Short story writer O. Henry is released from prison

Short story writer O. Henry is released from prison

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William Sydney Porter, otherwise known as O. Henry, is released from prison on this day, after serving three years in jail for embezzlement from a bank in Austin, Texas.

To escape imprisonment, Porter had fled the authorities and hidden in Honduras, but returned when his wife, still in the U.S., was diagnosed with a terminal illness. He went to jail and began writing stories to support his young daughter while he was in prison.

After his release, Porter moved to New York and worked for New York World, writing one short story a week from 1903 to 1906. In 1904, his first story collection, Cabbages and Kings, was published. His second, The Four Million (1906), contained one of his most beloved stories, The Gift of the Magi, about a poor couple who each sacrifice their most valuable possession to buy a gift for the other.

Additional collections appeared in 1906 and 1907, and two collections a year were published in 1908 until his death in 1910. He specialized in stories about everyday people, often ending with an unexpected twist. Despite the enormous popularity of the nearly 300 stories he published, he led a difficult life, struggling with financial problems and alcoholism until his death in 1910.

O. Henry

William Sydney Porter was born in Greensboro, N.C., on Sept. 11, 1862. He attended school for a short time, then clerked in an uncle's drugstore. At the age of 20 he went to Texas, working first on a ranch and later as a bank teller. In 1887 he married and began to write free-lance sketches. A few years later he founded a humorous weekly, the Rolling Stone. When this failed, he became a reporter and columnist on the Houston Post.

Indicted in 1896 for embezzling bank funds (actually a result of technical mismanagement), 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 he was imprisoned in Columbus, Ohio. During his 3-year incarceration, he wrote adventure stories set in Texas and Central America that quickly became popular and were collected in Cabbages and Kings (1904).

Released from prison in 1902, Porter went to New York City, his home and the setting of most of his fiction for the remainder of his life. He wrote, under the pen name O. Henry, at a prodigious rate—a story a week for a newspaper, plus still other stories for magazines. Books made up of his stories followed rapidly: The Four Million (1906) Heart of the West and The Trimmed Lamp (both 1907) The Gentle Grafter and The Voice of the City (both 1908) Options (1909) and Whirligigs and Strictly Business (both 1910).

O. Henry's most representative collection was probably The Four Million. The title and the stories answered the snobbish claim of socialite Ward McAllister that only 400 people in New York "were really worth noticing" by detailing events in the lives of everyday Manhattanites. In his most famous story, "The Gift of the Magi," a poverty-stricken New York couple secretly sell valued possessions to buy one another Christmas gifts. Ironically, the wife sells her hair so that she can buy her husband a watch chain, while he sells his watch so that he can buy her a pair of combs.

Incapable of integrating a book-length narrative, O. Henry was skilled in plotting short ones. He wrote in a dry, humorous style and, as in "The Gift of the Magi," frequently used coincidences and surprise endings to underline ironies. Even after O. Henry's death on June 5, 1910, stories continued to be collected: Sixes and Sevens (1911) Rolling Stones (1912) Waifs and Strays (1917) O. Henryana (1920) Letters to Lithopolis (1922) Postscripts (1923) and O. Henry Encore (1939).

Short story writer O. Henry is released from prison - HISTORY

In 1882, hoping to escape tuberculosis in a drier climate, young Will Porter left Greensboro and moved to a ranch in southwest Texas, where he learned to herd sheep, mend fences, and cook for the ranch hands. The exciting stories that Porter heard about ruthless outlaws and the Texas Rangers would inspire his western classics.

Some of Porter's happiest years were spent in Austin, where he began his adult life and writing career. He worked as a pharmacist, a draftsman for the General Land Office, and a bank teller at the First National Bank. He fell in love with Athol Estes, with whom he shared a passion for art, music, and literature. After they married, Porter started The Rolling Stone, a weekly devoted to cartoons and humorous stories.

Unfortunately, Porter's happiness did not last. Charged with embezzlement at the First National Bank, and believing that he would be found guilty for a crime he had not committed, he fled to Honduras. He returned to Austin upon learning that Athol was dying of tuberculosis, and after she died, he went to prison. At the federal penitentiary in Ohio he began to write in earnest, completing twelve stories that were all eventually published in national magazines. After trying a variety of pen names, William Sidney Porter adopted the pseudonym by which he became
famous--O. Henry.

In the spring of 1902, upon his release from prison, O. Henry moved to New York City, where he lived among the literati, and his work flourished. The Saturday Evening Post published "The Ransom of Red Chief," and by 1903 he was under contract with the New York World to write a story a week, earning him his steadiest income. The New York World published "The Gift of the Magi," which has become a Christmas classic.

O. Henry had many friends who championed his work. Gilman Hall, an editor at Ainslee's, convinced the magazine to advance O. Henry one hundred dollars so he could afford to move to New York. Witter Bynner, an editor for McClure's, encouraged O. Henry to write his only novel, Cabbages and Kings, which was based on his stories about Central America. Harry Peyton Steger, literary advisor to Doubleday, Page & Company, first published O. Henry's stories in book form, and after O. Henry's death on June 5, 1910, became his literary executor.

TEXAS HISTORY MINUTE: The origins of O. Henry

He was best known for a short pen name, &ldquoO. Henry.&rdquo The man behind the stories, William Sydney Porter, was a complicated character with a sharp imagination. Porter wrote hundreds of stories in his short career and became one of the best-known short story writers of the twentieth century.

Porter was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1862. His father was a doctor. His mother died of tuberculosis when he was a child. He showed a deep imagination and strong artistic talents as a child. He loved reading from an early age. As a teenager, he began working at his uncle&rsquos drugstore as a pharmacist and drew sketches of the customers in his spare time.

In 1882, he moved with a friend to South Texas to attempt to rehabilitate his shaky health. He worked for a time on a sheep ranch as a ranch hand and a cook. Two years later, he moved to Austin to work as a pharmacist. It was in Austin that Porter began writing. Initially, it was a hobby, but it gradually took up more and more of his time.

In 1887, he married and took up a new job. Porter worked for four years at the Texas General Land Office drawing maps and took a job as an accountant at an area bank in 1891. However, three years later, the bank came across several accounting errors, accused him of embezzlement, and fired him. At that point, he took up writing full time, publishing his own weekly humor magazine, The Rolling Stone. Though popular, the magazine failed within a year and Porter soon found work with The Houston Post.

Not long after the move to Houston, federal auditors charged him with embezzlement from his former bank job. He was arrested but released on bail. He soon fled to New Orleans where he continued to write and took up the pen name of O. Henry after a conversation with a friend. He then fled to Honduras but returned to the United States when his wife&rsquos health collapsed. His wife died within weeks of his arrival, and he was again arrested.

The trial was held in Austin, where he was sentenced to five years in prison in 1898. Ironically, the same courthouse today is owned by the University of Texas and has been rechristened O. Henry Hall.

He was released in 1901 for good behavior. In 1902, he moved to New York where he landed a job writing weekly stories for The New York World Sunday Magazine. He would write more than 300 short stories between 1902 and his death, many known for a sudden, surprise twist at the end.

Perhaps his most famous story was "The Gift of the Magi," originally appearing in December 1905. It is the touching tale of a young couple in turn-of the-century New York who want to get something special for each other for Christmas but have no money. Unbeknownst to each other, they give up something they prize to buy their gifts. The wife sells her luxuriant hair to afford a silver chain for her husband&rsquos pocket watch. The husband, however, had sold his watch to pay for jeweled hair combs for his wife which were so popular at that time. The story has since been retold many times and dramatized on screen in many forms.

Two other stories included &ldquoThe Caballero&rsquos Way,&rdquo (1907) which introduced The Cisco Kid, a character reproduced by many other authors and &ldquoThe Ransom of Red Chief,&rdquo which appeared in The Saturday Evening Post in 1907 as the tale of two kidnappers who kidnap a rich, spoiled brat in hopes of ransom but end up paying the father for him to take the incorrigible child back.

His heavy drinking steadily took its toll on him. It cost him his marriage. His second wife left him in 1909. He descended further into the bottle and died in 1910 at age 47. In spite of his sad end, he was praised in later years. Schools in Garland and Austin were named for him as well as in his native Greensboro. In 1918, the prestigious O. Henry Award was established in his memory for outstanding short story writers.

Today in Literary History – June 5, 1910 – Short Story Writer O. Henry dies

The great short story writer O. Henry (whose real name was William Sydney Porter) died on June 5, 1910 at the age of only forty-seven. O. Henry’s short stories are famous for their surprise endings.

Sadly, there wasn’t much surprise in the ending of William Porter’s life. He was an alcoholic who was negligent about his health. He died from a combination of cirrhosis of the liver, diabetes and an enlarged heart.

Porter had a colourful but difficult life. He grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina, where he became a licenced pharmacist and worked in his uncle’s drug store. As a young man he moved to Texas, eventually settling in Austin. There he met his first wife, Athol, who suffered from tuberculosis. Athol’s family opposed the marriage and the couple eloped in 1887. A year later they had a son who died a few hours after his birth.

Porter worked as a bank teller and bookkeeper in Austin but was fired after being accused of embezzlement.

He moved to another bank in Houston, where he was again accused of embezzlement and was arrested. His father-in-law put up his bail but Porter went on the lam in 1896 and wound up in Honduras which didn’t have an extradition treaty with the US.

When he learned that Athol was dying he returned to Houston and surrendered to authorities. Athol died while he was awaiting trial.

He was sentenced to four years in prison. His time in prison was apparently more comfortable than most inmates. Since Porter was still a licenced pharmacist he was put in charge of the prison infirmary’s night pharmacy. He could write at night while awaiting patients and sleep during the day apart from other inmates.

Porter began publishing stories under the name O.Henry while in prison. After his release in 1901 he began writing in earnest. His first book of stories was Cabbages and Kings, about his time in Honduras, in which he coined the term “banana republic” which would become a common term for any corrupt Central American country.

Before his death Porter wrote hundreds of short stories, some of which (like “The Gift of the Magi”) have become classics and are staples of short story anthologies. He is remembered today in the annual O. Henry Prize for outstanding short stories.

His Writers' Workshop? A Prison Cell

The life of William Sydney Porter came with a twist at the end. The man who achieved fame under the pen name "O. Henry" had spent more than three years in federal prison on embezzlement charges—a secret that he carried to his grave when he died on June 5, 1910. Not even his daughter knew. It took the investigations of a professor, C. Alphonso Smith of the University of Virginia, to unearth the startling truth.

Shrewd observers might have guessed that Porter was hiding something. During his decade-long run as one of America's best-loved writers, which included authorship of "The Gift of the Magi," he avoided conversations about his past. He turned down requests for interviews. He dodged cameras.

Yet when Smith announced his discovery in 1916, the effect was the opposite of what Porter had feared. Rather than shunning him as a criminal, the public became fascinated by a personal history that might have been lifted from one of his own tales.

One hundred years after his death, Porter's legacy as a master of the short story appears secure. In his hometown of Greensboro, N.C., the local historical museum plans to reopen next month after extensive renovations. It will include a new section on O. Henry. In Texas, where Porter spent his early adulthood, there are museums devoted to him in Austin and San Antonio. In New York, his final home, the book industry selects a set of O. Henry Prize Stories each year and publishes them in a special volume. The latest edition, released in April, features contributions by such heavy hitters as Wendell Berry, Alice Munro, Annie Proulx and John Edgar Wideman.

Born in 1862, Porter grew up in Greensboro, clerked at a drug store, and drew cartoons in his spare time. In 1882, he moved to Texas, where he became a ranch hand, a bank teller and a journalist. He once put out The Rolling Stone, a humor sheet with no connection to Jann Wenner's rock 'n' roll magazine. It was closer in spirit to the Onion, the satirical newspaper.

O. Henry Collection

The O. Henry Collection consists primarily of the short stories of William Sydney Porter (1862-1910), written under his pseudonym, O. Henry. Each story is available as it first appeared in the popular magazines of the day, and these and other stories published posthumously can also be found in first edition compilation books, and later as part of his collected works. In addition to published materials, the collection also contains handwritten letters, photographs, legal documents, newspaper articles, artifacts, and maps drawn and signed by Porter.

About O. Henry

O. Henry wrote over 300 short stories, including his most famous, "The Gift of the Magi." He became popular for his short, witty stories written about "regular" folks, often with his signature plot twist at the end. In answer to socialite Ward Allister's announcement that there were only four hundred people in New York City worth noticing, O. Henry published a collection of stories titled The Four Million, paying tribute to the people he valued and wrote about.

William Sydney Porter was born in Greensborough, North Carolina and found fame, if not fortune, as a writer in New York City. However, O. Henry, then known by his given name, or simply Will Porter, spent thirteen formative years in Texas, from ages 19 to 33, during the period from 1882 to 1895. Porter married and began a family in Austin, and began writing and self-publishing in a weekly paper he started entitled "The Rolling Stone." Porter also worked several day jobs, including as a draftsman at the Texas General Land Office, and at a local bank, before financial irregularities at the bank caused him to flee to Honduras. He was later found guilty of embezzlement and sent to federal prison in Ohio. After three years in prison, Porter was released and eventually moved to New York City to be closer to publishers and to his daughter. Porter wrote several stories set in Texas, such as "The Ransom of Red Chief" as well as stories about and set in the Texas General Land Office, such as "Bexar Scrip No. 2692" and "Georgia's Ruling."

Participating institutions include the Austin History Center, the Texas General Land Office, and the Texas State Preservation Board. This project was supported in part by The Institute of Museum and Library Services. The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation's 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute's mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas.

The History of O. Henry’s ‘The Gift of the Magi’

The story begins just before Christmas with a small sum of money: $1.87 to be exact, 60 cents of which was in pennies. For the writer O. Henry, the pittance was enough to launch his most famous work, a fable about poverty, love, and generosity, and also likely covered the drinks he plied himself with as he crafted the tale at Healy's, the neighborhood bar.

In “ The Gift of the Magi,” first published in 1905, two down-on-their-luck lovebirds Della and Jim make sacrifices well beyond the cost of a boozy beverage to share their Christmas spirit with each other. The beloved tale tells of Della cutting off her gorgeous past-her-knees hair described in the story as, “rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters” for $20 to buy her man the perfect gift: a platinum fob watch chain, “simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation.” Later on that fateful Christmas Eve, Jim offers his present in kind, combs for Della’s beautiful locks, purchased after he sold his watch. The timeless, ironic twist, emblematic of O. Henry’s oeuvre, reminds readers of the oft-repeated “true meaning of Christmas.” The sentiment is tiresome and trite, but the story’s soul endures.

First published by the New York World in 1905, and then to a wider audience in the 1906 collection Four Million (named for the NYC population, it was the number of stories O. Henry, whose real name was William Sydney Porter, believed existed in his adopted city), the 2,163-word masterpiece has become a holiday standard, a slim mix of pain and joy sitting on a fireplace mantel with other redemptive Yuletide perennials like A Christmas Carol , It’s A Wonderful Life , and “Fairytale of New York.”

The mixture of sadness and sentimentality in “Gift of the Magi” befits a man whose life was marked by repeated human tragedies. Porter was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, in September 1862, the same month as the Civil War battles at Antietam and Harpers Ferry. His father was a prominent doctor and inventor whose life unraveled after his wife died of tuberculosis when William was only 3. His father retreated into a private world of tinkering with machinery— a perpetual-motion machine, a steam-driven horseless carriage, a device for picking cotton—and drinking away his troubles. The diseases of alcoholism and tuberculosis would haunt Porter throughout his life.

At 20, in hopes of relieving his own perpetual cough, the “family curse,” Porter left North Carolina for the dry air of Texas and livedwith a sheep herder who had Greensboro ties. William worked the ranch on the Nueces River near San Antonio for two years, apparently becoming a proficient broncobuster while also learning Spanish and memorizing the dictionary. Two years later, he went to Austin where he took various jobs including cigar store clerk, pharmacist, bookkeeper and draftsman for the state’s General Land Office. He also played the guitar and sang baritone for the Hill City Quartette and met and fell in love with 17-year-old Athol Estes, who he wooed by helping with her homework. They eloped and were married two years later on July 5, 1887. Athol gave birth to a son in 1888, who died hours after birth the following year, the couple had a daughter, Margaret.

William Sydney Porter, pseudonym O.Henry (1862-1910) (Bettman / Contributor)

Porter’s life was rife with sorrow, but outwardly, at least, he was seen as a good-natured raconteur with a sharp wit, especially after a few belts. On the ranch, he’d begun jotting down stories, mainly with a Wild West theme, but not doing anything with them. In Austin, with Athol’s encouragement, he upped his literary output and began submitting stories to the Detroit Free Press and Truth , a New York-based magazine featuring the likes of Stephen Crane. Along the way, he took a job as a teller at First National Bank and 1894, borrowed $250 from the bank (with a note signed by a couple of drinking buddies), bought a printing press and started self-publishing a weekly magazine. The Rolling Stone . Featuring stories, cartoons, and humor pieces, it found a local audience with print runs of more than 1,000. For a hot second, times were good.

“The little cottage [Potter] rented and lived in with his wife and children is now a museum. It’s in the middle of downtown Austin’s skyscrapers and looks even more modest and sweet than it did before the city grew,” says Laura Furman, a fiction writer who served as the series editor for the O. Henry Prize stories from 2002-19. “The house doesn’t have many authentic O. Henry possessions but there’s enough in it to give you a sense of what his brief-lived family life might have been like. It’s widely believed that he was his happiest in that house. The happiness of family life didn’t last long for him.”

The Rolling Stone never made much money or made it beyond Austin, so Porter shut it down in 1895, later telling the New York Times that it had all the hallmarks of getting “mossy.” He decamped to Houston to write columns for the Daily Post, but was called back to court in Austin. The First National Bank, which had been freewheeling and informal in its lending practices, accused him of embezzling $5,000. Instead of facing the charges, Porter fled the country, eventually landing in Honduras, which had no extradition treaty with the United States. (It’s where he coined the term “ banana republic, ” in his story “ The Admiral,” which appeared in his first book, Cabbages and Kings .)

It was a short stay. After seven months, Porter returned to Texas to care for Athol who was suffering from tuberculosis. She died in July 1897. (In 1916, C. Alphonso Smith, a childhood friend of O. Henry’s, wrote that Della was modeled on Athol.) This time, he stayed in the Lone Star state and faced the music. In February 1898, William Sydney Porter was found guilty of embezzling $854.08 and sentenced to five years in federal prison at the Ohio Penitentiary. Various biographers, including Smith, have long held the evidence of serious criminal intent was flimsy and that while Porter kept haphazard records, bank mismanagement was more to blame, and he was actually punished for going on the lam. Porter who was never good with money and routinely walked the line of being dead broke, always maintained his innocence. From the North Carolina History Project:

“ When confronted with his crime, William would write his mother-in-law and claim, ‘I am absolutely innocent of wrongdoing in that bank matter…I care not so much for the opinion of the general public, but I would have a few of my friends still believe there is good in me.’ The Ohio Penitentiary was a harsh life for prisoners, but William received partial treatment due to his skills as a pharmacist. Allowed a higher status than the normal prisoner, William was given more free time, and it was during these long night hours that William adopted the pseudonym O. Henry and penned some of his best short stories.”

The official reason behind “O. Henry” as a pen name has never been fully established. An Inkwell of Pen Names links it to a cat from his childhood named “Henry the Proud,” a verse from a cowboy song called “Root, Hog, or Die.,” while the writer Guy Davenport, who wrote introductions to multiple collections believes it was a twist on “Ohio Penitentary” while also keeping his true identity safe in prison—the stories O. Henry wrote doing time were sent to the wife of an incarcerated banker in New Orleans to be sent out to editors—but the author himself claimed it was simply easy to write and say. The pseudonym may be a mystery, but his success was not. The first story published as O. Henry was “Whistling Dick’s Christmas Stocking.” Appearing in McClure’s magazine in December 1899, it tells the tale of a “professional tramp,” a fateful gift from a passing surry, and a good night’s sleep on Christmas Eve.

Released after three years for good behavior, O. Henry moved to Pittsburgh where Margaret, now 12, lived with her grandparents. She was never told of his being incarcerated, only that dad was away on business. (Tragically, Margaret too would die at 37 from tuberculosis, three days after getting married from her deathbed.) O. Henry didn’t stay long. He headed to the heart of the publishing world, New York City, the crowded relentless cosmopolitan polyglot he fell in love with and nicknamed “Baghdad-on-the-Subway.” The streetlife of New York would be a major inspiration for O. Henry as he penned some 380-some-odd stories while living in the Gramercy Park area. The nightlife, however, would exact a bigger toll as O. Henry drank himself to an early grave at the countless number of joints just like Healy’s. On June 5, 1910, at the age of 47, O. Henry died from cirrhosis of the liver and other health complications. (Many years later, his second wife from a short marriage, Sarah Lindsey Coleman, would emphatically proclaim he died from diabetes, not the bottle.)

Nestled away on 18th St. near Gramercy Park, just a couple blocks from the bustling Union Square holiday markets, Pete’s Tavern welcomes tipplers with an awning reading “The Tavern O. Henry Made Famous.” The writer lived across the street at 55 Irving Place in a first floor apartment featuring three large windows where he could look out at his second home across the street, which was then named Healy’s Cafe . (First opened in 1864, the bar would be renamed Pete’s in 1922 after Peter Belles purchased the establishment, which today claims itself as the longest continuous tavern in New York City. During Prohibition, the flower shop in front led to the booze in the back, likely protected from police raids by its nearby proximity to Tammany Hall.)

The hard-drinking Henry became a regular at Healy’s and was said to consider it an extension of his office at the New York World , who hired him for $100 a week for a single story. Healy’s even made it into O. Henry’s story ‘The Lost Blend,’ but in disguise as “Kenealy’s,” perhaps to keep his favorite watering hole to himself.

According to biographer David Stuart, in late autumn 1905, a new World editor decided Henry’s salary far exceeded his output and ordered him fired. Unbeknownst to Henry, the World still wanted him to write up until his contract expired in December. So it came as a shock to Henry when, shortly before the World ’s big Christmas special edition came out on December 10, an office boy knocked on his apartment door looking for a contribution. The lackey wasn’t leaving without a story so O. Henry sat down and banged out “Gift of the Magi” in “two feverish hours” according to the faded plaque outside his apartment building. It fit Henry’s pattern of writing overnight, on deadline , and delivering at the last minute, but usually with pristine copy that didn’t require much editorial heavy lifting.

On the whole, “Gift of the Magi” encapsulates the best of what O. Henry stories accomplish, a brief lived-in human experience. One that is often, for good, bad, or in-between, given over to an unwanted fate, only to be rescued through a combination of sentimentality and his patented surprise ending.

“O. Henry had a strong sense of form if you read a story of his blind, you’d be able to identify it as an O. Henry story by the movement of the action, leading up to his famous trick—the twist at the end,” says Furman. “The twist is really a wringing out of the plot elements and revealing something that was there all along but the reader hadn’t noticed. He was less interested in style than in getting a reaction from his reader. That performative aspect of his stories and his relationship to the reader as audience has appeal to writers now.”

Despite the plaque on 55 Irving Place, the question of where O. Henry scribbled down his masterwork remains an open one. Folklore handed down from generations of the tavern’s owners claims it was authored inside Pete’s—a sacred booth includes multiple pictures and a handwritten letter O. Henry wrote as William Sydney Porter deferring on a dinner invitation—but at least one dissenter claims it was authored in Henry’s apartment. Written in 1936, The Quiet Lodger of Irving Place is a series of reminisces about O. Henry’s time in New York City by his friend and colleague William Wash Williams. In it, Williams says “Gift of the Magi” was written in the room O. Henry rented. No official documentation exists either way, but what truly matters is the story has become synonymous with Pete’s Tavern, the New York City holiday season, and the wonderfully brighly festooned intersection of the two.

“Some of the decorations we have are over 50 years old, so I’d say the Christmas season has always been important to us here at Pete’s,” says general manager and tavern historian Gary Egan, who started working there as a waiter and bartender in 1987. “Every year, five of us put up all the lights and decorations. We close early and go from midnight to eight in the morning for three weeks straight. And at home, I make gallons and gallons of eggnog and bring it in. It’s brutal.”

Egan means the holiday stretch, of course, not the egg nog, which is delicious. Made with brandy, a glass runs $13, which could’ve probably bought a quality timepiece and a full-length wig in O. Henry’s day, but late on a Tuesday afternoon, with a wintry mix flurrying about the setting sun, before the boisterous crowds shuffled in, it wasn’t hard to be transported to Christmases past and to toast the spirit of Della and Jim in the reflected glow of a sea of red lights.

“[O. Henry’s] such an American character and it’s too bad an ‘O. Henry’ story has become somewhat of a cliche,” says Amanda Vaill, a writer and former book publisher who edited a 1994 collection of his works. “His other works deserve a bigger audience, but I also still vividly remember reading Magi at age 10 in a holiday anthology and thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh. Oh, no . No! NO!’ I was struck by the cruelty of the universe and the kindness of the characters within it.”

Furman has a similar recollection, saying, “I have fond memories of reading ‘Gift of the Magi’ as a child and thinking hard about the misfortune of the two main characters. It bothered me that they both failed in their presents. That’s how I saw it then. Later, I had an appreciation of the story’s cleverness and how tightly constructed it was—and I understood that it really didn’t matter if the presents weren’t the right ones since, in O. Henry’s view, their sacrifice was a sign of their love. I was more focused as a child on the presents than love.”

One reason the “Gift of the Magi” has had a longer time in the spotlight than any of the estimated 600 other stories O. Henry wrote over his lifetime--which were extremely popular, by 1920, a decade after his death, some five-million copies of his books had been sold in the United States—is that its seasonal message and framework has been paid homage for years.

The first one, The Sacrifice, was a silent film directed by D.W. Griffith in 1909. Later versions include O. Henry’s Full House, a 1952 quintet of his stories tied together by on-screen narrator John Steinbeck in his lone acting credit, a 1999 animated riff featuring the famous Disney mice and a harmonica in Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmas, and a tender 2014 Greek short film set during the country’s recent financial crisis. It’s also been a staple television plot, be it in a 1955 “Honeymooners” episode in which Ralph Kramden pawns his beloved bowling ball, a 1988 “Saturday Night Live” parody lampooning a future president impersonated by Phil Hartman and a gold-plated jewel-encrusted golf club door, and the one that introduced many a young Gen-Xer, myself included, to the O. Henry classic. In the 1978 special “Christmas Eve on Sesame Street”, Bert and Ernie follow the formula with a rubber duckie-for a cigar box/paper clip collection-for a soapdish trade. (In the end, Mr. Hooper shows up in the fuzzy roommates bedroom, returns their original items, and tells his Muppet pals they gave him the best gift of all.)

$1.87 might not buy a cup of holiday cheer anymore, but it remains holiday central at Pete’s Tavern, thanks to O. Henry’s deadline masterpiece, be it written with a stiff drink in a booth or not. The holidays are Egan’s craziest time, yet, given a chance to reflect on the Della, Jim, and the dewy-eyed scribe who made his tavern famous, the insanity of the season slips away, for a moment anyway.

“‘Gift of the Magi’ is heartwarming, a beautiful story with a hint of sadness,” he says. “It’s Christmas.”

About Patrick Sauer

Originally from Montana, Patrick Sauer is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn. His work appears in Vice Sports, Biographile, Smithsonian, and The Classical, among others. He is the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the American Presidents and once wrote a one-act play about Zachary Taylor.

O. Henry

O. Henry (1862 - 1910) was an American short story author whose real name was William Sydney Porter . Henry's rich canon of work reflected his wide-range of experiences and is distinctive for its witticism, clever wordplay, and unexpected twist endings.

Like many other writers, O. Henry's early career aspirations were unfocused and he wandered across different activities and professions before he finally found his calling as a short story writer. He started working in his uncle's drugstore in 1879 and became a licensed pharmacist by the age of 19. His first creative expressions came while working in the pharmacy where he would sketch the townspeople that frequented the store. The customers reacted warmly to his drawings and he was admired for his artistry and drawing skills.

O. Henry moved to Texas in March of 1882 hoping to get rid of a persistent cough that he had developed. While there, he took up residence on a sheep ranch, learned shepherding, cooking, babysitting, and bits of Spanish and German from the many migrant farmhands. He had an active social life in Austin and was a fine musician, skilled with the guitar and mandolin. Over the next several years, Porter -- as he was still known -- took a number of different jobs, from pharmacy to drafting, journalism, and banking.

Here's where the twists and turns really started. Banking, in particular, was not to be O. Henry's calling he was quite careless with his bookkeeping, fired by the bank and charged with embezzlement in 1894. His father-in-law posted bail for him, but he fled the day before the trial in 1896, first to New Orleans, then to Honduras, where there was no extradition treaty. He befriended a notorious train robber there, Al Jennings, who later wrote a book about their friendship. O. Henry sent his wife and daughter back to Texas, after which he holed up in a hotel to write his first collection of short stories, Cabbages an Kings published in 1904. He learned his wife was dying of tuberculosis and could not join him in Honduras, so he returned to Austin and turned himself in to the court. His father-in-law again posted his bail so he could remain with his wife until her death in 1897. He was sentenced and served in Federal prison in Ohio for five years from 1989-1902. During his jail time, he returned to practicing pharmacy and had a room in the hospital, never having to live in a cell.

O. Henry was always a lover of classic literature, and while pursuing his many ventures, O. Henry had begun writing as a hobby. When he lost his banking position he moved to Houston in 1895 and started writing for the The Post , earning $25 per month (an average salary at this time in American history was probably about $300 a year). O. Henry collected ideas for his column by loitering in hotel lobbies and observing and talking to people there. He relied on this technique to gain creative inspiration throughout his writing career which is a fun fact to keep in mind while reading an imaginative masterpiece of a story like Transients in Arcadia. The many twists and turns of his own life, including his travels in Latin America and time spent in prison, clearly inspired his stories' twists and wordplay.

O. Henry's prolific writing period began in 1902 in New York City, where he wrote 381 short stories. He wrote one story a week for The New York World Sunday Magazine for over a year. Some of his best and least known work is contained in Cabbages and Kings , whose title was inspired by Lewis Carroll's poem, The Walrus and the Carpenter. The stories were set in a midwestern American town in which sub-plots and larger plots are interwoven in an engaging manner. His second collection of stories, The Four Million , was released in 1906. The stories are set in New York City, and the title is based on the population of the city at that time. The collection contained several short story masterpieces, including The Gift of the Magi, The Cop and the Anthem, and many others. Henry had an obvious affection for New York City and its diversity of people and places, a reverence that rises up through many of his stories.

O. Henry's trademark is his witty, plot-twisting endings, and his warm characterization of the awkward and difficult situations and the creative ways people find to resolve them. His most famous short story, The Gift of the Magi, epitomizes his style. It's bout a young married couple, short on money, who wish to buy each other Christmas gifts. That problem -- their lack of funds -- finds a famously endearing and ironic resolution. The Cop and the Anthem is about A New York City hobo with a creative solution for dealing with the cold city streets during winter. Another story, A Retrieved Reformation, is about a safecracker, Jimmy Valentine, fresh from prison, whose life takes an unexpected turn while trying to come clean (or is he casing his next crime scene?) The Ransom of Red Chief, a story about two hapless kidnappers who snatch a heinous boy whose menacing ways turn the tables on them. All of O. Henry's stories are highly entertaining, whether read for pleasure or studied in classrooms around the world.

In 1952, Marilyn Monroe and Charles Laughton starred in O. Henry's Full House , a film featuring five of O. Henry's short stories. The film included The Cop and the Anthem, The Clarion Call, The Last Leaf, The Ransom of Red Chief (starring Fred Allen and Oscar Levant), and The Gift of the Magi.

Unfortunately, O. Henry's personal tragedy was heavy drinking. By 1908, his health had deteriorated and his writing dropped off accordingly. He died in 1910 of cirrhosis of the liver, complications of diabetes, and an enlarged heart. The funeral was held in New York City, but he was buried in North Carolina, the state where he was born. He was a gifted short story writer and left us a rich legacy of great stories to enjoy.

Enjoy some illustrated Short Stories from O. Henry click to read.

O. Henry (1862 – 1910)

William Sydney Porter, or more famously known by his pen name O. Henry, was a popular short story writer during the early twentieth century. A writer whose personal life paralleled his fictional works, Porter lived a varied life throughout the South, Honduras, and New York City. Most importantly though are not the places where Porter traveled but his early childhood in Greensboro, North Carolina. Born on September 11, 1862, to a middle-class family, William was the middle child of three sons. He was only three years old when his mother and brother passed away from tuberculosis. Surviving family members were William&rsquos mother and brother, and they influenced the future author in a drastic way.

Grandma Porter, a self-trained doctor and local figure in Greensboro, raised the Porter children after William&rsquos mother passed away. Will&rsquos father and physician, Algernon Porter, cared for his children, but an infatuation with inventing a perpetual motion machine and drinking whiskey hindered him from being a true father figure to William. Despite Algernon&rsquos personal struggles, Will enjoyed a tranquil childhood, and he learned much about writing and literature from his Aunt Lina Porter. From 1867 to 1876, Aunt Lina taught William privately, and he garnered an affinity and knack for storytelling, writing, and drawing. Three years after his studies with his aunt, William apprenticed at the W. C. Porter Company drugstore beginning in 1879. William&rsquos uncle, Clark Porter, allowed him to work at the pharmacy for several years, and he soon became a licensed pharmacist. It was during his time at his uncle&rsquos drugstore that he fell in love with Sara Lindsay Coleman or &ldquoSall.&rdquo 19 years old at the time, William was so shy that he could never ask Sall out on a date. In 1881, William left Sara, his family, and North Carolina behind he headed west to the state of Texas.

While in Texas, William became a cowboy of sorts and he earned recognition as a broncobuster. In addition to his knowledge of the frontier, the author became proficient in Spanish, memorized most of Webster&rsquos dictionary, and he started writing stories of the wild west. Yet, William was not confident that the public would accept his work he never submitted his western stories, destroying stories as soon as he wrote them. Growing in his love of Texas, William decided to move to Austin in 1884. He soon accepted a job as a bank teller at the First National Bank. In 1887, William eloped with Athol Estes, and they would later have a son who died shortly after birth. However, in 1889 the couple had a daughter, Margaret, but Athol&rsquos health worsened drastically after Margaret&rsquos birth. Despite Athol&rsquos health troubles, she continued to encourage William to write and at the request of his wife, he submitted his publications to the Detroit Free Press.

William eventually grew bored with his job as a bank teller in Austin, and he decided to start his own magazine called The Rolling Stone. A solo project, William devoted most of his time to writing and drawing for the new magazine, eventually quitting his bank job. The Rolling Stone gained popularity with residents in Austin, but struggling to keep the presses rolling, William had to discontinue the magazine a year shy of its first publication.

From 1894 to 1897, William would experience two traumatic events that would eventually spur the true writings from the fledging author. In 1895 William worked as a columnist at the Houston Daily Post, but he was soon ordered to court in Austin on charges of embezzlement during his employment at First National Bank. The manager and owner had filed a report that claimed William had stole nearly $5,000 while he worked at the bank. Upon hearing the charges against him, William made his way to New Orleans where he boarded a boat for Honduras. (Honduras, at that time, had no extradition treaty with the U.S.). While in Honduras, William became friends with Al Jennings, the notorious train robber. Jennings would later write a book about his relationship with the author, and he even claimed that William and his posse had toured across South America.

After 7 months in Honduras, William returned to Austin in 1897 because his wife was very ill. Upon his return to Texas, William was formally charged with embezzlement, and his wife died several months later. In February 1898, William, now thirty-five years old, was found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison at the Ohio Penitentiary. When confronted with his crime, William would write his mother-in-law and claim, &ldquoI am absolutely innocent of wrongdoing in that bank matter…I care not so much for the opinion of the general public, but I would have a few of my friends still believe there is good in me.&rdquoThe Ohio Penitentiary was a harsh life for prisoners, but William received partial treatment due to his skills as a pharmacist. Allowed a higher status than the normal prisoner, William was given more free time, and it was during these long night hours that William adopted the pseudonym O. Henry and penned some of his best short stories. Although historians and literary critics disagree, many believed Porter chose the pseudonym &ldquoO. Henry&rdquo because his childhood cat, Henry the Proud, answered to the young William&rsquos call &ldquoHenry, Oh Henry.&rdquo However, others believe that William simply wanted a catchy and memorably name.

O. Henry wrote numerous short stories while in prison. His first story, &ldquoWhistling Dick&rsquos Christmas Stocking,&rdquo was published by McClure&rsquos Magazine and became a steppingstone for the author&rsquos success. The mysterious author grew in fame and recognition, but publishers and readers alike were clueless regarding O. Henry&rsquos identity. (William would send his stories to the wife of another incarcerated banker who would then send them along to magazines in the U.S.). O. Henry received widespread acclaim because of his trademark tales of gentle, warm-hearted characters and ironic plot twists at the end of the story. These iconic plot transitions were soon referred to as &ldquoO. Henry Endings.&rdquo

Released in 1901 on good behavior, O. Henry moved to New York at the request of his editor in the big city. He would soon enter a writing spree for Ainslee&rsquos and McClure&rsquos Magazine, and he wrote over 100 short stories in only two years. While living in the city, O. Henry was finally free to experience the urban lifestyle and write about his time in North Carolina, Texas, and his new life in the city. Flourishing in this new habitat, the author was even quoted as saying he &ldquowould like to live a lifetime in each street in New York. Every house has a drama in it.&rdquo

Even though O. Henry wanted a lifetime in the city of New York, fate decided differently. The author would later marry his childhood sweetheart, Sarah Coleman, and he moved to Asheville in 1907. Despite his vigor to continue writing, O. Henry&rsquos health prevented him from fully accomplishing his goal from experiencing every crevice of the Big Apple. He eventually moved back to New York with his wife, but he passed away on June 5, 1910, due to complications from diabetes and other illnesses. O. Henry&rsquos wife took his body back to Asheville, and today the author is buried in the historic Riverside Cemetery. Overlooking a beautiful mountainous landscape, the Riverside Cemetery is also the burial site of other famous North Carolinians including Thomas Wolfe, Robert Brank Vance, and Zebulon B. Vance.

From 1910 to 1920, five single volume collections were released after O. Henry&rsquos death. In addition to a complete collection of his most famous works, C. Alphonso Smith, O. Henry&rsquos childhood friend, finished a biography on the author in 1916. O. Henry&rsquos unique plot twists and interesting character personalities influenced the American short story genre to a large extent, particularly his stories &ldquoThe Ransom of Red Chief,&rdquo &ldquoThe Gift of the Magi,&rdquo and &ldquoMemoirs of a Yellow Dog.&rdquo He would impact other short story authors such as Lilian Jackson Braun, Orson Scott Card, and Helen Eustis. In addition, the O. Henry Festival, founded in 1985, honors the life of William Sydney Porter every April. Presently, Greensboro College hosts the festival as well as mini-dramas that detail the author&rsquos life which are held on his birthday, September 11th, every year.

O. Henry&rsquos Tar Heel and middle-class background directly influenced his literary style.. The culture of the Reconstructed South, along with his childhood in Greensboro, affected Porter&rsquos voice and his connection to his birthplace. For example, O. Henry wrote a story that was inspired by the journalist Charles Evans&rsquos fictional character, the Fool-Killer. Originally a writing persona that described his journey through Piedmont North Carolina, the Fool-Killer was a feisty character that would beat any fool he met along his way across the state. Interestingly, even after Porter had moved to New York and transitioned into writing about the big city, the North Carolinian author hoped to pen stories that compared the New South with the antebellum culture shortly before his death. In addition, O. Henry wrote nearly thirty stories during his last years in New York, and all of these short stories were either set in the South or they expounded the intricacies of antebellum culture.


&ldquoDrugstores, Fiction, Fool-Killer, Riverside Cemetery.&rdquo William S. Powell, ed. Encyclopedia of North Carolina (University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, NC 2006).

O. Henry: A Study of the Short Fiction. Twayne&rsquos Studies in Short Fiction, No. 49. Eugene Current-Garcia and Gordon Weaver, ed. Oklahoma State University. New York, 1993.

"O. Henry.&rdquo North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program website. A Division of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources.,(accessed on October 10, 2011).

"O. Henry A Life As Surprising as His Stories.&rdquo Mellissa Burdick Harmon. Biography, Dec.2010. Volume 4, Issue 12.

10 Literary Geniuses Who Went To Jail

Some of the greatest literary minds in history have also frequently found themselves in trouble with the law. While the majority manage to get away with a slap on the wrist, some have found themselves spending a rather long period of time in jail. For some, this has ruined their career, for others it has made it. This is a list of 10 of the greatest geniuses in literature who found themselves in the clink!

Kesey was an American author, best known for his debut novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo&rsquos Nest, and as a counter-cultural figure who, some consider, was a link between the Beat Generation of the 1950&rsquos and the hippies of the 1960&rsquos. Kesey was arrested for possession of marijuana in 1965. In an attempt to mislead police, he faked his own suicide by having friends leave his truck on a cliffside road near Eureka, along with a suicide note that said, &ldquoOcean, Ocean I&rsquoll beat you in the end.&rdquo Kesey fled to Mexico in the back of a friend&rsquos car. When he returned to the United States eight months later, Kesey was arrested and sent to the San Mateo County jail in Redwood City, California, for five months. On his release, he moved back to the family farm in Pleasant Hill, Oregon, in the Willamette Valley, where he spent the rest of his life. He wrote many articles, books (mostly collections of his articles) and short stories during that time. [Wikipedia]

Burroughs was an American novelist, essayist, social critic, painter and spoken word performer. Much of Burroughs&rsquos work is semi-autobiographical, drawn from his experiences as an opiate addict, a condition that marked the last fifty years of his life. A primary member of the Beat Generation, he was an avant-garde author who affected popular culture as well as literature. His most well known work is probably Naked Lunch. In 1951, Burroughs shot and killed his wife, Joan Vollmer, in a drunken game of &ldquoWilliam Tell&rdquo at a party above the American-owned Bounty Bar in Mexico City. He spent 13 days in jail before his brother came to Mexico City and bribed Mexican lawyers and officials. This allowed Burroughs to be released on bail while he awaited trial for the killing, which was ruled culpable homicide. Burroughs reported every Monday morning to the jail in Mexico City, while his prominent Mexican attorney worked to resolve the case. When his attorney fled Mexico, after his own legal problems involving a car accident and altercation with the son of a government official, Burroughs decided to &ldquoskip&rdquo and return to the United States. He was convicted, in absentia, of homicide and sentenced to two years, which was suspended. [Wikipedia]

Saint Thomas More was an English lawyer, author and statesman, who, in his lifetime, gained a reputation as a leading humanist scholar, and occupied many public offices, including Lord Chancellor (1529&ndash1532). More coined the word &ldquoutopia&rdquo, a name he gave to an ideal, imaginary island nation whose political system he described in the eponymous book published in 1516. He was beheaded in 1535 when he refused to sign the Act of Succession that would make Henry VIII Supreme Head of the Church in England. On 13 April of that year, More was asked to appear before a commission and swear his allegiance to the parliamentary Act of Succession. More accepted Parliament&rsquos right to declare Anne the legitimate queen of England, but he refused to take the oath because of an anti-papal preface to the Act, asserting Parliament&rsquos authority to legislate in matters of religion by denying the authority of the Pope, which More would not accept. Four days later he was imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he wrote his devotional Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation. On 1 July 1535, More was tried before a panel of judges. He was charged with high treason for denying the validity of the Act of Succession. He was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered (the usual punishment for traitors), but the king commuted this to execution by beheading. The execution took place on 6 July. In 1935, four hundred years after his death, Pope Pius XI canonized More in the Roman Catholic Church More was declared Patron Saint of politicians and statesmen by Pope John Paul II in 1980. [Wikipedia]

O. Henry is the pen name of American writer William Sydney Porter. O. Henry short stories are known for wit, wordplay, warm characterization and clever twist endings. Porter and his family moved to Houston in 1895, where he started writing for the Post. His salary was only $25 a month, but it rose steadily as his popularity increased. Porter gathered ideas for his column by hanging out in hotel lobbies, observing and talking to people there. This was a technique he used throughout his writing career. While he was in Houston, the First National Bank of Austin was audited, and the federal auditors found several discrepancies. They managed to get a federal indictment against Porter. Porter was subsequently arrested on charges of embezzlement, charges which he denied, in connection with his employment at the bank. Porter&rsquos father-in-law posted bail to keep Porter out of jail, but the day before Porter was due to stand trial, on July 7, 1896, he fled, first to New Orleans and later to Honduras. While he was in Honduras, Porter coined the term &ldquobanana republic&rdquo, subsequently used to describe almost any small tropical dictatorship in Latin America. When he learned that his wife was dying, Porter returned to Austin in February 1897 and surrendered to the court. Having little to say in his own defense, he was found guilty of embezzlement in February 1898, sentenced to five years jail. He was imprisoned on March 25, 1898, as federal prisoner 30664 at the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus, Ohio. While in prison, Porter, as a licensed pharmacist, worked in the prison hospital as the night druggist. [Wikipedia]

Genet was a prominent, controversial French writer and, later, political activist. Early in his life he was a vagabond and petty criminal, but later took to writing novels, plays, poems and essays, including Querelle de Brest, The Thief&rsquos Journal, Our Lady of the Flowers, The Balcony and The Blacks and The Maids. Genet&rsquos mother was a young prostitute who raised him for the first year of his life, before putting him up for adoption. For various misdemeanors, including repeated acts of vagrancy, he was sent, at the age of 15, to Mettray Penal Colony, where he was detained between 2 September 1926 and 1 March 1929. In The Miracle of the Rose (1946), he gives an account of this period of detention, which ended at the age of 18 when he joined the Foreign Legion. He was eventually given a dishonorable discharge on grounds of indecency. After returning to Paris, France in 1937, Genet was in and out of prison through a series of arrests for theft, use of false papers, vagabondage, lewd acts and other offenses. In prison, Genet wrote his first poem, &ldquoLe condamné à mort,&rdquo which he had printed at his own cost, and the novel Our Lady of the Flowers (1944). In Paris, Genet sought out and introduced himself to Jean Cocteau, who was impressed by his writing. Cocteau used his contacts to get Genet&rsquos novel published, and in 1949, when Genet was threatened with a life sentence after ten convictions, Cocteau and other prominent figures including Jean-Paul Sartre and Pablo Picasso successfully petitioned the French President to have the sentence set aside. Genet would never return to prison. [Wikipedia]

Wilde was an Irish playwright, novelist, poet and author of short stories. Known for his biting wit, he became one of the most successful playwrights of late Victorian London, and one of the greatest celebrities of his day. Several of his plays continue to be widely performed, especially The Importance of Being Earnest. As the result of a widely covered series of trials, Wilde suffered a dramatic downfall, and was imprisoned for two years hard labour after being convicted of the offence of &ldquogross indecency&rdquo with other men. After Wilde was released from prison he set sail for Dieppe by the night ferry. He never returned to Britain. Wilde was imprisoned first in Pentonville, and then in Wandsworth prison in London, and finally transferred in November to Reading Prison, some 30 miles west of London. Wilde knew the town of Reading from happier times when boating on the Thames, and also from visits to the Palmer family, including a tour of the famous Huntley & Palmers biscuit factory, which is quite close to the prison. Now known as prisoner C. 3.3, (which described the fact that he was in block C, floor three, cell three) he was not, at first, even allowed paper and pen, but a later governor was more amenable. Wilde was championed by the reformer, Lord Haldane, who had helped transfer him and afforded him the literary catharsis he needed. After his release, he also wrote the famous poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol. [Wikipedia]

Verlaine was a French poet associated with the Symbolist movement. He is considered one of the greatest representatives of the fin de siècle in international and French poetry. In September, 1871, he received his first letter from the poet Arthur Rimbaud. By 1872, he had lost interest in Mathilde, his wife, and effectively abandoned her and their son, preferring the company of Rimbaud &ndash his new lover. Rimbaud and Verlaine&rsquos stormy love affair took them to London in 1872. In July 1873, in a drunken, jealous rage, he fired two shots with a pistol at Rimbaud, wounding his left wrist, though not seriously injuring the poet. As an indirect result of this incident, Verlaine was arrested and imprisoned at Mons. There, he underwent a conversion to Roman Catholicism, which again influenced his work and provoked Rimbaud&rsquos sharp criticism. Romances sans paroles was the poetic outcome of this period. Following his release from prison, Verlaine again traveled to England, where he worked for some years as a teacher and produced another successful collection, Sagesse. He returned to France in 1877 and, while teaching English at a school in Rethel, became infatuated with one of his pupils, Lucien Létinois, who inspired Verlaine to write further poems. Verlaine was devastated when the boy died of typhus in 1883. Verlaine&rsquos last years witnessed a descent into drug addiction, alcoholism and poverty. He lived in slums and public hospitals, and spent his days drinking absinthe in Paris cafes. [wikipedia]

Solzhenitsyn was a Russian novelist, dramatist and historian. Through his writings, he made the world aware of the Gulag, the Soviet Union&rsquos labour camp system, and for these efforts, Solzhenitsyn was exiled from the Soviet Union in 1974. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970. During World War II, he served as the commander of an acoustic recognizance unit in the Red Army, was involved in major action at the front, and twice decorated. In February 1945, while serving in East Prussia, he was arrested for writing a derogatory comment in a letter to a friend, N. D. Utkevich, about the conduct of the war by Josef Stalin, whom he called &ldquothe whiskered one,&rdquo &ldquoKhozyain&rdquo (&ldquothe master&rdquo) and &ldquoBalabos&rdquo, (Odessa Yiddish for &ldquothe master&rdquo). He was accused of anti-Soviet propaganda, under Article 58 paragraph 10 of the Soviet criminal code, and of &ldquofounding a hostile organization&rdquo under paragraph 11. Solzhenitsyn was taken to the Lubyanka prison in Moscow, where he was beaten and interrogated. On 7 July 1945, he was sentenced in his absence by a three-man tribunal of the Soviet security police (NKGB) to an eight-year term in a labour camp, to be followed by permanent internal exile. This was the normal sentence for most crimes under Article 58, at the time. The first part of Solzhenitsyn&rsquos sentence was served in several different work camps. During his years of exile, and following his reprieve and return to European Russia, Solzhenitsyn was, while teaching at a secondary school during the day, spending his nights secretly engaged in writing. In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech he wrote, &ldquoduring all the years until 1961, not only was I convinced I should never see a single line of mine in print in my lifetime, but, also, I scarcely dared allow any of my close acquaintances to read anything I had written because I feared this would become known.&rdquo [Wikipedia]

Francois-Marie Arouet, better known by the pen name Voltaire, was a French Enlightenment writer, essayist, deist and philosopher known for his wit, philosophical sport and defense of civil liberties, including freedom of religion and free trade. Voltaire was a prolific writer, and produced works in almost every literary form, authoring plays, poetry, novels, essays, historical and scientific works, over 20,000 letters and over two thousand books and pamphlets. He was an outspoken supporter of social reform, despite strict censorship laws and harsh penalties for those who broke them. A satirical polemicist, he frequently made use of his works to criticize Catholic Church dogma and the French institutions of his day. Most of Voltaire&rsquos early life revolved around Paris. From early on, Voltaire had trouble with the authorities for his energetic attacks on the government and the Catholic Church. These activities were to result in numerous imprisonments and exiles. In 1717, in his early twenties, he became involved in the Cellamare conspiracy of Giulio Alberoni against Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, the regent for Louis XV of France. He allegedly wrote satirical verses about the aristocracy, and one of his writings about the Régent led to him being imprisoned in the Bastille for eleven months. While there, he wrote his debut play, &OEligdipe. Its success established his reputation. [Wikipedia]

A Spanish novelist, poet and playwright. His magnum opus, Don Quixote, considered the first modern novel by some, is considered a founding classic of Western literature, and regularly figures among the best novels ever written. His work is considered among the most important in all of literature. He has been dubbed el Príncipe de los Ingenios &ndash the Prince of Wits. By 1570 he had been enlisted as a soldier in a Spanish infantry regiment and continued his military life until 1575, when he was captured by pirates. He was ransomed by his captors and the Trinitarians and returned to his family in Madrid. In 1585, Cervantes published a pastoral novel, La Galatea. Because of financial problems, Cervantes worked as a purveyor for the Spanish Armada, and later as a tax collector. In 1597 discrepancies in his accounts of three years previous landed him in the Crown Jail of Seville. In 1605, he was in Valladolid, just when the immediate success of the first part of his Don Quixote, published in Madrid, signaled his return to the literary world. In 1607, he settled in Madrid, where he lived and worked until his death. [Wikipedia]

This article is licensed under the GFDL because it contains quotations from Wikipedia.

Watch the video: Between Rounds Audio Book by O. Henry


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