David Stuart Davies looks at the work of an American master of the short story ...
"It couldn't have happened anywhere
but in little old New York."
O. Henry (William Sidney Porter) was born in Greenboro, North Carolina. His father was a physician. His mother died when he was three, and he was raised by his grandmother and paternal aunt. He left school at fifteen and worked in various jobs. He moved to Texas in 1882 . In 1887 he married Athol Estes Roach and they had a daughter and a son.
In 1894 he founded The Rolling Stone, a comic weekly magazine, and it was during this time that he began to drink heavily. In 1894 some money went missing from a bank in Austin, where he had worked as a clerk. He was called to stand trial but fled to Central America until 1897, when he returned to Austin because his wife was dying. He was found guilty of embezzlement and imprisoned in Columbus, Ohio. It was here that he began to write short stories under the pseudonym of O. Henry.
He was released from prison in 1902 and moved to New York, where he became a popular and prolific writer of short stories (Wordsworth Editions - 100 Selected Stories) for a number of magazines. His stories are characterised by strange twists of plot, which turn on ironic or coincidental circumstance, and he is a master of the surprise ending.
The last years of his life were plagued by alcoholism, ill health, and dire financial straits. He was a fast writer, but he was drinking around two quarts of whiskey every day, which did not improve the quality of his work. In 1907 he married Sara Lindsay Coleman, but the marriage was not happy, and they were soon separated. Henry died of cirrhosis of the liver on 5 June, 1910.
***Readers may be interested to know that our biggest market for his books is China. The short story format and the uncomplicated written style make ideal material for the reader getting to grips with the English language.***
TITLES BY O. HENRY