O. Henry is well-known short story writer, a master of surprise endings, whose central theme was the life of ordinary people in New York. His stories expressed the effect of coincidence on character through humour, grim or ironic, and often had surprise endings, a device that became identified with his name and cost him critical favour when its time had passed. It was he who put the commercial short story on the literary map.
Early life Along with his brother Porter entered a small private school and was taught by his aunt. At the age of 15 he started working in his uncle’s drugstore. In 1882 he went to Texas, where he worked on a ranch and in a general land office. Later Porter moved to Austin where he married, became a bank teller and bought his own weekly newspaper. He began writing sketches at about the time of his marriage to Athol Estes in 1887, and in 1894 he started a humorous weekly, The Rolling Stone.
Misfortunes His wife’s health was unstable and their first child died. His newspaper also failed. When that venture failed, Porter joined the Houston Post as reporter, columnist, and occasional cartoonist. Finally, in 1894 he was accused of embezzlement of bank funds. Porter fled to a reporting job in New Orleans, then to Honduras. When news of his wife's serious illness reached him, he returned to Texas. After her death Porter was committed to a federal jail I Ohio, where he began to write fiction.
New York On his release Porter went to New York – his “Bag on the Subway”. From December 1903 to January 1906 he produced a story a week for the New York World, writing also for magazines. His first book, Cabbages and Kings (1904), depicted fantastic characters against exotic Honduran backgrounds. Both The Four Million (1906) and The Trimmed Lamp (1907) explored the lives of the multitude of New York in their daily routines and searchings for romance and adventure. Heart of the West (1907) presented accurate and fascinating tales of the Texas range.
Then in rapid succession came The Voice of the City (1908), The Gentle Grafter (1908), Roads of Destiny (1909), Options (1909), Strictly Business(1910), and Whirligigs (1910). Whirligigs contains perhaps Porter’s funniest story, “The Ransom of Red Chief.” Despite his popularity, O. Henry’s final years were marked by ill health, a desperate financial struggle, and alcoholism. A second marriage in 1907 was unhappy. After his death three more collected volumes appeared: Sixes and Sevens (1911), Rolling Stones (1912), and Waifs and Strays (1917). Later seven fugitive stories and poems, O. Henryana (1920), Letters to Lithopolis (1922), and two collections of his early work on the Houston Post, Postscripts (1923) and O. Henry Encore (1939), were published.