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O. Henry was the pseudonym of the writer, journalist, pharmacist and American storyteller William Sydney Porter (September 11, 1862 – June 5, 1910). He is considered one of the masters of the short story, his admirable treatment of surprise narrative ends popularized in English the expression “an ending to the O. Henry” (an O. Henry ending).
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 and studious student who graduated from elementary school in 1876. He later enrolled at the Linsey Street Institute. In 1879 he started working as an accountant at an uncle’s pharmacy and in 1881, at age 19, he obtained a pharmacist’s degree.
The writer’s youth was stormy. He moved to LaSalle County, Texas in 1882, working on a sheep ranch. Later, in 1884, he moved to the city of Austin, where he lived in a friend’s house for three years. One of the inhabitants of that house was a cat named Henry, and from the expression “Oh, Henry!” Came the pseudonym that immortalized the narrator. It is at this time when they begin their problems with abuse in the consumption of alcohol; 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 1888 Athol gave birth to a child who died. In 1889 a new daughter was born: Margaret.
In 1894, Porter founded a humorous weekly called The Rolling Stone. In that same year he would be fired from an Austin bank by embezzler. When The Rolling Stone broke down, the writer moved to Houston, where he was a journalist at the Houston Post.
In Austin, O. Henry held various trades, including tracer of plans in the General Land Office and since 1891, as a cashier of the First National Bank, where the most transcendental event of his life would take place: O. Henry he was accused in 1895 of appropriating a wealth of money he had under his responsibility. Although many authors question the culpability of the writer, the truth is that after warning that he would be arrested for embezzlement, on the eve of the trial O. Henry decided to leave his country in July 1896 and embarked via New Orleans to to Honduras.
He spent about seven months living in Honduras, mainly in Trujillo. Later he wrote short stories that took place in the town of Coralio (based on the real town of Trujillo) in a fictional Central American country called Anchuria (based in the real country of Honduras). Most of these stories appear in the book Of Cabbages and Kings.
Little or nothing is known of his life in Central America, until in February 1897 he learns that his wife was dying in the city of Austin, so O. Henry had to make the decision to return to the US. & nbsp ; UU. to be with his wife shortly before his death, which occurred on July 25, 1897. Less than a year later, the writer is caught in court for the embezzlement of First National Bank and sentenced to five years in prison in the National Penitentiary of Columbus (Ohio), where he entered in 1898 and where he was detained for three years, until he was granted freedom for good behavior.
O. Henry began writing short stories during his stay in prison to earn money to support his daughter. 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.
When he served his sentence, in 1901, he definitively changed his name, William Sydney Porter, to that of O. Henry, perhaps with the intention of erasing the shadows of his past. He moved to New York that same year where he lived until his death.
In New York, the city that the writer loved and the setting for many of his stories, O. Henry gained recognition from the public, although his relative fame and literary success never brought him economic well-being, to a large extent due to his fondness for drinking. Indeed, there is an anecdote that says 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 just three hours and accompanied by a whole bottle of whiskey.
From December 1903 to January 1906 he wrote a story a week for the New York World.
He contracted new marriages in 1907 with his childhood sweetheart, Sarah Lindsey Coleman. Neither this marriage nor the success that he quickly obtained with his short stories (or perhaps precisely because of the latter) prevented him from falling into alcoholism. Sarah left him in 1909. O. Henry, one of the greatest masters of the short story, died on June 5, 1910 because of cirrhosis of the liver, carrying only twenty-three cents in his pockets.
His funeral was held in New York, and he was then buried in Asheville, North Carolina. His daughter, Margaret Worth Porter, died in 1927, being buried with her father.
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