Why Agatha Christie's novel “Ten Little Negroes” was renamed “They Were Ten”

One of the best-selling books in the world, the famous detective novel by Agatha ChristieTen little niggers, sold in more than 100 million copies, has just been renamed. From now on, he will have to ask his bookseller to find “They were ten”, his new title. This change completes a long process of naming this work, since the book was released in the United Kingdom in the 20th century, in 1939 more precisely.

Translation has changed in many countries

At this time the title is then Ten little niggers, hence the title Ten little niggers in French. But very quickly, it was modified, including in the English language, in the United States in particular, where the racist term “negro” (nigger) Is more than rejected. There, the novel was never called as in the UK, its title being Tin little Indians.

Since this period the translation has changed in many countries to avoid the use of the offensive word. In this respect, France was an exception. The descendants of Agatha Christie therefore demanded that France align with the other translations. “Agatha Christie herself had recognized the usefulness of changing the title in the early 1940s in the United States, because she felt the negative weight that it could play on populations”, recalled the historian Jean Garrigues on Wednesday evening on Europe 1. “From the moment that Agatha Christie herself saw fit to change this title and her great-grandson too, we are in something that does not seem totally shocking to me.”

“There is a counter-argument which could be to say that it is part of our literary heritage, that it is boring to change the title because today, this expression, we had time to talk about it, think about it and maybe even take away its controversial dimension, “he nevertheless qualified.

“Acting as if this story didn't exist doesn't necessarily seem like the best solution”

Also invited from Europe 1, the lawyer at the Paris bar Emmanuel Pierrat was more skeptical about the need for such a change. “To erase this title all at once and pretend that this story did not exist does not necessarily seem to me the best solution”, he declared, reproaching the author's descendants for following “the wind. dominant “for” commercial “reasons.

Regarding Agatha Christie's book, this shift does not only imply a change of title. The story of the novel, for example, takes place on Île du Nègre. It becomes Soldier's Island, as in the American version.

The plot of the novel itself is based on a 19th century nursery rhyme, called Ten little niggers, which is even his canvas, the murders following the verses. But this English rhyme was itself an adaptation of an American rhyme called … Dix little Indians.

As the episode from Agatha Christie's book comes on the heels of the controversy surrounding the film Gone with the wind, Binetou Sylla, member of the Piment collective who published The disturber, a little lexicon in the process of decolonization, refuted on Europe 1 the usefulness of talking about the possible suppression of these works. “They are the testimony of a particular, historical context and they can even be educational in reality, but it is necessary to be able to contextualize them, to explain them.”

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