Table of Contents
Being an excellent writer, Agatha Christie wrote numerous detective novels, short stories, and plays. Namely, she wrote 66 detective novels, as well as 19 short stories, and gave fame to such characters as Miss Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot. Everyone knows these characters in the present days. Moreover, Christie was admitted to be the best-selling author of all time by the Guinness Book of World Records due to the fact that around four billion copies of her novels have been sold and translated into more than 100 languages.
Christie’s novels are known all over the world. For example, her play The Mousetrap has been running at the London’s Ambassador Theatre since 1952. Holding a record, it is still running, even though it has already performed for more than 25 thousand times (London Theatre Journal, 2007). In the meantime, And Then There Were None is recognized as her best-selling novel. Over 100 million copies were sold, and it became the world’s best selling mystical novel even written. In addition, it became one of the best-selling books of all time according to numerous ratings (Davies et al, 2007). And Then There Were None, as well as numerous other novels and short stories of Agatha Christie, was filmed many times.
In this paper, Agatha Christie’s contribution into the world literature will be examined, as well as the importance of her novel And Then There Were None, which became the basic blueprint for all crime novels that follow it even nowadays. Thus, the following points will be discussed further:
- Agatha Christie’s short biography.
- Brief summary of And Then There Were None.
- The critical reception of the novel.
- Contribution of the novel.
Undoubtedly, Agatha Christie became one of the most prominent writers of all time. Her literary works impacted other writers and filmmakers on creating new plots and using her novels and stories as blueprints. Therefore, it is important to understand her contribution into the world literature in order to understand the way she influenced the minds of people.
Agatha Christie’s Short Biography
Agatha Christie was born in September 1890 in Devon, south West England into a wealthy family. Her mother was from Ireland. She was sent to the North of England by her mother and Agatha’s grandmother due to a tough financial situation, while her father was an American stockbroker, who was sent to Europe in order to get education there (Morgan, 1984). Agatha’s elder sister, her mother and grandmother were role models of independent women for the girl. She was raised and educated at home by her parents on her mother’s demand. They taught her to read and write, as well as to perform arithmetic and play piano and mandolin. The girl always liked to read and to spend time with her pets (Morgan, 1984). Agatha’s childhood was considered to be idyllic, so she missed it a lot when she was forced to become adult (Kerridge, 2007).
When Agatha’s father died at the age of 55, when the girl was only 11 years old, the family had to face an uncertain financial situation. Agatha’s elder sister and brother moved from their estate and she left there with her mother. As Agatha later admitted, this was the end of her childhood for her (Morgan, 1984). Later, she was sent away from her home town in order to receive formal education. Soon, Agatha started to write poems, music, and later, she wrote her first short story entitled The House of Beauty. It was about the world of dreams, which fascinated Christie a lot (Mallowan, 1977).
Christie enjoyed reading detective novels and liked Wilkie Collins and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In the meantime, she was trying to write something similar to that herself. However, the majority of Christie’s first short stories, as well as her first novel Snow upon the Desert, were rejected at magazines where she sent them for publication under different pseudonyms (Mallowan, 1977). Her first detective novel, entitled The Mysterious Affair at Styles, presented her most famous character, Hercule Poirot, a former police officer who escaped from Belgium to Britain after Germany’s invasion to the country (Morgan, 1984). The only publishing company that agreed to publish it made terms for the novice writer. They asked Christie to change the ending, which she did and singed a contract with them. Soon, her new novels were published as well.
In the meantime, Agatha was settling her personal life and married a man called Archie, who was the son of a judge from India. He served at the Air Force during World War I, and when it ended, he got a job in the financial sector (Morgan, 1984). The couple had a daughter, when it turned out that Archie had had an affair with another woman and wanted to divorce Agatha. Along with the death of her mother, it became an impressive blow for Christie in 1926 (Kerridge, 2007).
The mysterious disappearance of Agatha Christie followed this tough period of her life. Since she had already become a rather famous writer by then, it attracted the public’s attention. Even though she was being searched for, Agatha was not found until ten days later. She was identified as one of the guests at a hotel in Yorkshire, where she stayed under the name of her husband’s mistress (Kerridge, 2007).
The writer never commented on her disappearance. However, it was reconstructed by many other writers and critics, who were trying to take a look at these days with Christie’s eyes. Moreover, this disappearance brought her more fame than her early publications, because it was a mystery for everyone whether she was alive or not (Mann, 2007). The most plausible explanation for the disappearance is Christie’s willing to get away from the tough situation and embarrass her husband (Adams, 1982). In addition, she was overcoming the death of her beloved mother, so this must have also been a nervous breakdown.
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The second marriage of Agatha Christie was happy. Her husband, Max Mallowan, was an archeologist, whom she joined in an archaeological dig (Thompson, 2008). Also, this marriage influenced her writing; namely, several of Christie’s novels, which were set in the Middle East and used the knowledge and impressions she got on her travels with her husband. In the meantime, her works were becoming more popular. She even became the President of the Detection Club (Morgan, 1984).
Agatha Christie died in January 1976 from natural causes. She was 85 years old and suffered from dementia in the end of her life (Kingston, 2009). She left a great legacy in the world of literature by creating numerous novels and short stories. One of them, entitled And Then There Were None, became one of the most influential novels and led the way for subsequent detective stories.
Brief Summary of And Then There Were None
Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None was published in November 1939. It is a detective fiction novel, which was initially entitled as Ten Little Niggers (Pendergast, 2004). This name and the poem Ten Little Indians used in the novel originate from a children rhyme with a similar name. The novel tells about ten people who have once committed murders but escaped punishment. They come to an island due to various reasons and soon face the threat for their lives, because they are being successively murdered by someone. In the meantime, their deaths parallel the verses of the rhyme Ten Little Indians.
Summarizing the plot of the novel, it is possible to mention the following. Ten people who do not know each other are gathered on the fictional island. Having arrived there, they learn that their hosts are away and other people will be with them in the house. In the first evening, after a dinner, the guests hear a strange gramophone record, which accuses them all of murders. The first person, Anthony Marston, dies in the same evening by drinking a cyanide poisoned drink. This event is linked with the rhyme each of the guests has in their room, telling “one choke his little self,” and with the disappearance of one of the little figurines on the dining room table (Christie, 2001).
After this, guests become suspicious about each other. When the next morning they learn that Mrs. Rogers died in her sleep that night, they start worrying more. Moreover, they can see the connection with the rhyme that tells that the second one “overslept himself” and to the disappearance of another figurine. One of the guests, General Macarthur, claims that no one should leave the island, and later he is found dead, which is linked with the next verse “one said he’d stay there” (Christie, 2001). Obviously, the third figurine is gone as well.
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Justice Wargrave, a former judge, becomes the leader of the group and starts the investigation. With each murder, tensions are growing and characters begin to suspect each other more and more. The subsequent deaths are the ones of Mr. Rogers, who is struck in the head with an axe (“chopped himself in halves”), Emily Brent, killed by an injection of cyanide in her neck, which left a mark resembling the bumblebee sting (“a bumblebee stung one”), Wargrave, who is found killed in a judicial wig (“one got into Chancery”), Blore, whose head was struck with a bear-shaped clock (“a big bear hugged one”), and Armstrong, who has drowned fulfilling the verse “a red herring swallowed one” (Christie, 2001).
When there are only two of them left, Lombard and Vera do not trust each other. In fear, Vera shoots Lombard when he rushes towards her: “one got frizzled up.” Upon returning to her room in trance, she finds a chair and a noose there and hangs herself. Thus, the woman implements what is written in the final verse: “went and hanged himself, and then there were none” (Christie, 2001).
The novel also has an epilogue and a postscript. In the epilogue, an inspector and a detective discuss the case. They are stunned with the fact that there are no clues. Moreover, since there is no possibility to find out the time of deaths by autopsies, they are not able to associate the death with the rhyme and understand the subsequence of murders. Further, they cannot find out who the murderer was, since this person did not leave any traces and evidences. It remains a mystery until some time later, when fishermen find a letter in a bottle containing the confession of Justice Wargrave in the crimes, which is revealed in the postscript of the novel (Christie, 2001). He tells why he decided to lure these people to the island and murder them due to his sense of justice and the willing to kill guilty people. Also, he gives an explanation of the way he killed all the guests.
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Wargrave even faked his own death in order to reject all the accusations of him. After killing all the guests, Wargrave wrote the note, put it in the bottle and threw it in the sea. Later, he killed himself as well. As he confesses in the note, he wanted this set of murders to remain an unsolvable mystery and the only reason for writing the confession was to make people know how genius he was (Christie, 2001).
The Critical Reception of the Novel
As it has already been mentioned above, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None is one of her best-known mysteries. It has such a sophisticated and tangled plot, that only an extremely astute reader is able to guess who the murderer is. However, the reception of the novel was not only positive. Some critics also found negative traits in it. Both negative and positive opinions of critics will be examined further.
One of the negative reviews said that the plot was monotonous and boring, even though there was a constant problem of finding a murderer. In addition, some critics called And Then There Were None and other Christie’s novels unserious due to the unrealistic portraying of murders. Moreover, the writer was accused of creating flat prose, cardboard characters and artificial plot in this and other novels of hers (Kerridge, 2007).
In the meantime, the novel also got good comments. For example, it was called to be a sophisticated and captivating detective story. Reviews from New York Times magazine (1940) mention that when the reader learns about the events, he/she thinks they are unbelievable. However, they keep on reading in order to learn what is going on and who the murderer is. The fascinating plot does not let the reader put off the book, because all the events described in it are incredible. They puzzle the reader and make them remember the book. In addition, And Then There Were None has logical explanations, which are so desirable for the readers of detective stories. The review says that even though the story is an unbelievable fiction and it may seem impossible, it could have happened in reality.
Other reviews, such as the one from Toronto Daily Star (1940), say that even though many people are able to write detective stories, Christie’s ability to touch readers with her creative and clever plots and the surprising ending are written with great skills. In addition, it meets high standards of detective novels and suspends the reader. Even though it is possible to say that the twisted plot is unrealistic, it is undoubtedly a brilliant and cunning one.
Therefore, there were both admirers of And Then There Were None and the people who did not like it or did not understand its significance. However, the fact that remains undoubted is that the plot of the novel became classic for the world literature. Moreover, it influenced film industry and impacted the creation of works with a similar plot, namely with the one where a number of people are gathered at one place, while one of them is supposed to be a murderer.
Contribution of the Novel
And Then There Were None has many adaptations for the stage, filmmaking, television, and even radio. Some of them used alternative endings and locations and changed some of the plot features. However, the general picture of the plot remained similar to the one described by Agatha Christie.
The first adaptation for the stage appeared in 1943. However, this performance was not similar to the book because its authors decided to make Lombard and Vera unguilty of the crime. Moreover, the two characters survive and become a couple in this adaptation. Film adaptations also were slightly different to the original story. Thus, one of them took place not on the island, but at a mountain retreat. In addition, adaptations often used alternative titles. For example, some of them used the initial one, Ten Little Niggers, others used Ten Little Indians. Since these titles were admitted to be politically incorrect, the title of the book was changed to And Then There Were None, which became the most popular one.
Some of the writers followed the example of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and created plots inspired by that novel. Thus, for example, a famous horror writer Stephen King created a movie script in 1999 entitled Storm of the Century, which has a similar premise and plot features. Many other movies and books can be called similar to Agatha Christie’s novel. Some examples include Alien movie, The Ex book, The After House book by Mary Roberts Rhinehart, and many others.
In addition, as some critics say, most of the plots for movies and books were written from the 1920s to the 1960s, and now this industry is stuck in that period (Flemming, 2000). Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None is apparently among these plots. The good thing is that having contemporary opportunities for filming, the adaptations to these plots can be done in a great way, using new computer programs and special effects. Moreover, they can be transferred to the present times (Flemming, 2000).
To sum up, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None is certainly a masterpiece for the world literature. It can be found in various ratings among best-selling books of all times, best detective novel, best books ever written and so on. Basically, it has become a blueprint for many mysterious stories that followed it (Midnyte Reader, 2012). The sophisticated plot associated with the nursery rhyme, which suspends the reader and creates the mystical atmosphere, became a zero-risk option for the detective novel. Each character is very different, and learning a story behind them is extremely interesting. The way Agatha Christie gave life to her characters is amazing. And Then There Were None became one of the most famous mysteries of all times making Agatha Christie an icon for many people. Her contribution to the murder mystery genre is obvious and represented not only by this novel, but also by other ones.
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