Monday, 10 September 2012

Literature: Celebrating O. Henry's 150th Birth Anniversary

A profile of O.Henry and a reproduction of the opening paragraphs from A Gift of Mag
(click image for large size view)

Now, how often do you read authors on the eve of their 150th birth anniversary? Well, we are still reading O.Henry, voraciously.

William Sydney Porter was born on September 11, 1862, a date now synonymous with an overpowering act of violence. It is not known for certain when Porter started using the pen name: O.Henry. The general agreement among biographers is that the first story under the pseudonym appeared when he was serving a jail term for embezzlement. The logical reasoning: Porter wanted to hide his criminal record from potential publishers. Porter was 33 then and by the time of his death in 1910, he had more than 300 complete short stories to his credit.

The clinching aspect of a classic O.Henry story is the surprise element; how a story could be brought to an abrupt end with one final revelation that added up all the threads in one revealing sentence. Additional sentences would then conclude with reasoning, if required, to the revelation.

That O.Henry came up with astounding stories in his 16-year writing career was well, astounding. Another aspect that O.Henry didn't share with the last sentence you read, was a staggering, amazing and dumbfounding range of  vocabulary. Critics have often had many thorns to pick with this aspect, many terming it as ostentatious.  Under the magnifying glass, though, this facet has been considered as thoughtful, and effective in the field of semantics*.

Among the most famous and often compiled stories of O.Henry is The Gift of the Magi. Many book lovers would remember it - A young couple with limited economic means, the woman with luscious long hair and her husband, the proud owner of an ancestral watch. Another recommendation is The Last Leaf – Set as it is in a painter’s colony and tells of beliefs, life, death and a certain painting.

So if you are yet to read any O.Henry story, we heartily suggest adding him to your reading list.

(Semantics* - The study of language meaning)

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