Friday, June 8, 2012

O. Henry

I have a foot-long shelf of O. Henry short stories, nine volumes in fact.  William Sydney Porter who wrote under the pen name O. Henry was an erstwhile jailbird and noted author at the turning of the 19th to the 20th century.  His stories are set in "Baghdad on the Hudson" and he was noted for stories with an ironic or unexpected twist in the final paragraph.  I have had most of these books since my teen years, and I have enjoyed them immensely.

It is of great interest to me that in addition to the colorful metaphors and similes the author creates, the references to daily life of the period and the vocabulary employed are novel in themselves: a different time in a place that is a combination of reality and imagination.

One of O. Henry's most famous stories is "The Gift of the Magi."  The passage I present here is from a lesser known story "The Call of the Tame" from the volume entitled Strictly Business, More Stories of the Four Million. 

"All right.  I suppose you think I'm spoiled by the city.  I'm as good a Westerner as you are, Greenbrier; but somehow, I can't make up my mind to go back out there.  New York is comfortable-- comfortable.  I make a good living, and I live it.  No more wet blankets and riding herd in snowstorms, and bacon and cold coffee, and blowouts once in six months for me.  I reckon I'll hang out here in the future.  We'll take in the theatre to-night, Greenbrier, and after that, we'll dine at -----"
     "I'll tell you what you are, Merritt," said Greenbrier. laying one elbow in his salad and  the other in his butter. "You are a concentrated, effete, unconditional, short-sleeved, gotch-eared Miss Sally Walker.  God made you perpendicular and suitable to ride straddle and use cuss words in the original.  Wherefore you have suffered his handiwork to elapse by removing yourself to New York and putting on little shoes tied with strings, and making faces when you talk.  I've seen you rope and tie a steer in 42-1/2.  If you was to see one now you'd write to the Police Commissioner about it.  And these flapdoodle drinks that you inoculate your system with---these little essences of cowslip with acorns in 'em, and paregoric flip---they ain't anyways in assent with the cordiality of manhood.  I hate to see you this way."
The man could write.

Image: Wikipedia


Shelly said...

I love O. Henry, and I have found most of my students really enjoy going through his short stories. I just found out William Sidney Porter worked as a young man on a ranch in the middle of nowhere near our family ranch. I've also seen the historical marker in Austin at the rooming house where he used to live.

vanilla said...

Shelly, I am pleased to know that you have students who appreciate O.Henry. I got acquainted with his work when I was about thirteen.
The man lived a varied life and covered lots of territory; probably mostly good except for the stint in the federal pen. You really have to count him as a Texan since he spent so much time there and married there.