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O. Henry

O. Henry
William Sydney Porter by doubleday.jpg
Portrait of O. Henry, by W. M. Vanderweyde, 1909
Born William Sidney Porter
(1862-09-11)September 11, 1862
Greensboro, North Carolina, United States
Died June 5, 1910(1910-06-05) (aged 47)
New York City, New York, United States
Pen name O. Henry, Olivier Henry, Oliver Henry
Occupation Writer
Language English
Nationality American
Genre Short story

William Sydney Porter (September 11, 1862 – June 5, 1910), known by his pen name O. Henry, was an American short story writer. His stories are known for their surprise endings.

William Sidney Porter was born on September 11, 1862, in Greensboro, North Carolina. He changed the spelling of his middle name to Sydney in 1898. His parents were Dr. Algernon Sidney Porter (1825–88), a physician, and Mary Jane Virginia Swaim Porter (1833–65). William's parents had married on April 20, 1858. When William was three, his mother died from tuberculosis, and he and his father moved into the home of his paternal grandmother. As a child, Porter was always reading, everything from classics to dime novels; his favorite works were Lane's translation of One Thousand and One Nights, and Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy.

Porter graduated from his aunt Evelina Maria Porter's elementary school in 1876. He then enrolled at the Lindsey Street High School. His aunt continued to tutor him until he was fifteen. In 1879, he started working in his uncle's drugstore and in 1881, at the age of nineteen, he was licensed as a pharmacist. At the drugstore, he also showed off his natural artistic talents by sketching the townsfolk.

Porter traveled with Dr. James K. Hall to Texas in March 1882, hoping that a change of air would help alleviate a persistent cough he had developed. He took up residence on the sheep ranch of Richard Hall, James' son, in La Salle County and helped out as a shepherd, ranch hand, cook and baby-sitter. While on the ranch, he learned bits of Spanish and German from the mix of immigrant ranch hands. He also spent time reading classic literature. Porter's health did improve and he traveled with Richard to Austin in 1884, where he decided to remain and was welcomed into the home of the Harrells, who were friends of Richard's. Porter took a number of different jobs over the next several years, first as pharmacist then as a draftsman, bank teller and journalist. He also began writing as a sideline.



  • "The Gift of the Magi" about a young couple who are short of money but desperately want to buy each other Christmas gifts. Unbeknownst to Jim, Della sells her most valuable possession, her beautiful hair, in order to buy a platinum fob chain for Jim's watch; while unbeknownst to Della, Jim sells his own most valuable possession, his watch, to buy jeweled combs for Della's hair. 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.
  • "The Ransom of Red Chief", in which two men kidnap a boy of ten. The boy turns out to be so bratty and obnoxious that the desperate men ultimately pay the boy's father $250 to take him back.
  • "The Cop and the Anthem" about a New York City hobo named Soapy, who sets out to get arrested so that he can be a guest of the city jail instead of sleeping out in the cold winter. Despite efforts at petty theft, vandalism, disorderly conduct, and "mashing" with a young prostitute, Soapy fails to draw the attention of the police. Disconsolate, he pauses in front of a church, where an organ anthem inspires him to clean up his life—and is ironically charged for loitering and sentenced to three months in prison.
  • "A Retrieved Reformation", which tells the tale of safecracker Jimmy Valentine, recently freed from prison. He goes to a town bank to case it before he robs it. As he walks to the door, he catches the eye of the banker's beautiful daughter. They immediately fall in love and Valentine decides to give up his criminal career. He moves into the town, taking up the identity of Ralph Spencer, a shoemaker. 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. Jimmy and his fiancée and her family are at the bank, inspecting a new safe, when a child accidentally gets locked inside the airtight vault. Knowing it will seal his fate, Valentine opens the safe to rescue the child. However, much to Valentine's surprise, the lawman denies recognizing him and lets him go.
  • "The Duplicity of Hargraves". A short story about a nearly destitute father and daughter's trip to Washington, D.C.
  • "The Caballero's Way", in which Porter's most famous character, the Cisco Kid, is introduced. It 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. 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. 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. The twist ending is, unusual for Porter, tragic.
  • Cabbages and Kings (1904)
  • The Four Million (1906), short stories
  • The Trimmed Lamp (1907), short stories: "The Trimmed Lamp", "A Madison Square Arabian Night", "The Rubaiyat of a Scotch Highball", "The Pendulum", "Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen", "The Assessor of Success", "The Buyer from Cactus City", "The Badge of Policeman O’Roon", "Brickdust Row", "The Making of a New Yorker", "Vanity and Some Sables", "The Social Triangle", "The Purple Dress", "The Foreign Policy of Company 99", "The Lost Blend", "A Harlem Tragedy", "'The Guilty Party'", "According to Their Lights", "A Midsummer Knight’s Dream", "The Last Leaf", "The Count and the Wedding Guest", "The Country of Elusion", "The Ferry of Unfulfilment", "The Tale of a Tainted Tenner", "Elsie in New York"
  • Heart of the West (1907), short stories: "Hearts and Crosses", "The Ransom of Mack", "Telemachus, Friend", "The Handbook of Hymen", "The Pimienta Pancakes", "Seats of the Haughty", "Hygeia at the Solito", "An Afternoon Miracle", "The Higher Abdication", "Cupid à la Carte", "The Caballero's Way", "The Sphinx Apple", "The Missing Chord", "A Call Loan", "The Princess and the Puma", "The Indian Summer of Dry Valley Johnson", "Christmas by Injunction", "A Chaparral Prince", "The Reformation of Calliope"
  • The Voice of the City (1908), short stories: "The Voice of the City", "The Complete Life of John Hopkins", "A Lickpenny Lover", "Dougherty’s Eye-opener", "'Little Speck in Garnered Fruit'", "The Harbinger", "While the Auto Waits", "A Comedy in Rubber", "One Thousand Dollars", "The Defeat of the City", "The Shocks of Doom", "The Plutonian Fire", "Nemesis and the Candy Man", "Squaring the Circle", "Roses, Ruses and Romance", "The City of Dreadful Night", "The Easter of the Soul", "The Fool-killer", "Transients in Arcadia", "The Rathskeller and the Rose", "The Clarion Call", "Extradited from Bohemia", "A Philistine in Bohemia", "From Each According to His Ability", "The Memento"
  • The Gentle Grafter (1908), short stories: "The Octopus Marooned", "Jeff Peters as a Personal Magnet", "Modern Rural Sports", "The Chair of Philanthromathematics", "The Hand That Riles the World", "The Exact Science of Matrimony", "A Midsummer Masquerade", "Shearing the Wolf", "Innocents of Broadway", "Conscience in Art", "The Man Higher Up", "Tempered Wind", "Hostages to Momus", "The Ethics of Pig"
  • Roads of Destiny (1909), short stories: "Roads of Destiny", "The Guardian of the Accolade", "The Discounters of Money", "The Enchanted Profile", "Next to Reading Matter", "Art and the Bronco", "Phœbe", "A Double-dyed Deceiver", "The Passing of Black Eagle", "A Retrieved Reformation", "Cherchez la Femme", "Friends in San Rosario", "The Fourth in Salvador", "The Emancipation of Billy", "The Enchanted Kiss", "A Departmental Case", "The Renaissance at Charleroi", "On Behalf of the Management", "Whistling Dick's Christmas Stocking", "The Halberdier of the Little Rheinschloss", "Two Renegades", "The Lonesome Road"
  • Options (1909), short stories: "'The Rose of Dixie'", "The Third Ingredient", "The Hiding of Black Bill", "Schools and Schools", "Thimble, Thimble", "Supply and Demand", "Buried Treasure", "To Him Who Waits", "He Also Serves", "The Moment of Victory", "The Head-hunter", "No Story", "The Higher Pragmatism", "Best-seller", "Rus in Urbe", "A Poor Rule"
  • Strictly Business (1910), short stories: "Strictly Business", "The Gold That Glittered", "Babes in the Jungle", "The Day Resurgent", "The Fifth Wheel", "The Poet and the Peasant", "The Robe of Peace", "The Girl and the Graft", "The Call of the Tame", "The Unknown Quantity", "The Thing’s the Play", "A Ramble in Aphasia", "A Municipal Report", "Psyche and the Pskyscraper", "A Bird of Bagdad", "Compliments of the Season", "A Night in New Arabia", "The Girl and the Habit", "Proof of the Pudding", "Past One at Rooney’s", "The Venturers", "The Duel", "'What You Want'"
  • Whirligigs (1910), short stories: "The World and the Door", "The Theory and the Hound", "The Hypotheses of Failure", "Calloway's Code", "A Matter of Mean Elevation", "Girl", "Sociology in Serge and Straw", "The Ransom of Red Chief", "The Marry Month of May", "A Technical Error", "Suite Homes and Their Romance", "The Whirligig of Life", "A Sacrifice Hit", "The Roads We Take", "A Blackjack Bargainer, "The Song and the Sergeant", "One Dollar's Worth", "A Newspaper Story", "Tommy's Burglar", "A Chaparral Christmas Gift", "A Little Local Colour", "Georgia's Ruling", "Blind Man's Holiday", "Madame Bo-Peep of the Ranches"
  • Sixes and Sevens (1911), short stories: "The Last of the Troubadours", "The Sleuths", "Witches' Loaves", "The Pride of the Cities", "Holding Up a Train", "Ulysses and the Dogman", "The Champion of the Weather", "Makes the Whole World Kin", "At Arms with Morpheus", "A Ghost of a Chance", "Jimmy Hayes and Muriel", "The Door of Unrest", "The Duplicity of Hargraves", "Let Me Feel Your Pulse", "October and June", "The Church with an Overshot-Wheel", "New York by Camp Fire Light", "The Adventures of Shamrock Jolnes", "The Lady Higher Up", "The Greater Coney", "Law and Order", "Transformation of Martin Burney", "The Caliph and the Cad", "The Diamond of Kali", "The Day We Celebrate"
  • Rolling Stones (1912), short stories: "The Dream", "A Ruler of Men", "The Atavism of John Tom Little Bear", "Helping the Other Fellow", "The Marionettes", "The Marquis and Miss Sally", "A Fog in Santone", "The Friendly Call", "A Dinner at ———", "Sound and Fury", "Tictocq", "Tracked to Doom", "A Snapshot at the President", "An Unfinished Christmas Story", "The Unprofitable Servant", "Aristocracy Versus Hash", "The Prisoner of Zembla", "A Strange Story", "Fickle Fortune, or How Gladys Hustled", "An Apology", "Lord Oakhurst's Curse", "Bexar Scrip No. 2692"
  • Waifs and Strays (1917), short stories
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