Back to Back O. Henry Stories

After a recent burst of Reading, I’m almost back on schedule with my short story reading project. I’m supposed to read one a week and I’m up to 25/52 completed for 2012. As luck would have it, my last two stories from my list – randomly selected – were both by a master of the form, O. Henry. (and here I’ll let you enjoy a laugh at my expense, as I had always thought it was “O’Henry” you know, like he’s Irish, but no, it’s just “O. Henry,” which I at least did know was a nom de plume for William Sydney Porter – pictured below)

I acquired these stories in 1978 in a book of twelve by this author. I know the exact date because its title page is inscribed with “To Jay, Merry Christmas from Mom & Dad, 1978.” (see photo below) It’s funny because I don’t remember being quite “literarily” self aware back then so I’m not sure why they would given me this book as a gift. Although… now that I’m typing this, a fossil of a memory is starting to come to the surface. I think I remember reading the O. Henry story, “The Gift of the Magi” for a class in school, and maybe liked it or talked about it with my parents, so they got this book so I could further explore his work. That would be very like them. Anyway, enough with the personal.


The first of the two stories I read was titled “A Madison Square Arabian Night,” in which a high society- type gentleman, Carson Chalmers, in a restless mood, advises his butler to choose “at random” a homeless person to dine with him because, “on that night he felt the inefficacy of conventional antidotes to melancholy.” His guest turns out to be a down on his luck painter, who lost business because his portraits displayed the “true nature” of their subjects – sometimes a nature one didn’t want to own up to. Chalmers asks him to paint a portrait of his estranged wife using a photograph as reference…

The other story, “The Last Leaf,” was my favorite of the two. A young woman, living in a kind of “artists colony” in Greenwich Village, is stricken with pneumonia (which O. Henry personifies as “a cold, unseen stranger” who “stalked about the colony, touching one here and there with his icy fingers.“) and has more or less resolved to die. She even links her deterioration to the leaves dropping off a vine of ivy on the wall across the street, which she can see from her window. Her roommate and neighbor try, each in their own ways, to save her…

Both stories are very short and can be read in just a few minutes. They can be read for free on-line:
The Last Leaf
A Madison Square Arabian Night

Have you read any O. Henry? How did you find him?



  1. Nancy said,

    July 9, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    I like O. Henry’s stories a lot. I enjoyed his “The Skylight Room”, too. I haven’t read the stories you’ve featured here, but I will read them. Thanks for sharing.


    • Jay said,

      July 10, 2012 at 7:15 am

      Hi Nancy,
      I think “The Skylight Room” is another story in the same volume I have. I might just blitz through the rest of this book since it andnthe stories are so short anyway. But, on the other hand, I also want to save some of the stories for next year’s project. Hmm… 🙂


  2. Richard D. Boyle said,

    July 9, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    Hi Jay, When I was a freshman at IU in 1952, the Von Lee theater spedialized in foreign films and exceptional but low budget American films. One film was a collection of 4 of O.Henry’s most well known stories, the last of which was “The Last Leaf”. I was so moved by the story that I started reading O.Henry and eventually bought a two volume set of his Collected Short Stories of O. Henry. I have read all the famous ones and probably half of the rest over the years but “The Last Leaf” remains my favorite. I have told the story many times to a variety of people, most recently to some nurses during my recent hospitalization, and can never finish it without crying. Some may consider it melodrama but, if so, it is as good as melodrama can be done. Thanks for your post. I understand why you liked it and join you in recommending it to others. Richard


    • Jay said,

      July 10, 2012 at 7:19 am

      Hi Richard,
      I was moved by “The Last Leaf” too. Even knowing O. Henry’s penchant for the “twist” endings, I didn’t see this one coming. Thanks for sharing “your O.Henry story” too.


  3. Dale said,

    July 9, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    “The Gift of the Magi” is the only O. Henry story I’ve read. The ones you’ve mentioned sound good and I’d say that was a great Christmas gift.


    • Jay said,

      July 10, 2012 at 7:20 am

      Yes it was. I’ll have to call Mom and let her know that I’m still enjoying it almost 34 years later!


  4. Tao said,

    June 1, 2013 at 7:51 pm

    I am reading A Madison Square Arabian Night, would you like to talk more about the story, like how do you like it, and why. Thank you


    • Jay said,

      June 10, 2013 at 12:48 pm

      Hi Tao,
      I’m sorry, it’s been so long now since I read it I’m not sure how to answer without reading again – which I may do…


  5. June 9, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    O. Henry was a great writer, who told and retold so many incredible stories!


    • Jay said,

      June 10, 2013 at 12:49 pm

      I agree whole-heartedly! Thanks for the visit and comment!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: