Friday, April 10, 2009

A Little Bit of Literary History

On April 10, 1906, The Gift of the Magi was published. It was part of O. Henry's second collection of short stories, The Four Million. I remember reading the story when I was in school. It is unabashedly sentimental, but I like it anyway. It is available on Project Gutenberg.

Do you remember? It's Christmas Eve. A young wife, struggling to make ends meet, is determined to buy her husband the perfect Christmas gift, but all she has been able to save is $1.87. Desperate, she sells her beautiful knee-length hair and buys her husband a watch chain for the gold watch that is his most precious possession. When her husband comes home, he is shocked to see that she has cut her hair, because he has bought her a set of combs that she admired. When his wife gives him his gift, though, his shock gives way to resignation. He has no use for the watch chain, because he has sold his watch to buy the combs. He suggests that they put away their gifts for a while and go on with their lives.

O. Henry concludes:

"... I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi."

O. Henry, (1862-1910)
whose real name was William Sydney Porter, led a tumultuous life. He was an alcoholic and he had financial problems throughout his life. He fled to Honduras in 1896 to avoid prosecution for embezzlement, but returned when he learned that his wife was dying. In Honduras, he wrote Cabbages and Kings, in which he originated the term "banana republic". Between 1903 and 1906, back in the U.S. and out of prison after serving three years, he wrote a weekly story for the New York World.

Altogether, O. Henry wrote more than 600 short stories.



Kathryn Magendie said...

You received your envelope! Yayy! -- I was in such a hurry when I sent it because I was so late in sending it that I rushed rushed and then was afraid I'd left something out or whatever ...but, the most important things were the cherokee tear, the mountain rock, and the buckeye! *smiling big and wide!*

Sandra Leigh said...

I laughed when I thought of the package going through Canada Customs. Thanks again, Kat.

Reya Mellicker said...

My mother was a serious fan of O Henry. I don't know enough about his work. Thanks for reminding me he is someone I need to find out more about.

Sandra Leigh said...

Reya, thanks for taking time away from your beautiful cherry blossoms to visit me. I've so enjoyed your photos of D.C. Our cherries won't be out for a couple of months. By then, I'll have my camera, and I'll take a turn at photographing the blossoms!

FireLight said...

Yes, I know the story; dnd I adore it. Have you ever read his The Last Leaf? There is an old black and white movie from the 50's named...A Full House: Five by O. Henry. It is hosted and narrated by John Steinbeck. It also includes The Ransome of Red Chief..a personal favorite of mine. (It is set in Alabama.) I have not looked for it on Netflix because I have an old VHS I made from TV back in the 90's. I will see if I can find a DVD of this.

Sandra Leigh said...

I don't think I've read The Last Leaf. I'll look for it - thanks. The movie sounds intriguing, too. I'm awfully fond of Steinbeck.

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