Saturday, January 4, 2020

O. Henry and Season’s Reading

O. Henry (William Sydney Porter)
This was supposed to be my Christmas post, but things got hectic and it never made it to this page.

But since what follows are also winter stories, it is still the season to read them.

In December, I located my old, 972-page Collected Stores of O. Henry. I blew off the dust and cracked it open to “The Cop and the Anthem.”

The story is beautifully structured. It is a lesson in economic writing. And has a perfect surprise ending. It slams down hard and fast on Soapy, a homeless man whose hope is just about restored when reality bites him. When I first read it in grade school, I laughed at the irony. Last month I did not laugh.

Most of the stories I read had the classic O. Henry twist ending, but none of them seemed as light as I remembered. They all seemed dark.

In “Compliments of the Season,” Fuzzy, a down-and-out drunk earns a reward from a wealthy family. When he is invited to have a drink he attempts to give a traditional toast revealing he was raised to be a gentleman but somehow fell to the gutter. The twist at the end could not lighten this tale.

Some of the stories were dark and weird, like “A Chaparral Christmas” from 1903. In it, a Western killer’s present to a woman is not murdering her husband.

Even one of his most famous stories, “The Gift of the Magi,” seemed too bitter. Maybe it was just me.

William Sydney Porter (1862-1910), who signed his work, O. Henry, wrote more than 600 short stories. They were originally published in magazines of his era, and quite a few first appeared in the New York World newspaper’s Sunday magazine. Today, most of his stories can be found on the Web.

Of the stories I read this season, my favorite was “The Last Leaf.” In Greenwich Village in the early 1900s, a young woman in danger of dying of pneumonia is given hope. It is one of the author’s most gentle surprise endings.


  1. Elgin, a very Happy New Year to you and yours!

    It's been years, actually decades, since I read O. Henry. In fact, there are so many stories I never read. Thanks for the unintended nudge.

    1. Hello Prashant – glad to hear from you – and Happy New Year to you, too.

  2. Someone else to look into. I've heard of O. Henry but am unfamiliar with his work.