Life and Works- O. Henry (Jimmy Valentine)

Henry is the pen name of the noted and popular American short story writer William Sydney Porter. He was born in Greensboro, North Carolina on 11 September, 1862. His parents were Dr. Algernon Sydney Porter, a physician and Mary Jane Virginia Swaim Porter. His mother died of tuberculosis when he was three years old and he and his father moved to the house of his paternal grandmother. From childhood he was an avid reader and used to read all the time everything from classics to cheap novels, Porter got his early education in his aunt Evelina Maria Porter’s Elementary School. He left the school in 1876. He then enrolled at the Lindsey Street High School.

His aunt continued to teach 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. Porter travelled with Dr. Jones K. Hall to Texas in 1882. There he worked in a ranch. Then he went to Austin where he decided to stay. He took a number of jobs over the next few years, first as a pharmacist, then as a draftsman , a bank teller and a journalist. He was convicted for three years following a case of embezzlement. He took to writing stories while in prison. Porter was a good singer and musician He played the guitar and the mandolin. Porter met a beautiful young lady named Athol Estes. She was from a wealthy family. In July 1887 he married Athol Estes. His wife encouraged him to write. She died of tuberculosis in July 1897. During his imprisonment Porter worked in the prison hospital as a licensed pharmacist. He also started writing short stories to earn money for supporting his daughter Margaret. Porter’s prolific writing career started in 1902 as he moved to New York. In New York he wrote nearly four hundred short stories.

He married again in 1907. His second wife Sarah Lindsey Coleman was his childhood sweetheart. Porter’s writing career was greatly affected when he fell seriously ill. His health broke down and on June 5, 1910 he died of cirrhosis of liver, complications of diabetes and an enlarged heart. O. Henry was a prolific writer. He had all the necessary qualities of an expert story teller. His techniques of narration, characterisation, use of ready wit, humour and irony and above all, the capacity to draw surprising ending to his stories made him all the more popular. The ups and downs experienced in his personal life made entries in his immortal stories but in a subtle manner. His works are collected in twelve volumes. Among his notable works mention may be made of Whistling Dick’s Christmas Stocking, Cabbages and Kings , The Four Million, The Trimmed Lamp and other Stories , The Gentle Grafter, Roads of Destiny, Among his best known and widely read stories are, The Ransom of Red Chief, The Gift of the Magi, A Retrieved Reformation, The Third Ingredient, The Cap and the Anthem and The Last Leaf.

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