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.

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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?

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