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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Jane Austen passes Go

Last month, it seemed that Jane Austen had truly arrived in the world economy when the new £10 note bearing her portrait went into circulation in Britain.

How wrong we were. It’s only now that we have real proof that Jane Austen has arrived in the world economy: She features in the newly released Winchester Edition of Monopoly.

Although from time to time I’ve spotted the occasional special Monopoly edition – for years, my son livened up vacation visits to his British grandparents by playing the Manchester United version – I was unaware of just how crowded this market is. According to a list compiled in an online fan community, there are literally hundreds of Monopoly variants, keyed to movies, books, TV shows, sports teams, universities, commercial brands—you name it. Many are officially licensed; others (anyone for RipperOpoly, the Jack the Ripper version?) seem likely to be unauthorized spinoffs or short-lived amateur efforts.

The throng includes scores, if not hundreds, of geography-themed Monopolies: By my count, UK cities, counties, or regions have spawned nearly four dozen, with locations in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand, and Nigeria adding many more. US versions span the continent, from Maine to California and Seattle to Miami.

So perhaps it’s not surprising, in this Austen bicentennial year, that a version featuring the landmarks of the city where Austen is buried should make its appearance.

Number 8 College Street, the Winchester house where Austen breathed her last, appears on the board in the spot occupied by North Carolina Avenue in the classic American edition of Monopoly. As devotees of the iconic game of cutthroat capitalism will realize, this situates Austen, who spent a good portion of her adult life strapped for cash, on one of the board’s prime pieces of real estate—although not as prime as her actual burial spot, Winchester Cathedral, which stands in for Boardwalk.

Apparently, the game has at least one more Austen reference – according to coverage in the Hampshire Chronicle, which itself occupies Indiana Avenue’s spot on the board, one of the Chance/Community Chest cards “rewards players for winning ‘a Jane Austen writing contest,’ ” whatever that is.

Alas, as far as I can tell from minute inspection of the online pictures, the game tokens appear to be the ordinary, non-Austen kind: the top hat might pass muster, but the little dog is no Pug, and there’s nary a quill pen or mini-Pemberley in sight. And early rumors that the game’s money supply might feature banknotes bearing an Austen stamp seem to have been unfounded. For that, we’ll have to make do with the real stuff.


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