Jane Austen couldn't spell, had no grasp of punctuation and her writing betrayed an accent straight out of The Archers, according to an Oxford University academic.
Prof Kathryn Sutherland said analysis of Austen's handwritten letters and manuscripts reveal that her finished novels owed as much to the intervention of her editor as to the genius of the author.
Page after page was written without paragraphs, including the sparkling dialogue for which Austen is known. The manuscript for Persuasion, the only one of her novels to survive in its unedited form, looks very different from the finished product.
"The reputation of no other English novelist rests so firmly on the issue of style, on the poise and emphasis of sentence and phrase, captured in precisely weighed punctuation. But in reading the manuscripts it quickly becomes clear that this delicate precision is missing.
"This suggests somebody else was heavily involved in the editing process between manuscript and printed book," Prof Sutherland said.
The editor in question is believed to have been William Gifford, a poet and critic who worked for Austen's second publisher, John Murray.