Sunday, November 3, 2013

Short Stories by O. Henry

Candy for the Mind (O. Henry Week)

O. Henry is pen name of William Sydney Porter, who wrote over 600 short stories in his lifetime. Often funny, sometimes touching, always witty and imaginative, each story ended with a surprising twist.

One of his most famous stories is The Gift of the Magi, where a young, penniless couple sacrifices something dear to their hearts in order to buy the perfect Christmas present for each other. The ending has a sweet twist to it, kind of like an Oh, Henry! candy bar, which supposedly pays tribute to the beloved author. (Read it here:

There is almost an endless selection of books containing his short stories. While there are too many stories to list, below are some of my favorites.

Lost on Dress Parade is about a young man who saves his money for ten weeks so he can go out and pretend to be a rich man for one evening.  Outside the restaurant he meets a girl wearing a cheap hat and dress, obviously a shop-girl.  She twists her ankle, and he helps her up and invites her for dinner.  They have a great time, but of course, there’s a twist to the ending.  (Read it here:

Then there’s The Enchanted Kiss, where Sam walks down a street at night that turns out to be haunted.  He wanders to a Mexican food hut. The proprietor is a handsome man, about 30 years old. He sits at the table with Sam and asks him how he would like to live forever. The proprietor reveals that he is actually 400+ years old and offers him his magic youth potion—for a price.

The Lady Higher Up, is about the famous “Diana” gilded weathervane on top of a New York City’s Madison Square Garden indoor arena.  One night Diana starts a conversation with Statue of Liberty.

Memoirs of a Yellow Dog, is written from a dog’s point of view. The dog hates his mistress. In a calculated move he leads his master into a bar one night while on a walk. To the delight of the dog, the master makes it a daily event, giving the dog time away from his mistress.   (Read it here:

“He was a little man, with sandy hair and whiskers a good deal like mine. Henpecked?—well, toucans and flamingos and pelicans all had their bills in him.”  (Describing his master)
O. Henry, The Gift of the Magi and Other Stories, “Memoirs of a Yellow Dog” (Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., 1987), 103.

In the Cop and the Anthem, a bum name Soapy tries everything he can think of to get arrested so he can spend the night in a warm cell. Finally he hears music coming from a church and decides to turn his life around.

“A dead leaf fell on the Soapy’s lap. That was Jack Frost’s card.”
O. Henry, The Gift of the Magi and Other Stories, “The Cop and the Anthem” (Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., 1987), 82.

William Sydney Porter’s life had almost as many twists and turns as his stories.  As a young man he worked various jobs from a pharmacist, to a ranch hand, to draftsman, to a bank teller and bookkeeper, all while his passion for writing simmered slowly in the background. It turns out that the banking business was not a good career move. Whether he was disorganized or intentionally fraudulent is open for debate, but he was accused of embezzlement and fired.  A year later, while he was forging forward with his true love, his writing career, the bank was audited and Porter was arrested. He was sentenced to five years in the big house, the Ohio State Penitentiary. 

That wasn’t the ending he was hoping for. So after his father-in-law bailed him out, he bailed on his wife and daughter.  He settled in Honduras and prepared to have his family join him.  Unfortunately, his wife, who had tuberculosis, took a turn for the worse prompting Porter to return to say his goodbyes to her and face the authorities. In prison, he worked in the hospital as a pharmacist and continued to write in his spare time publishing his stories under the pen name O. Henry.  Three years later he was released for good behavior and that’s when he really started his writing career. He moved to New York and cranked out a short story a week.  He was on fire. People loved him, loved his witty writing style, loved his characters, and loved the surprise ending each story offered.  He was a great success.  He was also a severe alcoholic.  In a sad twist of fate, O. Henry died of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 47 in 1910.

Happy reading,  


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1 comment:

  1. Wow, his own story sounds so interesting but I look forward to reading his short stories. Thank you.