Monday, 29 March 1999

O. Henry: The Four Million (1899)

Edition: Doubleday, Doran & Co
Review number: 235

A common location and subject - New York and the four million people who lived there at the turn of the century, unite O. Henry's earliest collection of short stories. Each story is fairly typical of his work - short, the longest in this edition being four pages; having a happy ending which may seem a little sentimental to modern tastes (though that doesn't stop people reading, say, Louisa M. Alcott). Each one is skilfully written, painting a picture of its characters in a few phrases.

Most of the characters in these stories belong to one fairly specific group of people, not unrelated to the market for the journals and magazines in which the O. Henry's stories were originally published. They are mainly young people in low-paid office work (stenographers and the like), living in cheap boarding houses and eating in cheap restaurants.

The best stories are perhaps those which have some sort of wry twist, rather than the sentimental happy endings of the others, such as Lost on Dress Parade or The Coming Out of Maggie, while those in which a man forgets he married the night before - of which there are several - are the weakest. O. Henry also attempts something rather different in Memoirs of a Yellow Dog, and this does not quite come off.

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