The history of Agatha Christie’s ‘And Then There Were None’ is an eventful one, from the political controversies surrounding its title to references to the atrocities committed during the great war to the influence of technology and innovation on the story. Let’s have a look at the historical background of this mystery classic.
Title and Publication History
‘And Then There Were None’ was first published as ‘Ten Little Niggers’ on 6th November 1939 by the Collins Crime Club in the United Kingdom. In January 1940, the United States version was first published with the title changed to ‘And Then There Were None’ because the term ‘nigger’ was a racial slur regarded as offensive in the US. All references to the word ‘Nigger’ in the UK version were changed to ‘Indian’ in the US version of the novel.
Before its publication as a full-length novel, it was serialized in the Daily Express from Tuesday, June 6 to Saturday, July 1, 1939. The serialized version was published in twenty-three parts but without chapter divisions.
Between 1964 and 1986, Pocket Books used the title ‘Ten Little Indians’ to publish its paperbacks. However, UK editions maintained the original title ‘Ten Little Niggers.’
It was in the 1980s that ‘And Then There Were None’ became the definitive title of the novel across all English Language versions. This happened when Fontana Paperback did a reprint of the 1963 paperback and published it with the title ‘And Then There Were None’ in the year 1985.
Foreign Language Editions
Many translations of the novel were based on the original title ‘Ten Little Niggers’ but these were less controversial at first because the word ‘Nigger’ was translated to mean ‘Negro’ which is not regarded as offensive. But with time, the racial implications of the title began to cause political controversies in other languages as well. For instance, there were a series of protests in Hanover Germany after a stage performance of the novel with the original title. This led to the title being changed in 2003 to the German translation of ‘And Then There Were None.’
After the change in the German translation and title, some other languages like Dutch, Brazilian Portuguese, Swedish, Polish, French, and Turkish have also changed the title to ‘And Then There Were None’ in their translations as well.
However, the Spanish, Greek, Serbian, Bulgarian, Romanian, Hungarian and Russian editions retain the racial epithets of the original UK title.
The European Portuguese edition has a different title altogether. It was first published in the year 1948 as ‘Convite Para a Morte’ which translates to ‘An Invitation to Death.’
The main location of events in the novel is an island originally termed ‘Nigger Island’ then changed to ‘Indian Island’ in some editions and finally changed to ‘Soldier Island.’
Soldier Island is a fictional Island but was based on a real island called Burgh Island which is located on the coast of South Devon in the United Kingdom. Burgh Island is a tidal island that is about 250 meters from the mainland at Bigbury-on-Sea. Like Soldier Island, Burgh Island is approachable on foot at low tide but completely cut off from the mainland at high tide.
But unlike Soldier Island with just one building, Burgh Island has several buildings on it—the Burgh Island Hotel, the Pilchard Inn, and three private houses. Agatha Christie was a guest at the Burgh Island Hotel and the island inspired the setting for two of her novels—‘And Then There Were None’ and the Hercule Poirot mystery ‘Evil Under The Sun.’
The novel was written and set in the 1930s, decades after the Great War. That era can be regarded as modern in terms of technological advancements such as cars, trains, telephones, and even the architectural design of the house used in the novel. However, the technological inventions used in the investigation of crime were not as advanced then as they are now in the 21st Century where artificial intelligence can be used to demystify the most complex of mysteries quite easily. In ‘And Then There Were None’ they were not equipped with these advanced technologies and it caused some setbacks in solving the case. In fact, the mystery was not solved by the detectives on the case but rather by the criminal himself.
Also, the technological level of the era shaped the events and the characters’ actions in the story. For instance, there was no internet, social media, or mobile phone with which the characters would have contacted the mainland for help when they realized they were in danger.
Is the island in ‘And Then There Were None‘ a real place?
No, the island in ‘And Then There Were None‘ by Agatha Christie is not a real place. It is a fictional location. However, it was inspired by and based on a real place called Burgh Island located on the coast of South Devon in the United Kingdom.
What is the setting of ‘And Then There Were None‘?
‘And Then There Were None‘ is set on a fictional English island called ‘Nigger Island’ in the original UK edition and ‘Indian Island’ in the US edition. It was eventually changed to ‘Soldier Island’ in subsequent editions of all English Language versions.
The time frame of the novel is the 1930s, between the two World Wars.
Is it Indian Island or Soldier Island?
‘Soldier Island’ was used to replace the term ‘Indian Island’ in recent editions of the novel ‘And Then There Were None‘. The original UK version of the novel is called the island ‘Nigger Island.‘ ‘Soldier Island’ is now the name used in all modern versions of the novel because of its lack of racial implications.
What is the original name for ‘And Then There Were None?’
‘And Then There Were None’ original title was ‘Ten Little Niggers’. The title was changed in later publications because of the racial controversies around the word “Nigger”. The word might have been permissible in the United Kingdom but to some other international audiences, it was seen as offensive, therefore, the original name had to be changed in international editions. In some other editions, the novel is titled ‘Ten Little Indians’.