O. Henry: Wit Beyond Measure

Posted on Dec 21, 2018

The great thing about short stories is that you can read them in one sitting. However, not all authors are so great at creating small stories that pack a huge punch. William Sydney Porter, better known as O. Henry, is one author who sure knew the meaning of great gifts in small packages.

William Sydney Porter at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O._Henry

Porter was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1862. When he was three, his mother died of tuberculosis, after which he and his father lived with his paternal grandmother. He loved books as a child, reading classics and dime novels. He and his father received support from relatives. He studied with his aunt until he was fifteen years old and then started working with his uncle, who owned a drugstore. By the age of nineteen, Porter became a licensed pharmacist.

In 1882, he traveled to La Salle County, Texas, where he was able to work at a ranch for a while. He then moved to Austin two years later and started writing stories on the side. In Austin, Porter led an active social life, being known as a man of many talents. There, he met his future wife, Athol Estes, with whom he eloped and wed in 1887. The two of them participated in musicals and theater groups, but Athol encouraged Porter to pursue writing.

Porter was offered a job by an old friend, Richard Hall, at the Texas General Land Office. Even though the pay was generous, Porter continued to contribute for magazines and newspapers. In 1895, he and his family moved to Houston after catching the attention of an editor at the Houston Post. Porter started writing for the Post at only $25 a month, and as his salary increased, so did his popularity. In order to have something to write about in his columns, Porter loitered in hotel lobbies, observing and interviewing people.

Later on, Porter was arrested on charges of embezzlement. His father-in-law posted bail, but Porter fled to New Orleans and, later Honduras before his trial. He sent his wife and daughter back to Austin to live with his wife’s parents. Unfortunately, the two of them never met in Honduras as they had planned because his wife died of tuberculosis.

Porter finally faced trial in 1898 and was found guilty. He was sentenced to five years at the Ohio Penitentiary. His pharmacy license allowed him to work in the prison hospital and allowed him to have his own room at the hospital wing. While imprisoned, he wrote stories under various pseudonyms, the most popular being O. Henry. This byline was first used for the story “Whistling Dick’s Christmas Stocking,” published in McClure’s Magazine.

Christmas Classics (Whistling Dick’s Christmas Stocking)

After only three years, Porter was released on the grounds of good behavior. He and his daughter, Margaret, were reunited in Pennsylvania. Porter moved to New York in 1902 to be near publishers and started his most prolific period, writing one story a week for more than a year. His stories were published in the New York World Sunday Magazine.

Porter is known for stories that contain surprise endings and was often compared to French writer Guy de Maupassant. One of his most popular works is a Christmas story called “The Gift of the Magi.” The story is about a couple, Jim and Della, who wanted to buy each other Christmas gifts despite being out of money. Della sells her beautiful hair and buys a platinum chain for Jim’s fob watch, while Jim sells his watch to buy jeweled combs for Della’s hair. The story has been adapted many times over.

The Gift of the Magi

In 1910, Porter died of various illnesses. He was buried at Asheville in North Carolina. His daughter, Margaret, died of tuberculosis in 1927 and was buried next to him.

This holiday season, we are telling the stories of the best Christmas storytellers. Watch out for more Christmas specials on our blog! For editing needs throughout the holidays, visit our main site at 1hourproofreading.com. Season’s greetings!


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