O. Henry’s Short Story, ‘A Service of Love’

Love knows no bounds in this tale of a married couple in the arts.
O. Henry’s Short Story, ‘A Service of Love’
A young husband is dedicated to his art, in the short story "A Service of Love." "The Painter in His Studio" by Francois Boucher. The Louvre. (Public Domain)
In his short story “A Service of Love,“ O. Henry claims, ”When one loves one’s Art no service seems too hard.” He further claims that this premise will be proven both true and false as he follows Joe and Delia Larrabee, a married couple, in their joint and individual pursuit of their arts. Through this wonderful couple, Henry explores what one will do for one’s art—and for love.

For Art

Joe Larrabee is a talented artist whose popular drawing of the town pump at age 6 foretold his future as an artist. Such promise motivates his move to New York City to further his education in painting. Similarly, Delia Caruthers is a wonderful pianist, whose playing “in six octaves” as a child impressed those around her so much that they funded her move to New York City for proper training as a musician. As individuals, Joe and Delia love their art and will do anything for it.

When they meet at a party, however, they find that they also love each other. This love soon blossoms in a marriage. They buy a flat; though small, this space shelters them, their arts, and their love.

They continue perfecting their arts after marriage. Joe trains with the renowned Magister, while Delia trains under the reputed Rosenstock. Together they enjoy their arts, their cozy flat, and their “stuffed olives and cheese sandwiches at 11 p.m.” Life is good.

But the cost of art lessons rises, and Joe and Delia realize that they cannot afford both of their lessons. Delia assures Joe that she will give up her piano lessons and find pupils to teach. Joe, she insists, must continue his painting lessons with the Magister. Joe reluctantly agrees and Delia heads out to find pupils.

A young wife works for art in this O. Henry story, "A Service of Love." "Manuela González Velázquez Playing the Piano," 1820, by Zacarías González Velázquez. (Public Domain)
A young wife works for art in this O. Henry story, "A Service of Love." "Manuela González Velázquez Playing the Piano," 1820, by Zacarías González Velázquez. (Public Domain)

For Love

Delia soon returns with the exciting news that she found a pupil. She will teach piano to General A.B. Pinkney’s daughter, Clementina, and she will receive $5 per lesson, accruing $15 each week. With so much money, she assures Joe that he will not have to leave his art lessons.

After a week of piano classes, Delia happily produces three $5 bills to add to their savings. But Joe will not be outdone and produces “a ten, a five, a two and a one—all legal tender notes—and lays them beside Delia’s earnings.” He earned the money by selling one of his paintings to a man from Peoria. Feeling like a king and queen with their $33, Joe and Delia have high hopes for the future.

But when Delia returns the next weekend from her piano lessons with a burned hand, Joe realizes that something is amiss. Though he does not suspect anything at first, he realizes that something about her story sounds familiar.

Through this story, Henry shows that, as individuals, Joe and Delia love their art and seek to perfect it. Yet in their selfless acts of love, they grow with and for each other as husband and wife.

As Anne Morrow Lindbergh says in “Gift From the Sea”: “Purposeful giving is not as apt to deplete one’s resources; it belongs to that natural order of giving that seems to renew itself even in the act of depletion.” When we give that which we love most for the people we love, we gain more than we gave.

As we pursue our dreams with those we love, we should always seek to selflessly give ourselves to them. For in selflessly giving all we have, we gain more than ever.

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Kate Vidimos is a 2020 graduate from the liberal arts college at the University of Dallas, where she received her bachelor’s degree in English. She plans on pursuing all forms of storytelling (specifically film) and is currently working on finishing and illustrating a children’s book.