It will shock many people to know that Agatha Christie, arguably the greatest crime fiction writer, has a novel called 'Ten Little Ni***rs.' The reason for this title being obscure is because it is presently restricted to just the French Language. In English, the title was changed from the one containing the racial slur to the now well-known 'And Then There Were None.'
It was originally published in 1939 and became one of the most successful and celebrated works of the queen of crime. However, the American edition, which came out the next year, was titled 'And Then There Were None.' In the French language, the original title was kept intact, in its French translation, 'Les Dix Petits N***es.'
Why this title?
The original title had great relevance to the story. It refers to the once-popular American nursery rhyme which features in the story and plays a leading part in the plot. Originally, this rhyme was a folk song. It was turned into a children's song in 1868 by an American lyricist and the main line changed to 'Ten Little Indians.'
Since the title was related to a very important element of the story, it was kept intact in the UK and French adaptations. But the problem with the language in the story doesn't end with the title. The island where the events take place is called 'The Island of the Ni***rs.'
In some of the subsequent editions, the word ni***rs was replaced with Indians or soldiers. The original translation into French had the N-word occur 74 times. This too has changed. The decision to change the French title was taken by Christie's great-grandson and the legatee to her works, James Prichard.
"When the book was written, the language was different and we used words that are now forgotten. This story is based on a popular rhyme that is not attributed to Agatha Christie. If just one person felt this, it would be too much! We must no longer use terms that are likely to hurt: this is the behavior to adopt in 2020," Prichard told RTL.
The novel itself was a huge hit. It has, to date, sold more than 100 million copies across the globe. In fact, it is Agatha Christie's best-selling work and the second-best-selling crime novel in the history of the genre. Among all books, it is the sixth most sold title.