The once inflated fame of O. Henry is no more. Today he is not only belittled by most critics of the short story but also practically ignored by writers on American literature in general. THE LITERARY HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES (1946) mentions him twice, once as a user of slang and once as a writer popular in the U.S.S.R. THE LITERATURE OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE (1951) ignores him altogether. Even Jay B. Hubbell’s THE SOUTH IN AMERICAN LITERATURE, 1607-1900 (1954) devotes less than two pages to him as a Southern writer and offers him only a sentence or two of subdued praise. Yet he continues to be widely read, as is clearly suggested by the inclusion of THE BEST SHORT STORIES OF O. HENRY (1945) in the Modern Library, the reissuance of THE COMPLETE WORKS OF O. HENRY in two volumes (1953), and the publication of THE POCKET BOOK OF O. HENRY STORIES (1956). The last collection went into a second printing within a month.
The ingredients that appeal most in the typical O. Henry short story are usually a blend of humor and sentiment or sentimentality. There is no depth of characterization; O. Henry specializes in easily recognizable types. The story is neatly put together, and it moves rapidly. The style is breezy and slangy. Though the vocabulary may include a number of words unfamiliar to the reader of newspapers and pulp magazines (in which most of O. Henry’s stories first appeared), there is enough of...
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