Friday, August 03, 2007

Stalking O. Henry

O. Henry is one of those writers whose biography sounds interesting to read: mother died when he was three, eloped with his sweetheart, worked for a bank that would later charge him for embezzlement, set up his own publication, became a fugitive, jailed (and saves the warden's life), and eventually moves to New York.

What I find interesting, however, is the fact that the federal building in which he was tried and found guilty (O. Henry, to his deathbed, claimed he was innocent, and one of the dates he was accused of misappropriating the bank's funds happened after he had resigned from the bank) was later named the O. Henry Hall in honor of him. Now when something like that happens, I can't help but wonder what were they thinking? It's like saying "sorry, we goofed up, but we'll name the building after you, the same building in which we found you guilty and sent you to prison" at best or "how do we cash in on his popularity?" at worst. Yet honestly, that's human nature. I mean when former Philippine president Joseph Estrada was elected president, didn't Ateneo, the school which he failed to graduate from, honor him? I have to wonder who had the last laugh: the school or Joseph Estrada.

But then again, without those experiences, would O. Henry have been as great as a writer as he is today? The charges of embezzlement certainly gave him an excuse to travel (he fled to Honduras) and then was later sent to prison where he talked to a lot of prisoners and wrote some of his stories. Certainly O. Henry was already a writer even before his prison stay but one can't help but wonder if prison life didn't hone his craft and give him the time to write (although history has shown that O. Henry is quite a prolific short story writer, churning out as much as 65 stories in the span of one year). It was easily injustice to one man, but that same injustice gave birth to one of America's great writers (it even becomes more interesting how O. Henry failed to become part of that country's canon).

So if you were O. Henry and could do over your life again, would you choose to accept the prison sentence or would you defy history and hope to develop your craft some other way?

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