|Original title||Ten Little Niggers|
|Cover artist||Stephen Bellman|
|Publisher||Collins Crime Club|
|6 November 1939|
|Preceded by||Murder Is Easy|
|Followed by||Sad Cypress|
|Website||And Then There Were None|
And Then There Were None is a mystery novel by the English writer Agatha Christie, described by her as the most difficult of her books to write. It was first published in the United Kingdom by the Collins Crime Club on 6 November 1939, as Ten Little Niggers, after an 1869 minstrel song which serves as a major plot element. The US edition was released in January 1940 with the title And Then There Were None, taken from the last five words of the song. Successive American reprints and adaptations use that title, though American Pocket Books paperbacks used the title Ten Little Indians between 1964 and 1986. UK editions continued to use the original title until 1985.
The book is the world's best-selling mystery, and with over 100 million copies sold is one of the best-selling books of all time. The novel has been listed as the sixth best-selling title (any language, including reference works).
These details correspond to the text of the 1939 first edition.
Eight people arrive on a small, isolated island off the Devon coast, each having received an unexpected personal invitation. They are met by the butler and cook/housekeeper, Thomas and Ethel Rogers, who explain that their hosts, Ulick Norman Owen and Una Nancy Owen, have not yet arrived, though they have left instructions.
A framed copy of an old rhyme hangs in every guest's room, and on the dining room table sit ten figurines. After supper, a phonograph record is played; the recording accuses each visitor and Mr and Mrs Rogers of having committed murder, then asks if any of the "prisoners at the bar" wishes to offer a defence.
The guests discover that none of them know the Owens, and Mr Justice Wargrave suggests that the name "U N Owen" is a play on "Unknown". Marston finishes his drink and promptly dies of cyanide poisoning. Dr Armstrong confirms that there was no cyanide in the other drinks and suggests that Marston must have dosed himself.
The next morning, Mrs Rogers is found dead in her bed, and by lunchtime, General MacArthur has also died from a heavy blow to the head. The guests realise that the nature of the deaths corresponds with the respective lines of the rhyme, and three of the figurines are found to be missing.
The guests suspect that U N Owen may be systematically murdering them and search the island, but find no hiding places. Since no one else could have arrived or departed the island unassisted, they are forced to conclude that one of the seven remaining persons must be the killer. The next morning, Mr Rogers is found dead at the woodpile, and Emily Brent is found dead in the drawing room, having been injected with potassium cyanide.
After Wargrave suggests searching all the rooms, Lombard's gun is found to be missing. Vera Claythorne goes up to her room and screams when she finds seaweed hanging from the ceiling. Most of the remaining guests rush upstairs; when they return they find Wargrave still downstairs, crudely dressed in the attire of a judge with a gunshot wound to the forehead. Dr Armstrong pronounces him dead.
That night, Lombard's gun is returned, and Blore sees someone leaving the house. Armstrong is absent from his room. Vera, Blore, and Lombard decide to stick together and leave the house. When Blore returns for food, he is killed by a marble clock shaped like a bear that is pushed from Vera's window sill. Vera and Lombard find Armstrong's body washed up on the beach, and each concludes the other must be responsible. Vera suggests moving the body from the shore as a mark of respect, but this is a pretext to acquire Lombard's gun. When Lombard lunges for it, she shoots him dead.
Vera returns to the house in a shaken, post-traumatic state. She finds a noose and chair arranged in her room and a powerful smell of the sea. Overcome by guilt, she hangs herself in accordance with the last line of the rhyme.
Scotland Yard officials arrive on the island to find nobody alive. They discover that the island's owner, a sleazy lawyer and drug trafficker called Isaac Morris, had arranged the invitations and ordered the recording. However, he had died of a barbiturate overdose on the night the guests arrived. The police reconstruct the deaths with the help of the victims' diaries and a coroner's report. They are able to eliminate several suspects due to the circumstances of their deaths and items being moved afterward, but ultimately they cannot identify the killer.
Much later, a trawler hauls up in its nets a bottle containing a written confession. In it, Mr Justice Wargrave recounts that all his life he had had two contradictory impulses: a strong sense of justice and a savage bloodlust. He had satisfied both through his profession as a criminal judge, sentencing murderers to death following their trial. After receiving a diagnosis of a terminal illness, he decided to put into effect a private scheme to deal with a group of people he considered to have escaped justice.
Before departing for the island, he had given Morris a lethal dose of barbiturates for his indigestion. He had faked his death by gunshot with the assistance of Dr Armstrong under the pretext that it would help the group identify the killer. After killing Armstrong and the other remaining guests and moving objects to confuse the police, he finally committed suicide by shooting himself in the head, using the gun and some elastic to ensure that his true death matched the account of his staged death recorded in the guests' diaries. Wargrave had written his confession and thrown it into the sea in a bottle in response to what he acknowledged to be his "pitiful human need" for recognition.
The plot is structured around the ten lines of the rhyme "Ten Little Niggers", an 1869 minstrel song by the British songwriter Frank Green. In later editions, the characters are replaced by "Ten Little Indians" or "Ten Little Soldiers". (Confusingly, the American songwriter Septimus Winner had published his own, quite different, minstrel song in 1868, called "Ten Little Indians [or Injuns]").
This is the rhyme as published in a British 2008 edition:
Ten little Soldier Boys went out to dine; One choked his little self and then there were nine.
Nine little Soldier Boys sat up very late; One overslept himself and then there were eight.
Eight little Soldier Boys travelling in Devon; One said he'd stay there and then there were seven.
Seven little Soldier Boys chopping up sticks; One chopped himself in halves and then there were six.
Six little Soldier Boys playing with a hive; A bumblebee stung one and then there were five.
Five little Soldier Boys going in for law; One got in Chancery and then there were four.
Four little Soldier Boys going out to sea; A red herring swallowed one and then there were three.
Three little Soldier Boys walking in the zoo; A big bear hugged one and then there were two.
Two little Soldier Boys sitting in the sun; One got frizzled up and then there was one.
One little Soldier Boy left all alone; He went out and hanged himself and then there were none.
Each of the ten victims – eight guests plus the island's two caretakers – is killed in a manner which reflects one of the lines of the rhyme. The owner of the island is also killed, but on the mainland and before the story begins.
|No.||Character||Accusation||Mode of death||Original rhyme, early UK editions||Current version of the rhyme|
|-||Isaac Morris (deceased)||[Recent owner of the island. Sold illegal drugs to a woman who became an addict and later committed suicide]||Tricked into taking a lethal drug overdose to combat his imagined ailments|
|1||Anthony James Marston||Struck and killed two young children while recklessly speeding||Chokes to death after drinking cyanide-laced whisky||Ten little nigger boys went out to dine;
One choked his little self and then there were Nine.
|Ten little Soldier Boys went out to dine;
One choked his little self and then there were nine.
|2||Mrs Ethel Rogers||Allowed herself to be persuaded by her husband into withholding a former employer's medicine in order to cause her death and collect an inheritance||Dies in her sleep after drinking brandy spiked with an overdose of chloral hydrate||Nine little nigger boys sat up very late;
One overslept himself and then there were Eight.
|Nine little Soldier Boys sat up very late;
One overslept himself and then there were eight.
|3||General John Gordon MacArthur||Discovered that his wife was having an affair with an officer under his command, then sent the man on a mission to almost certain death||Killed by a heavy blow to the head||Eight little nigger boys travelling in Devon;
One said he'd stay there and then there were Seven.
|Eight little Soldier Boys travelling in Devon;
One said he'd stay there and then there were seven.
|4||Thomas Rogers||Induced his wife to withhold a former employer's medicine in order to cause her death and collect an inheritance||Killed with an axe while chopping wood||Seven little nigger boys chopping up sticks;
One chopped himself in halves and then there were Six.
|Seven little Soldier Boys chopping up sticks;
One chopped himself in halves and then there were six.
|5||Emily Caroline Brent||Dismissed her teenage maid for becoming pregnant out of wedlock, this causing the maid to drown herself||Injected with cyanide after drinking chloral-laced coffee||Six little nigger boys playing with a hive;
A bumble-bee stung one and then there were Five.
|Six little Soldier Boys playing with a hive;
A bumblebee stung one and then there were five.
|6||Lawrence John Wargrave (Mr Justice Wargrave)||Improperly influenced a jury to bring in a guilty verdict against a man many thought to be innocent, then sentenced him to death||Gunshot wound to the head, while dressed as a judge||Five little nigger boys going in for law;
One got in Chancery and then there were Four.
|Five little Soldier Boys going in for law;
One got in Chancery and then there were four.
|7||Dr Edward George Armstrong||Operated on a patient while drunk, resulting in her death||Drowns after being pushed off a cliff into the sea||Four little nigger boys going out to sea;
A red herring swallowed one and then there were Three.
|Four little Soldier Boys going out to sea;
A red herring swallowed one and then there were three.
|8||William Henry Blore||Gave perjured evidence in court resulting in an innocent man being convicted and sentenced to life in prison, where he died a year later||Head crushed by a marble clock shaped like a bear||Three little nigger boys walking in the zoo;
A big bear hugged one and then there were Two.
|Three little Soldier Boys walking in the zoo;
A big bear hugged one and then there were two.
|9||Philip Lombard||As a soldier of Fortune, stole food from a group of East African tribesmen he was working with, then left them to die||Shot by Vera on the beach with his own revolver||Two little nigger boys sitting in the sun;
One got frizzled up and then there was One.
|Two little Soldier Boys sitting in the sun;
One got frizzled up and then there was one.
|10||Vera Elizabeth Claythorne||As a governess, allowed her young charge to drown so that his uncle could inherit the family estate and marry her||Hangs herself||One little nigger boy left all alone;
He went and hanged himself and then there were None.
|One little Soldier Boy left all alone;
He went out and hanged himself and then there were none.
Writing for The Times Literary Supplement of 11 November 1939, Maurice Percy Ashley stated, "If her latest story has scarcely any detection in it there is no scarcity of murders... There is a certain feeling of monotony inescapable in the regularity of the deaths which is better suited to a serialized newspaper story than a full-length novel. Yet there is an ingenious problem to solve in naming the murderer", he continued. "It will be an extremely astute reader who guesses correctly."
For The New York Times Book Review (25 February 1940), Isaac Anderson has arrived to the point where "the voice" accuses the ten "guests" of their past crimes, which have all resulted in the deaths of humans, and then said, "When you read what happens after that you will not believe it, but you will keep on reading, and as one incredible event is followed by another even more incredible you will still keep on reading. The whole thing is utterly impossible and utterly fascinating. It is the most baffling mystery that Agatha Christie has ever written, and if any other writer has ever surpassed it for sheer puzzlement the name escapes our memory. We are referring, of course, to mysteries that have logical explanations, as this one has. It is a tall story, to be sure, but it could have happened."
Many compared the book to her 1926 novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. For instance, an unnamed reviewer in the Toronto Daily Star of 16 March 1940 said, "Others have written better mysteries than Agatha Christie, but no one can touch her for ingenious plot and surprise ending. With And Then There Were None... she is at her most ingenious and most surprising... is, indeed, considerably above the standard of her last few works and close to the Roger Ackroyd level."
Other critics laud the use of plot twists and surprise endings. Maurice Richardson wrote a rhapsodic review in The Observer's issue of 5 November 1939 which began, "No wonder Agatha Christie's latest has sent her publishers into a vatic trance. We will refrain, however, from any invidious comparisons with Roger Ackroyd and be content with saying that Ten Little Niggers is one of the very best, most genuinely bewildering Christies yet written. We will also have to refrain from reviewing it thoroughly, as it is so full of shocks that even the mildest revelation would spoil some surprise from somebody, and I am sure that you would rather have your entertainment kept fresh than criticism pure." After stating the set-up of the plot, Richardson concluded, "Story telling and characterisation are right at the top of Mrs Christie's baleful form. Her plot may be highly artificial, but it is neat, brilliantly cunning, soundly constructed, and free from any of those red-herring false trails which sometimes disfigure her work."
Robert Barnard, writing in 1990, concurred with the early reviews, describing the book as "Suspenseful and menacing detective-story-cum-thriller. The closed setting with the succession of deaths is here taken to its logical conclusion, and the dangers of ludicrousness and sheer reader-disbelief are skillfully avoided. Probably the best-known Christie, and justifiably among the most popular."
The original title of the mystery (Ten Little Niggers) was changed because it was offensive. Alison Light, a literary critic and feminist scholar, opined that Christie's original title and the setting on "Nigger Island" (later changed to "Indian Island" and "Soldier Island", variously) were integral to the work. These aspects of the novel, she argued, "could be relied upon automatically to conjure up a thrilling 'otherness', a place where revelations about the 'dark side' of the English would be appropriate." Unlike novels such as Heart of Darkness, "Christie's location is both more domesticated and privatized, taking for granted the construction of racial fears woven into psychic life as early as the nursery. If her story suggests how easy it is to play upon such fears, it is also a reminder of how intimately tied they are to sources of pleasure and enjoyment."
In 1990 Crime Writers' Association ranked And Then There Were None 19th in their The Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time list. In 1995 in a similar list Mystery Writers of America ranked the novel 10th. In September 2015, to mark her 125th birthday, And Then There Were None was named the "World's Favourite Christie" in a vote sponsored by the author's estate.
In the "Binge!" article of Entertainment Weekly Issue #1343-44 (26 December 2014–3 January 2015), the writers picked And Then There Were None as an "EW favorite" on the list of the "Nine Great Christie Novels".
"I had written the book Ten Little Niggers because it was so difficult to do that the idea had fascinated me. Ten people had to die without it becoming ridiculous or the murderer being obvious. I wrote the book after a tremendous amount of planning, and I was pleased with what I had made of it. It was clear, straightforward, baffling, and yet had a perfectly reasonable explanation; in fact, it had to have an epilogue in order to explain it. It was well received and reviewed, but the person who was really pleased with it was myself, for I knew better than any critic how difficult it had been... I don't say it is the play or book of mine that I like best, or even that I think it is my best, but I do think in some ways that it is a better piece of craftsmanship than anything else I have written."
The novel has a long and noteworthy history of publication. It is a continuously best selling novel in English and in translation to other languages since its initial publication. From the start, in English, it was published under two different titles, due to different sensitivity to the author's title in the UK and in the US at first publication.
The novel was originally published in late 1939 and early 1940 almost simultaneously, in the United Kingdom and the United States. The serialization was in 23 parts in the Daily Express from Tuesday 6 June to Saturday 1 July 1939. All of the instalments carried an illustration by "Prescott" with the first having an illustration of Burgh Island in Devon which inspired the setting of the story. The serialized version did not contain any chapter divisions. The book retailed for seven shillings and sixpence.
In the UK the book first appeared under the title Ten Little Niggers, in book and newspaper serialized formats. In the United States it was published under the title And Then There Were None, in both book and serial formats. Both of the original US publications changed the title from that originally used in the UK, due to the offensiveness of the word in American culture, where it was more widely perceived as a racially loaded ethnic slur or insult compared to the contemporaneous culture in the United Kingdom. The serialized version appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in seven parts from 20 May (Volume 211, Number 47) to 1 July 1939 (Volume 212, Number 1) with illustrations by Henry Raleigh, and the book was published in January 1940 by Dodd, Mead and Company for $2.
In the original UK novel, and in succeeding publications until 1985, all references to "Indians" or "Soldiers" were originally "Nigger", including the island's name, the pivotal rhyme found by the visitors, and the ten figurines. UK editions continued to use the original title until the current definitive title appeared with a reprint of the 1963 Fontana Paperback in 1985.
The word "nigger" was already racially offensive in the United States by the start of the 20th century, and therefore the book's first US edition (1940) and first serialization changed the title to And Then There Were None and removed all references to the word from the book, as did the 1945 motion picture (except that the first US edition retained 'nigger in the woodpile' in chapter 2 part VIII). Sensitivity to the original title of the novel was remarked by Sadie Stein in 2016, commenting on a BBC mini series with the title And Then There Were None, where she noted that "even in 1939, this title was considered too offensive for American publication." In general, "Christie’s work is not known for its racial sensitivity, and by modern standards her oeuvre is rife with casual Orientalism." The original title was based on a rhyme from minstrel shows and children's games. Stein quotes Alison Light as to the power of the original name of the island in the novel, Nigger Island, "to conjure up a thrilling 'otherness', a place where revelations about the 'dark side' of the English would be appropriate". Light goes on to say that "Christie's location [the island] is both more domesticated and privatised, taking for granted the construction of racial fears woven into psychic life as early as the nursery." Speaking of the "widely known" 1945 film, Stein added that "we’re merely faced with fantastic amounts of violence, and a rhyme so macabre and distressing one doesn't hear it now outside of the Agatha Christie context." She felt that the original title of the novel in the UK, seen now, "jars, viscerally".
And Then There Were None is the best-selling crime novel of all time, and made Agatha Christie the best-selling novelist, according to the Agatha Christie Estate.
It is Christie's best-selling novel, with more than 100 million copies sold; it is also the world's best-selling mystery and one of the best-selling books of all time. Publications International lists the novel as the sixth best-selling title.
The book and its adaptations have been released under various new names since the original publication, including Ten Little Indians (1946 play, Broadway performance and 1964 paperback book), Ten Little Soldiers, and official title per the Agatha Christie Limited website, And Then There Were None. UK editions continued to use the work's original title until the 1980s; the first UK edition to use the alternative title And Then There Were None appeared in 1985 with a reprint of the 1963 Fontana Paperback.
Many older translations were based on the original British text, although the word used to translate nigger was often somewhat less offensive, more analogous to English negro or negrito. Languages where the most recent edition retains racial epithets include Spanish, Greek, Serbian, Bulgarian, Romanian,[better source needed] Russian and Hungarian, as well as the 1987 Soviet film adaptation Desyat Negrityat. Changes similar to those in the British edition in the 1980s were made to the German novel in 2003,[n 1] after 2002 protests in Hanover against a stage version using the old title. Similar changes were made in Dutch in 2004,[n 2] Swedish in 2007,[n 3] Brazilian Portuguese in 2009,[n 4] Polish in 2017,[n 5] French in 2020,[n 6] and Turkish in 2022. In 1999, the Slovak National Theatre changed the title of a stage adaptation mid-run.[n 7] The estate of Agatha Christie now offers it under only one title in English, And Then There Were None, and translations increasingly use the equivalent of this as their title. European Portuguese translations have been titled Convite Para a Morte (1948: "An Invitation to Death") and As Dez Figuras Negras (2011: "The Ten Black Figures" – referring to the figurines, in this case minimally anthropomorphic). The Finnish translation Eikä yksikään pelastunut ("No one was saved") in 1940 had its title taken from the American first edition, before being renamed Kymmenen pientä neekeripoikaa ("Ten little negro boys") in 1968. This change was reversed in 2003.
The 1930 novel The Invisible Host by Gwen Bristow and Bruce Manning has a plot that strongly matches that of Christie's later novel, including a recorded voice announcing to the guests that their sins will be visited upon them by death. The Invisible Host was adapted as the 1930 Broadway play The Ninth Guest by Owen Davis, which itself was adapted as the 1934 film The Ninth Guest. There is no evidence Christie saw either the play (which had a brief run on Broadway) or the film.
The 1933 K.B.S. Productions Sherlock Holmes film A Study in Scarlet follows a strikingly similar plot; it includes a scene where Holmes is shown a card with the hint: "Six little Indians...bee stung one and then there were five". In this case, the rhyme refers to "Ten Little Fat Boys". (The film's plot bears no resemblance to Arthur Conan Doyle's original story of the same name.) The author of the movie's screenplay, Robert Florey, "doubted that [Christie] had seen A Study in Scarlet, but he regarded it as a compliment if it had helped inspire her".
|1945||And Then There Were None|
|1949||Ten Little Niggers (British/BBC)|
|1959||Ten Little Niggers (British/ITV)|
|Ten Little Indians (US)|
|1963||O Caso dos Dez Negrinhos|
|1965||Ten Little Indians|
|1969||Zehn kleine Negerlein|
|Dix petits nègres|
|1974||Achra Abid Zghar (Lebanese/Télé Liban)|
|And Then There Were None|
|1978||Deka Mikroi Negroi|
|1981||Ten Little Indians (Filipino)|
|1985||Ten Little Maidens (adult film)|
|1987||And Then There Were None (KBS TV)|
|1989||Ten Little Indians|
|2011||The mystery of the ten strangers (Spanish)|
|2014||Achra Abid Zghar (Lebanese/MTV)|
|And Then There Were None|
|2017||Soshite Daremo Inakunatta|
|2020||Ils étaient dix|
And Then There Were None has had more adaptations than any other work by Agatha Christie. Christie herself changed the bleak ending to a more palatable one for theatre audiences when she adapted the novel for the stage in 1943. Many adaptations incorporate changes to the story, such as using Christie's alternative ending from her stage play or changing the setting to locations other than an island.
There have been numerous film adaptations of the novel:
The BBC broadcast Ten Little Niggers (1947), adapted by Ayton Whitaker, first aired as a Monday Matinee on the BBC Home Service on 27 December 1947 and as Saturday Night Theatre on the BBC Light Programme on 29 December.
On 13 November 2010, as part of its Saturday Play series, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a 90-minute adaptation written by Joy Wilkinson. The production was directed by Mary Peate and featured Geoffrey Whitehead as Mr Justice Wargrave, Lyndsey Marshal as Vera Claythorne, Alex Wyndham as Philip Lombard, John Rowe as Dr Armstrong, and Joanna Monro as Emily Brent.
And Then There Were None (1943 play) is Christie's adaptation of the story for the stage. She and the producers agreed that audiences might not flock to a tale with such a grim ending as the novel, nor would it work well dramatically as there would be no one left to tell the story. Christie reworked the ending for Lombard and Vera to be innocent of the crimes of which they were accused, survive, and fall in love with each other. Some of the names were also changed, e.g., General MacArthur became General McKenzie in both the New York and London productions. By 1943, General Douglas MacArthur was playing a prominent role in the Pacific Theatre of World War II, which may explain the change of the character's name.
Ten Little Niggers (1944 play): Dundee Repertory Theatre Company was given special permission to restore the original ending of the novel. The company first performed a stage adaptation of the novel in August 1944 under the UK title of the novel, with Christie credited as the dramatist. It was the first performance in repertory theatre. It was staged again in 1965. There was an article in the Dundee Evening Register in August 1944 about it.
And Then There Were None (2005 play): On 14 October 2005, a new version of the play, written by Kevin Elyot and directed by Steven Pimlott, opened at the Gielgud Theatre in London. For this version, Elyot returned to the original story in the novel, restoring the nihilism of the original.
Several variations of the original novel were adapted for television, three of which were British adaptations. The first of these, in 1949, was produced by the BBC. The second was produced in 1959, by ITV. Both of those productions aired with Christie's original title. The third and most recent British adaptation aired as And Then There Were None on BBC One in December 2015, as a drama serial broadcast on three consecutive nights, produced in cooperation with Acorn Media and Agatha Christie Productions. The 2015 production adhered more closely to the original plot, though there were several differences to backstories and actual murders on the island, and was the first English language live-action adaptation to feature an ending similar to that of the novel. It was directed by Craig Viveiros and adapted for television by Sarah Phelps.
An American TV movie aired on NBC 18 January 1959. It was directed by Paul Bogart, and starred Barry Jones and Nina Foch.
There have been many foreign-language TV adaptations:
In 2010, American animated TV series Family Guy adapted the story as "And Then There Were Fewer".
The novel was the inspiration for several video games. For the Apple II, Online Systems released Mystery House in 1980. On the PC, The Adventure Company released Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None in 2005, the first in a series of PC games based on Christie novels. In February 2008, it was ported to the Wii console.
The Japanese visual novel series Umineko When They Cry also drew inspiration from the novel on many fronts. Both stories involve a series of murders on an island during a storm intended to be unsolvable murders where everyone on the island dies. There is a poem that foretells the series of deaths beforehand in both as well. Finally, the solution to both mysteries are tossed into the ocean in the form of messages in a bottle for the reader to learn from at the end of the stories. This is exemplified by the manga version of the series directly referencing And Then There Were None in its last chapter.[unreliable source?]
And Then There Were None was released by HarperCollins as a graphic novel adaptation on 30 April 2009, adapted by François Rivière and illustrated by Frank Leclercq.
In 2014 Peká Editorial released a board game based on the book, Diez Negritos ("Ten Little Negroes"), created by Judit Hurtado and Fernando Chavarría, and illustrated by Esperanza Peinado.
The 2014 live action comedy-crime and murder mystery TV web series Ten Little Roosters, produced by American company Rooster Teeth, is largely inspired by And Then There Were None.
This line is sometimes replaced by One got left behind and then there were seven.
Gumnaam (1965) Adapted from: And Then There Were None