The tale of the writer who called himself O. Henry could nearly be an O. Henry story. The writer—his genuine name was William Sidney Porter—had a mystery, and he spent most of his grownup life seeking to conceal it.
The pseudonym was portion of that energy, but Porter also avoided being photographed, seldom gave interviews, and steered obvious of conditions where by an individual could possibly pry into his previous. He was not a recluse, but he did not like to be the centre of interest. People today uncovered him affable, unpretentious, and considerably inscrutable.
As a author, Porter was recognized with New York Metropolis, the place more than a hundred of his tales are established, but he was born in the Confederacy, in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1862, and he retained, as you can see in some of his tales, the racial prejudices of a white Southerner of his time.
His early daily life was unsettled. At nineteen, he was licensed as a pharmacist (his uncle’s profession), and his stories have occasional references to prescription drugs and drugs, several of which can glance fictional to a layperson but are evidently precise. Quickly afterward, he moved to Texas and worked on a ranch, whilst he spent substantially of his time there reading. He later on posted a variety of stories established in the West.
He met his long run spouse in Austin. It seems to have been adore at first sight—something that transpires extra than the moment in O. Henry stories. And he commenced a lifelong observe of roaming the streets, hanging out in bars (he was a prodigious drinker, with a name for staying able to cope with his liquor), and observing lifestyle after darkish. He appreciated to hear to individuals chat about on their own, and he utilized their stories as the basis for his fiction.
Porter was also a proficient cartoonist and composed humorous verses, and he started off up a weekly, known as The Rolling Stone, as an outlet for his get the job done. It did not establish to be a fiscally sustainable proposition.
Then catastrophe struck. Immediately after Porter and his spouse had a daughter, he took a career as a teller in the Very first Countrywide Bank of Austin. In 1894, a federal lender examiner discovered a shortage of $5,654 in the Very first Nationwide Bank’s accounts, and accused Porter of embezzlement.
It was purely natural to assume that Porter had borrowed cash from the until to hold his struggling journal out of credit card debt, intending to pay out it again. That could be correct, but what truly happened is unclear. The shortfall could have been a subject of sloppy bookkeeping, or it could be that other folks had been in on the pilfering. On the few instances that Porter is noted to have alluded to the episode, he implied that he was covering for an individual else, but he in no way stated who it was. The financial institution was satisfied to settle, and a grand jury refused to problem an indictment. But the federal examiner was zealous. A second grand jury was convened, and this time Porter was indicted.
Just ahead of his demo was scheduled to commence, in the summer months of 1896, he fled to Honduras, leaving his spouse and his six-12 months-old daughter behind. Honduras was an interesting haven for folks in Porter’s situation, due to the fact it did not have an extradition treaty with the United States. Porter later on wrote quite a few connected tales set in a “banana republic” (a time period he appears to be to have coined). But when he uncovered that his spouse was sick he returned to be with her, and to stand trial. (She died, of tuberculosis, in 1897, at the age of 20-9.)
He declined to converse in his very own defense and was sentenced to five decades in prison. And that is the secret he spent the relaxation of his daily life striving to hide—even from his daughter. In an O. Henry story, the magic formula would be the climactic reveal.
In prison, Porter wrote fourteen stories and commenced employing O. Henry as a pen title. (He had other aliases, but right after 1903 he signed all the things “O. Henry.”) He was released, with time off for great habits, in 1901, and moved first to Pittsburgh, the place his daughter was living, and then, in 1902, to New York Metropolis, a area he experienced never ever visited, but wherever his potential clients as a author ended up far better for the reason that he would be closer to his editors.
In New York, he began creating at an astonishing amount. He contracted to create a tale a week for the Sunday Planet, and he continued to compose for magazines. In 1904 by itself, he revealed sixty-six tales. He started bringing out collections, notably, in 1906, “The Four Million,” which includes some of his most popular perform: “The Reward of the Magi,” “The Cop and the Anthem,” “An Unfinished Story,” and “The Furnished Place.”
Porter’s daughter remained in Pittsburgh, and despite the fact that he wrote to her regularly and affectionately, they rarely saw every other. His daily life fashion built residing with a dependent unattainable. He kept irregular hrs, and his biographer Richard O’Connor claims that he was a “womanizer.” As Porter experienced performed because his Austin times, he spent his evenings speaking to individuals he achieved in places to eat and bars.
Monetarily, he led the hand-to-mouth existence of most total-time writers, even pretty prosperous ones. You can not reside off items you have already been compensated for. You usually have to be producing a new piece, and you’re always scared that it won’t be as fantastic as your very last piece. Even with his price of creation, Porter identified creating stress filled and had trouble with deadlines. And he was frank about the actuality that he wrote for the revenue. When he commenced finding compensated more for his tales, he wrote fewer of them.
Not that he saved up the money. He was in no way prudent. He gave a great deal absent, and there is some proof that he was blackmailed by a lady who knew his mystery. Even after he experienced become well-known and his work was in continuous demand from customers, he was perpetually pleading with his editors to progress him cash towards his next story. He obtained no royalties from a hit Broadway enjoy based mostly on a character in one particular of his tales (Jimmy Valentine). A series of well-known Hollywood videos had been based mostly on a further character he experienced established, the Cisco Kid, but they had been designed soon after he died. He tried using his hand at a musical, and he contracted to compose a novel, but people assignments went nowhere. He was a quick-story writer. That was what he was excellent at.
In 1907, he married a female he experienced known from his childhood in Greensboro, but his wellbeing had been deteriorating, mostly mainly because of the ingesting. Suffering from cirrhosis of the liver, diabetes, and a dilated heart, he died in 1910. He was forty-seven. He was begging his editor for a contemporary progress suitable up to the finish.
Ben Yagoda, the editor of the new Library of The usa quantity “O. Henry: 101 Tales,” suggests that Porter released hundreds of brief tales, alongside with ephemera that appeared in The Rolling Stone and the Houston Publish, where he worked as a reporter during some of his Texas years. The greatest way to contemplate the tales as an œuvre, I consider, is on the product of the comic strip—which is, effectively, what they were when they appeared when a 7 days in the Sunday Entire world. In some months, your favored comedian strip is much more entertaining than it is in other people, but you constantly examine it, because you know what you are heading to get. The very same is accurate of O. Henry stories. Porter experienced a formula he had a set of character styles and he had a unique verbal palette.
The palette is what the critic H. L. Mencken, who disliked O. Henry’s producing, called “ornate Broadwayese,” a model that is portion Damon Runyon (the writer whose stories are the basis for the musical “Guys and Dolls”) and element S. J. Perelman—streetwise observations shipped in a comically overcooked or circumlocutionary method.
So you get this form of thing, in a description of the scene all over a murdered gentleman:
Or this, about a grifter who will make his living promoting bogus items and then skipping town:
O. Henry’s characters, from what ever walk of everyday living, normally speak in this manner of higher facetiousness: