O. Henry

  • ‘Write what you like; there is no other rule.’
  • ‘Inject a few raisins of conversation into the tasteless dough of life.’
  • ‘Life is sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.’
  • ‘If man knew how women pass the time when they are alone, they’d never marry.’
  • ‘A straw vote only shows which way the hot air blows.’ (13)

Early Life, 1862-82

Figure 2: Dr Algernon Sidney Porter

Figure 1 Baby WilliamWilliam Sydney Porter (1,2) was an American short-story writer (1,2) whose tales romanticized the commonplace—in particular the life of ordinary people in New York City. (1) He came from an old southern family. (5) He is better known by his pen name O. Henry. (1,2)He was born (2,3) to a physician, (12,15) Dr. Algernon (10,11) Sidney Porter (12,15) (1825-1888). (15,18) Sidney was a gentle and good humoured man, gregarious, and generous to a fault. (15) Absent-minded with a long flowing beard, he travelled Guilford county visiting his patients. (15) As was the custom of the time, he never sent invoices to his patients; they were expected to settle once a year. (15) His mother was Mary (10,11)Jane (10,15)<[OR]>Virginia (12,15) Porter (10,11) née (12) Swaim (12,15)<[OR]> Swain (18) (1833-1865). (15,18) Mary was a graduate of Greensboro Female College (15,20) (founded in 1838) now Greensboro College. (15) She wrote poetry and had a promising artistic temperament with a natural eye for drawing and painting, surely a talent which young Will inherited. (15) Algernon and Mary were married on April 20th, 1858. (18,19) William was born on September 11th, (2,5) 1862, (2,3) on a plantation (8) in Greensboro, (2,3) <[OR]> along Polecat Creek in Centre Community, (21) North Carolina, (2,3) during the American Civil War. (19) He had two brothers Shirley Worth (1860) and David Weir (1865) who both died in early childhood. (15)Mary ran her household with a firm but loving hand. (15) Tragically (15) she died (4,10) in 1865 (15,18) from tuberculosis (4,11)<[OR]> after giving birth (19) at the age of thirty (15) when he was three years old. (4,10) Without his wife to manage the money Sidney’s income dwindled, and he started to drink. (15)

Figure 1: Baby William

The family, (10,15) widower Sidney and his shy, freckle-faced son, (15) went to live with (10,11) his paternal (10,11) grandmother and aunt, (10,11) who brought William up. (11,14) Sidney became increasingly occupied with various inventions he was developing, poking about in his workshop with such contraptions as a perpetual motion water wheel. (15) Also living at the farm was Will’s (15) maternal (5) aunt, (5,9)Evelina (12,13) <[OR]>Evalina (15,21) Maria (15) Porter. (15) ‘Miss (12,15)Lina’ (12,13) would become the most influential person in the first 20 years of Will’s life. (15) She became teacher, parent, and mentor to him. (15)


Public schools were closed after the Civil War. (21) ‘Miss (12,15) Lina’ (12,13) had started (15,21) a private elementary school (5,10) that was soon established in its own building at her mother’s home on the Porter property. (15) Her intention was to teach Will and other Greensboro children. (21) In 1867 (12) for a short time (7) he attended it. (5,10) Will was an extremely bright child. (21)He was very good with a pencil and loved to draw caricatures. (15) He studied the basics there, writing and arithmetic. (15) From early years he was a constant reader, (5,12) developing a lifelong love of books. (13,15) He read everything from classics (5,18) to dime novels. (18) He secured a wide knowledge of the (5,18) English (5) classics. (5,18) He recorded that his favourite books were (5,18) Lane’s translation of (5,19) The Arabian Nights (5,18) and Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy. (5,19) He was a devoted admirer of Tennyson. (5) He graduated in 18761. (14,18) He was offered free tuition at Bingham Military Academy in Orange County, North Carolina, but he declined, preferring the freedom of Aunt Lina’s school. (21) He then attended (12,14) Linsey (12) <[OR]> Lindsey (14,18) Street (12,14) a public (10) High School in Greensboro. (10,11) until 15 years of age. (4,5)

In Pharmacy 1877-82

After school (4,5) <[OR]> His aunt continued to tutor him until he was 15, (18) at the age of 15, (11,12) <[OR]> 17, (21) William entered the drugstore (4,5) of W.C. Porter (12,21) and Company (12) on Elm

Figure 3: The Pharmacy in Greensboro

Street in Greensboro. (21) belonging to his uncle, (4,5) Clark Porter. (15) It was a combined pharmacy, soda fountain, tobacco shop, and newsstand, and was the local gathering spot,(15) described as “the social, political, and anecdotal clearing house of the town”. (21) He began working (5,15) a clerk. (5,7) <[OR]> an apprentice (10) <[OR]> a promising pharmacist (14) <[OR]> a bookkeeper. (12,18) This allowed Will to meet and mingle with many interesting personalities, some of whom would later appear in his stories. (21) He became immersed in the social scene, entertaining the customers with stories and (15) drawing caricatures of them for which he became well known. (15,16) He saw the humour in the everyday, and made notes of all the colourful characters he encountered, (15) fodder for his future stories. (15,21) There he worked five years (4) He became a licensed pharmacist (10,12) in 1881 (10,13) at the age of 19. (17,18) Small town life was not to hold him for long, however. (15) In the mid of 1820s2 (14) the close confinement (5) impaired his health: (5,8) which started to control his active life. (10,14) He developed a persistent cough. (10,11) and, thinking that a change of climate would do him well, (15) decided to move (10) <[OR]> was sent (5) to a better climate. (10) It was in the process of finding a cough remedy that (14) in March (18) 1882 (2,5) <[OR]> in 1884, at the age of eighteen (15) <[OR]> 20 (7) he travelled from North Carolina (14) to Austin, (3,4) Texas (14,15) with Dr. James K. Hall, hoping that a change of air would help alleviate his cough. (18)

Texas Ranch 1882-4

So (5,8) in 1882 (2,5) as a young man (2,3) Will went to visit his friends Lee and Dick Hall (21) in Austin, (3,4) <[OR]> Cotulla (10) <[OR]> La Salle (14,18) County (18,21) in West (8) Texas. (2,5) With Dr. James K Hall’s son Richard (14,18) he moved to (5,10) Hall’s (14,18) <[OR]> Hall’s friend’s (5,10) or Lee and Dick’s (21) sheep (4,17) ranch, (4,5) where they were welcomed. (14) He remained there two years, (4,5) from 1882 to 1884 (10) working as a ranch hand, (12,18) learning about the cowboy life: lassoing cattle, shearing sheep and tending horses. (21) He learned shepherding, cooking, (17,18) campfire fare (21) and babysitting. (17,18) As he was trying to return with a vengeance from his past life, (14) (?) Henry took the time to study and read ancient literature. (14,18) He also learnt to talk in German and Spanish (14,17) from the many migrant farmhands. (17,18) He met his wife, Athol Estes, (2,15) there in 1882 (2) <[OR]> around this time. (15) He began to write freelance sketches there (10,15) <[OR]> later in Austin. (7,9) Porter’s health improved. (18) After two years on the ranch, he grew restless and looked for other work. (21) Dr. Beall, a friend from Greensboro, suggested he “come back to North Carolina and buy a shovel and go to work on the Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley Railroad”, (21) but Will sought his fortune in Austin, Texas. (21) travelling there with Richard in 1884. (19)

Austin 1884-1898

Figure 4 Man about town in Austin

In 1884 (4,5) he moved (2,3) to Austin (5,8) Texas (2,3)and was welcomed into the home of Joseph Harrell (18,19) and his wife for three years. (19) The Harrells, (18,19) were friends of Richard’s. (19) He lived in Austin for ten years. (5) During William’s early years in the city (8) he held several jobs. (8,18)He was a pharmacist (8,15)at the Morley (8,19) Brothers’ (19) Drug (8,19) Store, <[OR]> Company. (19) Porter then moved on to work (8,10) as a bookkeeper. (8) for (19) Joe (8) Harrell’s Cigar Store located in the Driskill Hotel (19) He was a draftsman and journalist. (18) and worked in a real estate office. (4,5) He also began writing as a sideline to employment. (18,19) He had an active social life in Austin. (17,18) William frequented the Bismark Saloon, his favourite ‘watering hole’. (8) He was a fine musician (17,18) and loved to play the mandolin and guitar. (14,17) His remarkable voice earned him trustable acclaims. (14) As a bachelor (8) he formed and (14) enjoyed (8) singing with (8,14) St. David’s Episcopal (19) church choir (4,19)<[OR]>the Hill City Quartet, (8,14)<[OR]> Quartette’ (19) a group of young men who sang at gatherings (8,18) such as weddings, church festivals, and picnics (8) and serenaded young women of the town. (8,18) on the streets of Austin (8) He belonged to drama groups. (18)

Marriage to Athol Estes 1887

Figure 5 Wiliam, Athol and Margaret

In 1887, (7,8)<[OR]> between 1882 and 1884 (10) at the laying of the cornerstone of the Texas State Capitol on March 2, 1885 (19) William met (10,18) an Austin (8) girl from a rich family, (17,18) seventeen year old (8,18) Athol Estes. (2,7) the stepdaughter of Mr. P.G. Roach. (12) She was impressed with both his singing and drawing abilities. (8) They fell in love but (10) her mother (18,21) and step-father (18) objected to the match because Athol was ill, suffering from tuberculosis. (18,21) <[OR]> she was diagnosed with tuberculosis in July of 1895, (21) On 1st July 1887 (16,18)they eloped to (8,10) Flower Hill, (8) the home of Reverend R.K.Smoot, (8,18) pastor of the Central Presbyterian Church, where the Estes family attended church. (19) They were married (8,13) there (18,19) in a midnight ceremony (21) in the parlor of Rev Smoot’s house, (19) on 5th (13) <[OR]>1st (14,19) July, 1887. (13,14) Will and Athol had two children, (4,8) an infant son who (4,8) was born prematurely and (13) died (4,8) a few hours later, (13,18) in 1888, and (8) Margaret (4,8)Worth Porter, (8,13) born on September (13,18) 30th (13) 1889. (8,11) The couple continued to participate in musical and theater groups. (18) At about the time of (9) <[OR]> after (10) his marriage to Athol, he began writing (9,10) humorous (10) sketches, (9,10) and selling them to newspapers. (10) Athol encouraged her husband to pursue (18) his writing (15,18) on which, with a steady income Porter was now able to focus. (15)

Work as a Draftsman

He spent a few (10) <[OR]> four years as a draftsman (4,10) <[OR]> a clerk at Maddox Brothers and Anderson, general land agents. (8) Porter’s friend, Richard Hall, (16,18) became Texas Land Commissioner and offered Porter a job as a political appointment. (18) His status as the head of a new household motivated (8) him to accept the position. (14,18) Porter started as a draftsman (14,18) at the Texas (8,10) <[OR]> General Land Office (4,5) in Austin (8) on January 12th (19) in 1887. (18,19) He worked hard as draftsmen (14,18) drawing maps from surveys and field notes, (18) translating his skills as a cartoonist into cartography. (8) His maps, some of which are embellished with topical sketches and landscapes, are still on file at the General Land Office. (8) He earned a salary (14,18) of $100 a month, (18) which was sufficient (14,18) to support his family, (18) but he pursued his interest in writing and (8,18) continued his contributions to magazines and newspapers. (18) In the GLO building, he began developing characters and plots for such stories. (18) He is believed to have (13) written and published a variety of short stories for a wide array of newspapers and magazines. (14) Some of the memorable works thus prefigured include ‘Georgia (14) <[OR]> Georgia’s (18) Ruling (14,18) (1900) (18) and ‘Buried Treasure’ (14,18) (1908). (18) The castle-like building he worked in was even woven into some his tales such as (18) the compelling (14) ‘Bexar Scrip (4,18) No. 2692’ (18) (1894). (4,18) He illustrated a book, Indian Depredations in Texas, by J. W. Wilbarger (8,13) (1889). (13) Richard Hall ran for governor in the election of 1890 (19) but lost. (16,19) Porter resigned (18,19) on January 21st 1891, the day after the new governor, Jim Hogg, was sworn in. (19) Between 1887 and 1894, Porter continued to pick up various job skills, (11) but Athol’s health began to deteriorate from tuberculosis. (8)

1891 First National Bank

Figure 6 William in the First National Bank

In 1891, William left his job at the Texas Land Office and (8,14) in the same year (16) moved on to (8,14) work in (3,4) the First National (5,8) Bank (3,4) of Austin (5,8) as a teller (3,5) and bookkeeper. (14,18) He earned $100 a month, (8,18) the same salary he had made at the General Land Office. (18) He and Athol were living in the house which is now known as the O Henry House Museum. (15) Finding adequate income was like a miracle to them3. (14)

Accused of Embezzlement

Figure 6 William in the First National BankBanking was not to be Henry’s calling; (17,18) The bank was operated informally (18) <[OR]> poorly-run (4) William was careless at bookkeeping, (16,17) and had trouble keeping track of his books. (18) <[OR]> was apparently careless in keeping his books and may have embezzled funds. (19) All hell broke loose when the company lost its way. (14) Its accounts had not balanced. (4,8) An audit revealed (10) shortages (8,10)<[OR]> inconsistencies (15) in William’s accounts, (10,15) amounting to over $4000. (8) In 1894 (12,18) he was blamed for it (3,4)and resigned (8,12)<[OR]>was fired (4,16)for embezzlement, (15,16) <[OR]> he eventually quit his bank job to edit a humorous magazine full time. (21) He maintained his innocence and the case was dismissed by the grand jury, (10) so he was not indicted. (10,18)

The Rolling Stone, 1894-5

Figure 7: Political Satire in ‘The Rolling Stone

William found himself jobless with a family to support. (10) A few years later, (7) <[OR]> in 1894, (5,8) while working at the bank, (18,21) <[OR]> after he left the bank, he worked full-time on (19) a humorous weekly called The Rolling Stone, which he started (18,19) while working at the bank. (19,21) He purchased (5) <[OR]> founded (7,16) Brann’s Iconoclast, a weekly, which after a short time he converted into a (5) small humorous (4,11) ten-page (5) weekly, (4,5) newspaper/magazine4 (14) which he renamed ‘The Rolling Stone’ (5,7) (no relation to the current magazine, founded in 1967. (15)) For it he used to pen down political views, sketches and satires. (14,15) He alone furnished most of the matter and the illustrations. (5,14) Even as a young boy he had been locally famous for his cartoons. (5) It featured satire on life, people and politics and included Porter’s short stories and sketches. (18) To his shock, (14) it gained a healthy circulation of about 1000 (8) <[OR]> over 2000 (15) <[OR]> 1500 (18) copies (14,18) in a city of 11,000, (8) but sadly (21) despite this public interest (8), the paper failed. (18,21) William was unable to make a profit (8) and failed to establish it. (4,7) perhaps because of Porter’s poking fun at powerful people. (18) Itnever provided the money he needed to support his family. (18) In April 1895 (18) it stopped production after a year. (5,8) In his own words the paper ‘rolled away,’ (5) Will was now jobless again. (21) Money was scarce. (21) Although his first writing endeavours had thus failed, the attempt gained attention from (11,16) the editor at (18,19) the Houston Post, (11,16) so he decided to pursue a career in writing. (10)

Houston 1895-6

When he lost his banking position (17) <[OR]> after the failure if ‘The Rolling Stone’, (11,16) the family picked5 up and (11,19) <[OR]> Athol was too sick to travel, so they (21) moved to Houston, (3,4) Texas in 1895. (3,5) to continue his writing career. (16) He became a reporter, (7,10) columnist (3,5) and occasional (9) cartoonist (9,14) on the Houston (5,7) Daily (5,21) Post. (5,7) He earned $25 per month (14,17) ((about $300 a year was an average salary at this time, (17) but it rose steadily as his popularity increased. (18) He worked there for a few years (4) <[OR]> a year. (3) He used to observe and meet people (16,17) by loitering and talking to people (19) in hotel lobbies to gather information (16,17) for his novel (16) <[OR]> his column. (17,18) This was a technique he used throughout his writing career. (18) He inspired lots of people with his writings, (14) but as he gained fame writing he also gained notoriety from the bank where he worked. (10,11) Some <[OR]> Three years after he had left the bank (10) discrepancies persisted. (10,15) While he was in Houston, the First National Bank of Austin was audited (10,18) There was a Federal investigation into the account, (10,19) and in 1896 (3,5) they managed to get a federal indictment against Porter, (18,19) reinstating (10,16) the charges against him. (10,12) Modern research indicates that Will was blamed for the crimes of his superiors, (21) but he was called back to Austin (3) in February (9) and arrested for embezzlement (11,12) during his time at the bank, (11) a charge which he denied. (18) <[OR]> Will admitted, “I took the job and held a position of trust. (21) Since I did not report the shortages as they occurred, I can legally be held as an accessory to the fact.” (21) He was arrested (11,19) and ordered to (4,19) stand trial. (3,4) Fearing the trial’s outcome, (21) he did not want to go to prison for his crime. (3,4) With so much life experience and wit, he decided that the most practical way to deal with his arrest (11) and avoid an embezzlement trial, (8) was to (11) post bail (12,17) and flee. (3,4) <[OR]> his father-in-law posted bail to keep Porter out of jail. (16,18) He was due to stand trial on July 7, 1896, (19) but on the way to Austin (10) one day (16,7) <[OR]> right before the trial, (10,11) he hitched a train ride (11) <[OR]> as he was changing trains to get to the courthouse, he got scared (19) and fled (11,18) to New Orleans (8,10) <[OR]> Honduras. (16)

Central America 1896-7

Figure 8 William S. Porter in 1896

From there, (4,7) with the help of friends, he fled (9) by steamer (8) to Honduras. (3,4) where there was no extradition treaty. (17,19) In his desperate situation, he impulsively planned to wait out the statute of limitations. (8) He planned to earn money through free-lance writing until he could afford to send for his family (21) and took a reporting job. (7) He befriended Al Jennings, a notorious train robber, (16,17) who appears in one of his books (16) <[OR]> who later wrote a book about their friendship. (17) in Central America. (8) He stayed there for six months (3,19) <[OR]> two years (4) and in January 1897. (19) he set off to visit several South American countries, (5) He went to stay in a Peru hotel for a while. (14) <[OR]> His extradition was short lived. (11) Before he could move his wife and daughter there (10) <[OR]> he sent his wife and daughter back to Texas (17,18), to live with Athol’s parents in Austin. (18) Athol became too ill to meet Porter in Honduras (17,18) as he had planned. (18) He (14,16) intended to wait out the statute of limitations, (10) and eased up his mind by (14) holing up in a Trujillo hotel (19) writing (14,16) his first collection of short stories (17,18) his vital work (14) ‘Cabbages and Kings’, (14,16) which explores aspects of life in a paralytically sleepy Central American town. (18) Honduras inspired his phrase ‘banana republic’, (15,18) subsequently used to describe almost any small tropical dictatorship in Latin America. (18) Each story advances some aspect of the larger plot and relates back one to another in a complex structure which slowly explicates its own background even as it painstakingly erects a town which is one of the most detailed literary creations of the period. (18)

Austin February 1897-8

He now learned his wife (17,19) Athol had become (10,21) seriously (7,8) ill. (4,7) She had always suffered from tuberculosis back in Texas. (10,11) and it was getting critical. (21) When he realized it (21) Porter (17,19) rushed back (21) to Austin (17,19)Texas (8,10) United States (3,4) in February (19) 1897, (5,19) to be with her, (21) care for her and to await his trial. (8) He surrendered to the court, (16,19) pending trial (19) on the charges of embezzlement, (15) but the lenient authorities did not press his case (9) allowing him bail (9,17) until after her death. (9) His father-in-law again (17,18) posted his bail (10,17) so he could remain with his wife until her death in 1897. (17,18) After a few months, (17) on July 25th (12,13) 1897, (8,12) at the age of 29, (21) Athol died (7,8) of tuberculosis (14,15) (then known as consumption). (19) Shortly (8) after (7,8) her death, (7,8) he surrendered to court. (10) <[OR]>he was apprehended. (3,4) <[OR]> Instead of taking care of his dearest partner, he spent time behind bars, and that’s where his passion for writing short stories began. (14) <[OR]>He began writing (9,10) At about the time of (9) <[OR]> after (10) his marriage to Athol in 1887. (9,10) <[OR]> After his wife’s death, Will published his first short story “The Miracle of Lava Canyon” using the name William Sydney Porter (forever changing the spelling of his middle name). (21) The editors loved it and asked for more stories, but in February of 1898, Will’s criminal trial began. (21)


There has been much debate over his actual guilt. (13) The loss of funds was actually a result of technical mismanagement, (2,7) <[OR]> the evidence against him was inconclusive, (10) <[OR]> later his innocence seemed to have been established, (5,7) and it was generally agreed that had he originally stood trial he would have been acquitted. (5) <[OR]> Perhaps life seemed to have thrashed him so hard that Henry opted to become a millionaire in one days’ time. (14) Strangely, though, (21) when the court tried him, (3,4) he made no effort to defend himself (21) <[OR]> had little to say in his own defense. (18) Perhaps this was because he had already persuaded himself of his own guilt: “I did not report the shortages as they occurred, I can legally be held as an accessory to the fact.” (21) We perhaps should remember that the South was just emerging from Reconstruction which had not endeared her citizenry to Federal authorities of any kind. Even if O. Henry knew who had taken what, he would not have “snitched” under any circumstances. Southerners survived the privations of Reconstruction by elevating Honour. A man’s word was his bond – to the extent that it became the de facto “banking system,” and “ratting someone out” to the Yankees would have made one an outcast in polite (and even impolite!) Southern society. Thus, perhaps O. Henry did the honourable thing as a Southern gentleman and fell on his sword, shielding his employer by remaining discreet about what he knew. On February 17th, 1898, (19) the court convicted him (5,8) on all charges (21) <[OR]> of embezzling (8,19) $854.08. (19) On March 25th 1898, (19) it sentenced him to serve (5,8) three (20) <[OR]> four (5) <[OR]> five (8,9) years (5,8) in the Columbus, (3,7) Ohio (4,5) federal (8) penitentiary. (4,5) It was the lightest sentence possible. (9) The federal courthouse in which Henry was convicted is now Henry Hall, owned by the Texas State University System. (19)

Prison, March 1898

He entered (5,14) the Penitentiary (4,9) at Columbus, (3,7) Ohio (4,5) on April (5) <[OR]> March (14,20) 25th, (5,14) 1898. (5,9) <[OR]> 1989 (17) (!!!) as federal prisoner 30664. (18,20) He served (3,4) three years (3,7) <[OR]> three years and three months (9) a few months more than three years (4,9) <[OR]> five years (17) At around this time he changed his name to Sydney. (15) While in prison, (3,5) being a licensed pharmacist he (16,19) was given a vital (14) role in the prison drug department, (14,16) working as night druggist in the prison hospital, (9,10) He had a room in the hospital, and never had to live in a cell. (17,18)

Figure 9: Ohio State Penitentiary in Columbus ‘O.Henry’

The prisoners provided Will with character sketches and tales, (21) and he began (3,5) <[OR]> continued (11) writing short (3,5) adventure stories (7,9) in the James Hospital building on the west edge of the prison, (20) to earn money for support of his daughter Margaret. (9,10) who was then living with Athol’s parents, (15) who had moved to Pittsburgh (18) <[OR]> Pittsburgh (15) Pennsylvania, (4,14), after Porter’s conviction. (18) He had fourteen stories published while he was in prison. (18,19) The first of his stories was ‘Whistling Dick’s Christmas Stocking’ (1899) (13,15) <[OR]> Whistling Dick’s Christmas (14) in the December 1899 issue of (18) McClure’s Magazine. (14,15) It was attributed to ‘O. Henry’. (3,5) <[OR]> he was becoming best known as ‘Henry’. (19) He had tried various other pseudonyms, (11,13) like S. H. Peters, James L. Bliss, T. B. Dowd, and Howard Clark. (19) and Olivier Henry (11,13) (only once) (13) for his writings, (3,5) probably (5) not wanting his readers to know he was in jail. (13) As the name ‘Henry’ seemed to garner the most attention from editors and the public, it was used exclusively by Porter for his writing by about 1902. (19) He is said to have derived the pen-name from the name of a girlfriend’s cat. (13) <[OR]> In 1909, he gave an interview to The New York Times, in which he gave an account of it:

It was during these New Orleans days that I adopted my pen name of Henry. I said to a friend: ‘I’m going to send out some stuff. I don’t know if it amounts to much, so I want to get a literary alias. Help me pick out a good one.’ He suggested that we get a newspaper and pick a name from the first list of notables that we found in it. In the society columns we found the account of a fashionable ball. ‘Here we have our notables,’ said he. We looked down the list and my eye lighted on the name Henry, ‘That’ll do for a last name,’ said I. ‘Now for a first name. I want something short. None of your three-syllable names for me. ‘ ‘Why don’t you use a plain initial letter, then?’ asked my friend. ‘Good,’ said I, ‘O is about the easiest letter written, and O it is. A newspaper once wrote and asked me what the O stands for. I replied, ‘O stands for Olivier the French for Oliver, and several of my stories accordingly appeared in that paper under the name Olivier Henry. Writer and scholar Guy Davenport offers another explanation: ‘[T]he pseudonym that he began to write under in prison is constructed from the first two letters of Ohio and the second and last two of penitentiary.’ Both versions may well be apocryphal.


Many of his stories (5,14) written in prison, were mailed to New Orleans and thence redirected (5,18) by a friend of his (18,19) to the publishers, (5,18) so they had no idea the writer was imprisoned. (18) They were collected in Cabbages and Kings (1904). (7) His stories were set in Texas and Central America and quickly became popular (7,9) with magazine readers. (9) He also changed the spelling of his middle name from Sidney to ‘Sydney’. (13,18) In 1898 (18,19) <[OR]> when he began working for newspapers in the 1880s (13) He published (13,14) 12 (13) <[OR]> 14 (14,16) stories while in prison. ( 13,14) Eventually, his works spread overseas. (14)


Fig Supplemental : O. Henry, year unknown, aged 20s?

He was released (5,10) early for good behaviour, (10,13) after three years (16,18) of service at the Prison hospital, (9,16) on July 24th, (5,18) 1901. (5,10) <[OR]> 1902. (7) He never returned to Texas, (8) and began a new life as O. Henry. (10)

Pittsburgh, 1901

In 1902, (2,7) after his release (3,7) ) <[OR]> after the death of his wife6, (2) he moved to New York (2,3) <[OR]> briefly (8) teamed up with his (11,14) eleven- (14) <[OR]> twelve- (18) year-old (14) daughter (11,14) Margaret (4,8) in Pittsburgh, (4,15) <[OR]> Pittsburg (15) Pennsylvania, (4,14) where Athol’s parents had moved after Porter’s conviction. (19) Margaret was never told that her father had been in prison, just that he had been away on business. (15,18) From Pittsburgh he sent manuscripts to New York editors, and In the spring of 1902, Ainslee’s Magazine offered him a regular income if he wrote a story a week for over a year for the New York World Sunday Magazine. (19)

New York 1902-1910

Figure 10¨The Sunday World

Porter, now O.Henry, (10,11) moved to New York (2,3) in 1902 (4,10) to be near his publishers. (18) He called it ‘Bagdad on the Subway’,(9,18) and made it his home. (7,8) This was where he really came into his own and all his previous life’s experience served to inspire stories. (15) New York was the setting of most of his fiction for the remainder of his life. (7,15) It was while he was in New York, (2) between 1902 (16) <[OR]>December 1903 and January 1906, (9,10) that his most intensive writing period occurred. (2) Though incapable of integrating a book-length narrative, Henry was skilled in plotting short ones. (7) He sent forth a constant stream of stories, (5) at the rate of one story a week for (7,9) a newspaper, (7) <[OR]>magazine called the New York (9,10) Sunday (9,16) World, (9,10)<[OR]>New York World Sunday Magazine, (18,19) in addition to other stories for magazines. (7,10) In less than eight years, he became a bestselling author of collections of short stories. (4) writing over 250 (2,3) <[OR]>381 (2,18)<[OR]> almost 381 (16) <[OR]> over 400 (14) <[OR]> upwards of 600 (11) <[OR]> nearly 600 (13) stories about life in America, (13) under the pen name O.Henry. (7,8) They quickly (10) became extraordinarily popular, (5,7) despite many of his works being panned by the critics (15,18) he became a revered American writer. (7,15)

Literary Output

Porter has been compared to other masters of the short story including Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol, Bret Harte, Rudyard Kipling, Mark Twain, (15) and French author Guy de Maupassant (15,19) (1850-1893), (15) but while both authors wrote plot twist endings, Henry’s stories were considerably more playful, and are also known for their witty narration. (19) He crafted everyday tales of myriad characters, many recurring, with humour, wit, and realism. (15) They appeared in such publications as World, Ainslee’s, and McClure’s. (15) Henry’s works include (2,3) his first story ‘Cabbages and Kings’, written in 1904; (4,9) <[OR]> in 1886 when he was in Honduras. (17) It depicted fantastic characters against exotic Honduran backgrounds. (9) From 1907 to 1910, he published two collections every year. (10) These included (7,10) first of all, ‘Cabbages and Kings’, published in 1904, (10,13) followed by ‘The Four Million’, (4,7) probably the most representative collection of his work, (7) in 1906. (7,9) <[OR]> 1909 (15) including his well-known stories ‘The Gift of the Magi’, (13,17) ‘The Skylight Room’, ‘The Green Door’ (13) and ‘The Cop and the Anthem’. (17) Many of his (19) stories are set (9,17) in his own time, the early 20th century, (19) in New York City (9,17) and explore the lives of everyday Manhattanites, (7,9) the multitude of New York people in their daily routines and searchings for romance and adventure, (9) characters with blue-collar jobs, such as policemen and waitresses. (19) Others are set in small towns or in other cities. (19) The title was based on the population of New York at that time, (17) and answered (7,18) the snobbish claim of socialite (7) Ward McAllister that only 400 people in New York ‘were really worth noticing’, (7,18) by detailing events in the lives of. (7) “But a wiser man has arisen—the census taker—and his larger estimate of human interest has been preferred in marking out the field of these little stories of the ‘Four Million.” (18) To Henry, everyone in New York counted: he had an obvious affection for the city. (18) ‘The Trimmed Lamp’ (4,7) (1907) <[OR]> 1910 (15) ‘Heart of the West’ in 1907 (4,7) presented accurate and fascinating tales of the Texas range. (9) ‘The Gentle Grafter’ (7,9) was about the swindler, Jeff Peters;7 (4) and ‘The Voice of the City’, 1908; (4,7) ‘Roads of Destiny’ and (4,9) ‘Options’ in 1909, (4,7) ‘Strictly Business’ and ‘Whirligigs’ in 1910. (4,7) ‘More Stories of the Four Million, (15) and Blind Man’s Holiday’ were published in Whirligigs (12) in 1910. (4,7) Below is a memorable passage from the work:

‘Man is too thoroughly an egoist not to be also an egotist; if he love, the object shall know it. During a lifetime he may conceal it through stress of expediency and honour, but it shall bubble from his dying lips, though it disrupt a neighbourhood. It is known, however, that most men do not wait so long to disclose their passion. In the case of Lorison, his particular ethics positively forbade him to declare his sentiments, but he must needs dally with the subject. (12) .

Whirligigs also included ‘The Last Leaf’, ‘The Green Door’, (3) and ‘The Duplicity of Hargraves’. (2,15) It tells the story of the Talbots, a father and daughter from the Old South who move to Washington, DC, newly poor after the Civil War. (19) An actor, Hargraves, offers Mr. Talbot money, which he is too proud to accept. (19) But when Talbot is approached by an old man, a former slave who gives him money to settle an old family debt, he accepts it. (19) It is later revealed that Hargraves secretly portrayed the slave. (19) One of his last stories, ‘The Ransom of Red Chief’. (2,9) It is perhaps Porter’s funniest (9,16) and best known of his works. (13) It provides an example of his exaggeration of characters. (16) Johnny, a (16) heinous (17) bratty and obnoxious (18) little boy (16,17) of ten (18) who is kidnapped by two (16,17) hapless (17) kidnappers. (16,17) He is not like normal kids who are terrified and sad being kidnapped rather he enjoys being kidnapped (16) and turns the tables on them, (17) so that the desperate men ultimately pay the boy’s father $250 to take him back. (18) Sixes and Sevens (1911) (15)


  • 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 (13,18) set on a dark street in New York, focuses on a man named ‘Silky’ Bob who is fulfilling an appointment made 20 years ago to meet his friend Jimmy at a restaurant. A beat cop questions him about what he is doing there. Bob explains, and the policeman leaves. Later, a second policeman comes up and arrests Bob. He gives Bob a note, in which the first policeman explains that he was Jimmy, come to meet Bob, but he recognized Bob as a wanted man. Unwilling to arrest his old friend, he went off to get another officer to make the arrest.
  • 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
  • Best-Seller Between Rounds
  • Bexar Scrip No. 2692
  • Blind Man’s Holiday
  • Brickdust Row
  • Buried Treasure By Courier
  • Calloway’s Code Caught
  • Cherchez La Femme
  • Christmas By Injunction
  • Compliments of the Season (17,18) describes several characters’ misadventures during Christmas. (18)
  • Confessions Of A Humorist
  • Conscience in Art
  • A La Carte Cupid’s
  • Exile Number Two
  • Dougherty’s Eye-Opener
  • Extradited from Bohemia
  • Fickle Fortune or How Gladys Hustled ‘Fox-in-the-Morning’
  • Friends in San Rosario
  • From Each According to His Ability
  • From the Cabby’s Seat
  • Georgia’s Ruling ‘Girl’
  • 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
  • Ships Shoes
  • Sisters of the Golden Circle
  • Smith
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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 Tictocq
  • 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

Literary style

Subject matter

His stories are characterized by a gorgeousness of imagination, recalling The Arabian Nights so familiar to him. (5) He wrote in an intense (16) dry, humorous style (3,7) with witty narration (2,16) and wordplay. (16,17) His characterization and plot twists (11,18) were adored by his readers, (7,15) but often panned by the critics. (7,9) His writing is full of paronomasia, irony, metaphor, exaggeration, and metonymy that make his stories funny. (16) Another important feature of his writing style is oxymoron, a combination of tragedy and comedy, i.e. tearful smile. (16) ‘The Cop and the Anthem’, is about a New York City hobo (17,18) called Soapy (16,17) with a creative solution for dealing with the cold city streets during winter, (17) which is to get arrested so he can avoid sleeping in the cold winter (19) as a guest of the city jail. (16,19) Despite efforts at petty theft, vandalism, disorderly conduct, and “mashing” with a young prostitute, Soapy fails to draw the attention of the police. (19) Soapy walked past the policeman sadly. (16) Disconsolate, he pauses in front of a church, where an organ anthem inspires him to clean up his life–whereupon he is promptly charged for loitering and sentenced to three months in prison, exactly what he originally set to do. (19) He seemed doomed to liberty. It is obvious that ‘doomed’ has a negative connotation and is usually followed by negative words like death, destruction, and failure, etc., whereas liberty has a positive connotation. (16) This strange use of the word makes the language funny as no one considers liberty as a negative word but Soapy, who is poor and homeless. (16) For Soapy, liberty is something which means hunger, coldness, and death. (16) By using humorous language, Henry shows the miserable life of Soapy. (16) In his hundreds of short stories, Henry’s characters have one thing in common: human nature. (11) The main characters of his stories were mostly the people surrounding him, (16) ordinary people: such as clerks, policemen, waitresses, and so on. (18) Most of his stories are set in his own time, the early years of the twentieth century. (18) His biography shows where he found inspiration for his characters. (4,11) His style contains local colour. (16) As he was born in North Carolina, he directly belonged to Southern background. (16) His writings are deeply inspired by his native culture. (16) Most of the stories of Henry are about folk’s lifestyle in the South. (16) The setting of almost thirty stories, of all stories, is of old South and deals with the attitudes and activities of common southern characters. (16) Most of his narrative is based on his childhood in the South and his dealings with the criminals of Texas. (16) He talks about his life with the criminals of Texas in his stories. (16) He based the main characters of these stories with his first-hand experience with them. (16,17) His writings have a realistic touch as he takes dialogues from his own childhood and has first-hand experience with people of various classes. (16) Having experience as a pharmacist, father, felon, bank teller, newspaper reporter, fugitive, husband, and draftsman, Henry had much to pull from for his writing. (11) Porter also wrote numerous stories set in Western and South and Central America. (9,15) particularly Honduran backgrounds. (9) New York is the setting for many of his storie. (3,5) for example ‘The Ransom of Red Chief’, ‘The Gift of Magi’ and ‘The Last Leaf’. (16) This shows his special affection for New York City and its people. (16) His tales romanticized the commonplace, (9) in particular the life of ordinary people in New York City, (7,9) the mass of (5) lower-class and middle-class (7) humanity there. (5) His stories of New York City and Texas are his most popular and best known. (21) He wrote very little about North Carolina except for “A Blackjack Bargainer” (about a Blue Ridge Mountain feud) and “Let Me Feel Your Pulse,” (based on his time spent in Weaverville in 1909). (21) Even so, many of his famous character names and personalities were derived from people he knew growing up in Greensboro. (21) He preferred writing of common people, like Jim and Della. (11) The speech patterns and rhythm in the writings of Henry are of common folks that add variety, vivacity, and interests in his stories. (16) Their voices and his language were products of his era. (4,16) There’s the Cisco kid, who is a from The Caballero’s Way ‘The Caballero’s Way’ in which Porter’s most famous character, the Cisco Kid, is introduced, (11,19) was first published in 1907 in the July issue of Everybody’s Magazine and collected in the book Heart of the West that same year. (11) In later film and TV depictions, the Kid would be portrayed as a dashing adventurer, perhaps skirting the edges of the law, but primarily on the side of the angels. (19) In the original short story, the only story by Porter to feature the character, the Kid is a murderous, ruthless border desperado, whose trail is dogged by a heroic Texas Ranger. (19) <[OR]> a desperado-of-sorts (11)

On love, in ‘The Plutonian Fire’ he wrote

‘He wrote love stories, a thing I have always kept free from, holding the belief that the well-known and popular sentiment is not properly matter for publication, but something to be privately handled by the alienist and the florist.’

In ‘The Octopus Marooned’ he wrote:

‘It was beautiful and simple as all truly great swindles are.’

Henry had a great ability to use allusions. (16) His literary allusions, particularly ancient classics and Shakespearean plays, show the artistry of Henry with words. (16) His short story, ‘The Poet and the Peasant,’ has a lot of literary devices, including allusions. (16) Fundamentally a product of his time, Henry’s work provides one of the best English examples of catching the entire flavor of an age. (18) Whether roaming the cattle-lands of Texas, exploring the art of the ‘gentle grafter,’ or investigating the tensions of class and wealth in turn of the century New York, Henry had an inimitable talent for isolating some element of society and describing it with an incredible economy and grace of language. (18) In ‘A Municipal Report’ he opens by quoting Frank Norris: ‘Fancy a novel about Chicago or Buffalo, let us say, or Nashville, Tennessee! There are just three big cities in the United States that are ‘story cities’—New York, of course, New Orleans, and, best of the lot, San Francisco. (18) ‘ Thumbing his nose at Norris, Henry sets the story in Nashville! (18)

Surprise Factor

His stories expressed the effect of coincidence on character through humour, grim or ironic. (9) His stories are known for their surprise endings. (2,3) He was called the American answer to Guy de Maupassant. (18) Both authors wrote twist endings, but Henry stories were much more playful and optimistic. (18) For example here is the ending of perhaps his most famous story, (3,7) ‘The Gift of the Magi’, (2,3) published in 1905 (12) in which a poverty-stricken (7,11) young (18) New York (7) couple Jim and Della (11,12) desperately want to but (18) cannot afford to buy each other Christmas gifts. (11,12) Here is an extract:

One dollar and eighty-seven cents. (12,15) That was all. (15) And sixty cents of it was in pennies. (15) 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. (15) Three times Della counted it. (15) And the next day would be Christmas. (12,15) There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating. The magi, as you know, were wise men —wonderfully wise men —who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones. (12)

They secretly sell valued possessions to buy one another gifts. (7,11) The wife sells her (7,11) most valuable possession, her beautiful (18) hair so that she can buy her husband a (7,11) platinum fob (18) watch chain, while he sells his watch so that he can buy her a pair of (7,11) jewelled (18) combs… (7,11) This story is recited countless times every Christmas to demonstrate the power of giving, echoing the words of Jesus that ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive’. (18) The essential premise of this story has been copied, re-worked, parodied, and otherwise re-told countless times in the century since it was written. (18) There’s Soapy from The Cop and the Anthem, who lives as a homeless person hoping to get arrested. (11) However, after he finally makes the decision to clean up his life he is arrested and charged with loitering. (11) Such ironic plot twists are common in many of Henry’s works. (11) His wit, characterization, and plot twists were adored by his readers but often panned by critics. (19) These surprise endings became identified with his name and cost him critical favour when its vogue had passed. (7,9) His constant striving for effect and excessive use of slang led many to see in them a degeneration into ‘literary vaudeville.’ (5)

Other publications

His work was prolific, (8,18) extending to poetry and non-fiction. (2) In his lifetime Henry was able to see the silent film adaptations of his stories; The Sacrifice (1909), Trying to Get Arrested (1909) and His Duty (1909). (13)

Decline and Death 1907-10

In spite of his success, (9,10) Porter became increasingly unhappy towards the end of his life. (9,10) <[OR]> the period 1902-10 were eight glorious years. (11)

Second Marriage 1907

In 1905, (21) after he served his time in prison (12) Will became reacquainted with (18,21) Sara (10,12) <[OR]> Sarah (18) (Sallie) (15) Lindsey Coleman, (10,12) a childhood sweetheart (10,12) originally from Weaverville, North Carolina, (21) whom he met again after revisiting his native state of North Carolina. (18He soon (2) <[OR]> on 27th November (13) 1907 (2,9) <[OR]> after six years (12) remarried, (2,9) They were married (10,12) in Asheville, N. C. (12,21) Sarah was herself a (14,19) notable (14) writer (14,19) and wrote a romanticized and fictionalized version of their correspondence and courtship in her novella Wind of Destiny. (19) The second marriage was not a happy one. (9,10) Will found it difficult to change his bachelor ways. (21) By 1908 (17,18) He Porter was living an extravagant lifestyle (15,21) and spent much of his married life drinking (21) amid increasing pressure (13,15) to keep his commitments to publishers for more and more stories; (15) his health had deteriorated and his writing dropped off accordingly. (17,18) Sara left him (10,12) in 1909 (13,14) after (10,12) two (10,13) <[OR]> one (12) years, (10,12) and returned to her parent’s home in Asheville. (21)


Figure 11: Polyclinic Hospital

Without his wife, Will’s health began degrading. (21) Decades of (21) heavy drinking (9,10) and overeating left him with diabetes, an enlarged heart, and failing kidneys. (21) He visited Asheville in the summer of 1909, a dying man. (21) Sara helped him sober up and slowly his health began improving. (21) By the end of the year, he was able to return to New York and his writing, but also to his bad habits. (21) Dissatisfied with short stories which did not challenge him, he felt the need to write a novel to prove himself. (10) His health, (9,10)already poor from tuberculosis, (10,12) deteriorated from and he suffered from alcohol addiction. (13,17) Both his personal life (10,12) and his writing suffered. (8,10) Even though he had a very good income, he had careless spending habits, (10) and he was always in debt, (9,10) His last complete short story was ‘Let Me Feel Your Pulse’. (15) His final work, ‘Dream’, was a short story intended for the magazine The Cosmopolitan, but never completed. (19) On June 3rd, 1910, Will was rushed to the hospital after suddenly collapsing. (21) He was taken to the New York Polyclinic Hospital at 218 East 34th Street (today near the entrance of the Queens Midtown Tunnel), checking in under a false name to throw off the newspaper reporters. (22) He died of cirrhosis (12,15) of the liver <[OR]> cirrhosis, kidney failure, (13) and complications of (18) diabetes (13,18) and an enlarged heart. (17,18)Penniless (10,12) despite his popularity, (10) he died alone at the Polyclinic Hospital (13) in New York (8,13)on June 5th, (2,5) 1910. (2,3) just (8) before his forty-eighth birthday. (8,10)<[OR]> He was 48 years old. (21) His last words are said to have been spoken to (12,21) a nurse in his hospital room: (21) ‘Turn up the lights.’ (12,21)<[OR]> ‘turn on the light. (13) I don’t want to go home in the dark.’ (12,13)


A funeral was (12,15) <[OR]> funeral services were (18) held (12,15) at a church (12) in New York City. (12,15) Funeral services were held in New York City, (12) and he was buried at the Riverside Cemetery (15,18) in Asheville, (12,14) North Carolina. (15,16) His daughter Margaret had a short writing career from 1913 to 1916. (19) She married cartoonist Oscar Cesare of New York in 1916; they were divorced four years later. (19) She died (15,18) of tuberculosis (19) in 1927 (18,19) and was buried beside her father. (15,18) The general public did not know of his prison term until after his death. (15) In reference to the first line of ‘The Gift of the Magi’ (‘One dollar and eighty-seven cents. (12) That was all’), loose change is often seen on Porter’s headstone in Asheville, North Carolina. (12) In his honor, the classic courthouse was named after him. (14) The house that the Porters rented in Austin from 1893 to 1895, moved from its original location in 1930 and restored, opened as the Henry Museum in 1934. (18) The Henry House and Henry Hall, both in Austin, Texas, are named for him. (19) Porter has elementary schools named for him in Greensboro, North Carolina (William Sydney Porter Elementary) and Garland, Texas (Henry Elementary), as well as a middle school in Austin, Texas (Henry Middle School). (19) The Henry Hotel in Greensboro is also named for Porter, as is US 29 which is Henry Boulevard. (19)

Figure 12: Grave with Coins

His work promoted

After his death his stories continued to be collected: (4,7) the posthumously published collections include (4) Sixes and Sevens (4,9) (1911); Rolling Stones (4,7) (1912) (7,9); <[OR]> 1919. (15) Waifs and Strays (4,7)(1917) (7,9); Henryana, (1920) seven fugitive stories and poems; (9) Letters to Lithopolis (1922) (7,9); The Gentle Grafter. (1919) Two collections of his early work on the Houston P ost, (9) were published: Postscripts (1923) and Henry Encore (1939). (7,9) His daughter Margaret survived him, (4,15) dying in 1927. (15) Foreign translations and adaptations for other art forms, (9) including films (4,9) and television, attest his universal application and appeal. (9) Henry is credited for creation of The Cisco Kid, whose character alludes to Robin Hood and Don Quixote. (13) The Arizona Kid (1930) and The Cisco Kid (1931) are among the best known adaptations of his works. (13)

Figure 13: the Cisco Kid – Henry’s original was less cuddly

Others were rewarded financially more. (4) A Retrieved Reformation, is about a safecracker, Jimmy Valentine, (4,17) fresh from prison, (17,20) who goes to a town bank to check it over before he robs it. (18) As he walks to the door, he catches the eye of the banker’s beautiful daughter. (18) They immediately fall in love and Valentine decides to give up his criminal career. (18) whose life takes an unexpected turn while trying to come clean (or is he casing his next crime scene?). (17) He moves into the town, taking up the identity of Ralph Spencer, a shoemaker. (18) Just as he is about to leave to deliver his specialized tools to an old associate, a lawman who recognizes him arrives at the bank. (18) Jimmy and his fiancé and her family are at the bank, inspecting a new safe, when a child accidentally gets locked inside the airtight vault. (18) Knowing it will seal his fate, Valentine opens the safe to rescue the child. (18) Showing compassion for his good deed, the lawman lets him go. (18) He got $250 for it and, six years later, $500 for dramatic rights, which gave over $100,000 royalties for playwright Paul Armstrong. (4) He gained international recognition: Henry is a household name in Russia, as his books enjoyed excellent translations and some of his stories were made into popular movies, the best known being, probably, The Ransom of Red Chief. (18) The phrase ‘Bolivar cannot carry double’ from ‘The Roads We Take’ has become a Russian proverb, whose origin many Russians do not even recognize. (18) In 1962 The Soviet Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp bearing his name. (14,19) On September 11th, 2012, the United States Postal Service issued a stamp commemorating the 150th anniversary of Henry’s birth. (19)

Drama based on his stories

In 1952, (17,19) Marilyn Monroe and Charles Laughton starred in (17) Henry’s Full House, a film featuring five of Henry’s short stories. (17,19) The film included The Cop and the Anthem, (17,19) starring Charles Laughton and Marilyn Monroe. (19) The Clarion Call, (17,19) starring Richard Widmark (19) The Last Leaf, The Ransom of Red Chief (starring Fred Allen and Oscar Levant), and The Gift of the Magi. (17) Film adaptations of his work are Ruthless People (1986) with Danny DeVito and Bette Midler, The Ransom of Red Chief (1998), The Ransom of Red Chief (1911)8 and Business People (1963) by director Leonid Gaidai, starring Georgiy Vitsin and Yuriy Nikulin. (13) He was inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame in 1996 (inaugural class). (13) The 1986 Indian anthology television series Katha Sagar adapted several of Henry’s short stories as episodes including ‘The Last Leaf’. (19) An opera in one long act, The Furnished Room, with music by Daniel Steven Crafts and libretto by Richard Kuss, is based on Henry’s story of the same name. (19) In 2021 the Library of America included Henry in their list by publishing a collection of 101 of his stories, edited by Ben Yagoda. (19)

Henry Award

Figure 14: ‘Home Alone’, a 1990 American comedy film directed by Chris Columbus and written by John Hughes is said to be based on Henry’s ‘The Ransom of Red Chief’

Porter’s legacy includes the Henry Award, (2,8)an annual prize (2,9) established in 1919, (9) <[OR]> 1918 (10) in his honour (9,10) by the Society of Arts and Science, (10) for outstanding short stories. (2,8) It is one of the most prestigious short story prizes in America. (8) The Henry Prize Stories is an annual collection of the year’s twenty best stories published in U.S. and Canadian magazines, written in English. (18) The award itself is called the Henry Award, not the Henry Prize, though until recently there were first, second, and third prize winners; the collection is called The Henry Prize Stories, and the original collection was called Prize Stories 1919: The Henry Memorial Awards. (18) The award was first presented in 1919. (18) As of 2003, the series editor chooses twenty short stories, each one an Henry Prize Story. (18) All stories originally written in the English language and published in an American or Canadian periodical are eligible for consideration. (18) Three jurors are appointed annually. (18) The jurors receive the twenty prize stories in manuscript form, with no identification of author or publication. (18) Each juror, acting independently, chooses a short story of special interest and merit, and comments on that story. (18) The goal of The Henry Prize Stories remains to strengthen the art of the short story. (18) Starting in 2003, The Henry Prize Stories is dedicated to a writer who has made a major contribution to the art of the short story. (18) The Henry Prize Stories 2007 was dedicated to Sherwood Anderson, a U.S. short-story writer. (18) Jurors for 2007 were Charles D’Ambrosio, Lily Tuck, and Ursula K. Le Guin. (18) The Henry House has been the site of the Henry Pun-Off, an annual spoken word competition inspired by Porter’s love of language, since 1978. (19)

Presidential Pardon

Attempts were made to secure a presidential pardon for Porter during the administrations of Woodrow Wilson, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan. (18) However, no one had ever bothered to file a formal application, (19) and each attempt was met with the assertion that the Justice Department did not recommend pardons after death. (18) On November 23, 2011, Barack Obama quoted Henry while granting pardons to two turkeys named ‘Liberty’ and ‘Peace’. (19) In response, political science professor P. S. Ruckman Jr. and Texas attorney Scott Henson filed a formal application for a posthumous pardon in September 2012, the same month that the U.S. Postal Service issued its Henry stamp. (19) Ruckman and Henson argued that Porter deserved a pardon because he was a law-abiding citizen prior to his conviction; his offense was minor; he had an exemplary prison record; and his post-prison life clearly indicated rehabilitation; (5) he would have been an excellent candidate for clemency in his time, had he but applied for pardon; (6) by today’s standards, he remains an excellent candidate for clemency; and (7) his pardon would be a well-deserved symbolic gesture and more. (19) The pardon remains ungranted. (19)

‘It ain’t the roads we take; it’s what’s inside of us that makes us turn out the way we do.’

(O. Henry from ‘The Roads We Take’)

Bibliographical Notes

5 and 6 virtually identical, so no references to 6. (1) phrases recur in (9) 17 copy of 16, so removed. 18, 19, 20 renumbered as 17, 18, 19. 18 and 19 have identical phrasing. The error ‘New York World Sunday Magazine. (19)’ is in both 18 and 19.


1. https://short-stories.co/authors/OHenry

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O._Henry

3. https://users.aber.ac.uk/jpm/ellsa/ellsa_ohenrybio.html

4. https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8993.O_Henry

5. https://biography.yourdictionary.com/o-henry

6. https://excellence-in-literature.com/o-henry-bio/

7. https://www.biography.com/writer/william-sydney-porter

8. https://library.austintexas.gov/ahc/o-henry-biography

9. https://www.britannica.com/biography/O-Henry

10. https://literature.fandom.com/wiki/O._Henry

11. https://study.com/academy/lesson/o-henry-biography-books-poems.html

12. https://www.thoughtco.com/o-henry-william-sydney-porter-735835

13. https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0377958/bio

14. https://www.sunsigns.org/famousbirthdays/d/profile/o-henry/

15. http://www.online-literature.com/o_henry/

16. https://www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/william-sydney-porter-2471.php

17. omitted

18. https://americanliterature.com/author/o-henry/

19. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O._Henry

20. omitted

21. https://www.ncpedia.org/biography/porter-william-sidney

22. https://www.boweryboyshistory.com/2010/01/100-years-ago-celebrity-writer-drinks.html

23. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ohio_Penitentiary#History

1 1867-1876 is not ‘a short time’ in primary school as Book 7 says!

2 Another obvious howler by book 14!

3 But (14) also states that he had ‘an adequate income’ working at the Land Office!

4 He uses both words in successive sentences

5 Presumably (11) meant ‘packed’

6 Athol died in 1897

7 Although book 4 says this was published posthumously

8 Same one twice? Perhaps the intention was to mention ‘Home Alone’ which is based on ‘Red Chief’


1. 1867-1876 is not ‘a short time’ in primary school as Book 7 says!

2. Another obvious howler by book 14!

3. But (14) also states that he had ‘an adequate income’ working at the Land Office!

4. He uses both words in successive sentences

5. Presumably (11) meant ‘packed’

6.  Athol died in 1897

7. Although book 4 says this was published posthumously

8. Same one twice? Perhaps the intention was to mention ‘Home Alone’ which is based on ‘Red Chief’

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