O. Henry was the pseudonym of a writer, journalist, pharmaceutical and American short-story writer William Sydney Porter. He is considered one of the masters of the short story with his admirable treatment of surprise narrative endings. The 400 stories written by him are famous for being rich in spirit and word games, and for the wise use of surprise endings.
He was born in Greensboro, North Carolina. His father, Algernon Sidney Porter, was a doctor. When William was three years old, his mother died of tuberculosis and he and his father moved to the house of the paternal grandmother. William was a great reader, who graduated from elementary school in 1876. As a child, Porter was an avid reader. He read everything from classics to dime novel. His favorite book was One Thousand and One Nights. He later enrolled at the Lindsey Street Institute. In 1879 he began to work as an accountant in the pharmacy of an uncle and in 1881, at the age of 19, obtained the title of pharmacist.
The writer's youth was stormy. He moved to La Salle County, Texas in 1882, working on a sheep ranch. Subsequently, in 1884, he moved to the city of Austin, where he resided at a friend's house for three years. One of the inhabitants of that house was a cat called Henry, and the expression Oh, Henry! came, the pseudonym that immortalized the narrator.
It is also when he learns to master the Spanish language. In 1887 he escaped with the young Athol Estes, daughter of a wealthy family. In 1894, Porter founded a humorous weekly called The Rolling Stone. The writer moved to Houston, where he was a journalist at the Houston Post.
In Austin, O. Henry performed various trades, including chart plotting at the General Land Office and since 1891 as cashier at First National Bank, where the most momentous event of his life would occur: O. Henry was charged in 1895 to appropriate a flow of money under his responsibility. O. Henry decided to leave his country in July 1896 and embarked via New Orleans with destination To Honduras.
He spent nearly seven months in Honduras, mainly in Trujillo. He later wrote short stories that took place in the village of Coralio based on the royal town of Trujillo in a fictional Central American country called Anchuria based on the real country of Honduras. Most of these stories appear in the book Of Cabbages and Kings.
In 1899, one of his stories, Whistling Dick's Christmas Stocking, came to be published by a well-known magazine of the time, the McClure's Magazine. In 1901, he moved that same year to New York where he lived until his death. In New York, O. Henry gained public recognition, though his relative fame and literary success never provided him with economic well-being.
In fact, there is an anecdote that says that his most famous story, The Gift of the Magi, considered by critics as one of the best, was written under the pressure of a deadline, in only three hours and accompanied by an entire bottle of whiskey. From December 1903 until January 1906 he wrote a story a week for the New York World.
His funeral was held in New York, and was later buried in Asheville, North Carolina. His daughter, Margaret Worth Porter, died in 1927, being buried next to her father.
In most of O. Henry's best short stories, written in the early years of the twentieth century, the unexpected ending and sudden twists of the plot are valued at the end of the story. Many stories take place in New York City and generally portray normal and ordinary characters as dependents, policemen and waitresses. His best known work, The Four Million, refers to the number of inhabitants of New York City at the beginning of the twentieth century, and the fact that each of these inhabitants was for O. Henry, a story worth telling.
The work of O. Henry is essentially a product typical of the time in which he lived. The writer knew how to capture perfectly the flavor of his time and circumstances. Whether he was wandering through the Texas pastures, investigating the art of scammers, or investigating class tensions in the big city, the writer's touch to isolate every element of society, describing it with the utmost parsimony and linguistic grace was inimitable.
There are well known anthologies like Heart of the West, The Four Million and Cabbages and Kings. Other great stories of O. Henry are Best seller, Memories of a yellow dog, A stingy lover, Gift of Kings, Let me take his pulse, Messianic vocation, Gold that gleamed. In one of his stories in The Caballero's Way created the character Cisco Kid who eventually became a popular figure in movies, television series and comics.
In the short stories of O. Henry, some of the great figures of the American literary scene like JD Salinger, Truman Capote, Tom Wolfe, Raymond Carver have been prefigured.