power, he humbly keeps the truth to himself, and when the aunt boasts the power of love over money to him, he says nothing to despoil he illusion that it was indeed the gift of her ring which caused the event to lead to the boys happiness.


Name That Title Please

I'm looking for the title to an O. Henry short story that involves a married couple. They go about their day either being helpful or nasty to people they encounter then switch roles the next day. Thanks in advance to anyone who can help me.


this is sooooo boring!!!!

sooooo PATHETIC!!!! i just can't understand why writers and poets have to use deep words,when in fact they can just use simple words so as not to give headaches and nosebleed to their readers!! uuugghhh!:flare:


What makes O'Henry a great story teller?

O'Henry is one of the born story-tellers of the world. He wrote so naturally and without much difficulty as if it was but to breathe to him. He is a master of tragedy, romance and extravaganza, of tales of mystery or of common life/common people, with especial skill in surprise ending. In fact, when one talks about surprise ending, O'Henry rests on the top of the list. What makes him great in my opinion can be listed as such: *the variety and colorfulness of his characters and the places. *unexpected ending. *tamed, elegant and unexaggerated humor. What would you say about that?


I want to find a short stories written by O.Henry

I am looking for a short stories written by O.Henry, but I only remember the plot of it. It's about a pair of young lover. One is a handsome hunter in the mountain and the other is a pretty young peasant maid. They met in the foot of the Alps and fell in love with each other. But in fact both of them are from the upper class of their society. Because of tiring of the life of luxury and privilege of their class, they went to the Alps to live a rural live. But at last, their love story was put to an end, as they know the status of the other. I really wonder what's the title of this story? Could anybody knew it tell me the title ASAP:brickwall MILLION THANKS!!


Question of The ransom of Red Cheif

If you are kidnappers, how would ensure that you succeed? Summary of the ransom of Red Cheif This story tells of a young boy held for ransom by two money hungry criminals, Bill Driscoll and Sam Howard. The two men are fugitives who have escaped to the Deep South searching for an easy way to get their hands on $2,000 they need in order to launch a land fraud scheme in Illinois. They set their sights on the quiet town of Summit, Alabama because of the philoprogenitiveness - love for one's own children - that they believe is common in rural communities. Bill and Sam decide they will kidnap the son of an important citizen named Ebenezer Dorset, demand a ransom of $2,000, quickly collect the payoff, and be on their way. However, once they actually kidnap the boy and make their way to a hideout in the nearby hills, their plan quickly begins to unravel. Their young captive, a malevolent, redheaded brat who calls himself "Red Chief", actually enjoys his stay with his kidnappers, and thinks he is on a camping trip. Red Chief proceeds to drive his captors to distraction with pranks and demands that they play wearying games with him, such as pretending to be a scout and using Bill as his horse. Bill and Sam are soon desperate to be rid of the little terror; they lower the price to $1,500 but still receive no answer. When they receive a reply to their ransom letter from Red Chief's father offering to take the boy off their hands for $250. But when the men bring Red Chief to his home he doesn't want to leave. He then tries to stay with the two kidnappers but is held back by his father. The two kidnappers run away as quickly as they can.


O henry stories..

there are phrases I do not understand at all in O.Henry's stories well maybe because English is not my first language Yet I have read many English works and I am confident that I have read more English books than ones in my native language.. therefore I have very little problem reading English literature works but boy O henry's works leaves me desperately puzzled there are several phrases and expressions I do not understand at all I wonder if it is same for all you guys.. and if it is why is it so?? Do you guys also have problems with many phrases in O. Henry's works?


Post a New Comment/Question on Henry


Related links for O Henry

Here is where you find links to related content on this site or other sites, possibly including full books or essays about O Henry written by other authors featured on this site.

    Sorry, no links available.






Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Email:
Sonnet-a-Day Newsletter
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.
Email: