A British researcher says author Jane Austen was bad at spelling and grammar and got a lot of help from her editor.
Kathryn Sutherland, an English professor at Oxford University, examined 1,100 handwritten pages of unpublished works by the writer of Pride and Prejudice, who died in 1817.
She says the manuscripts have plenty of "blots, crossings out, messiness," and that Austen "broke most of the rules for writing good English."
'[Austen was] even better at writing dialogue and conversation than the edited style of her published novels suggest.' —Kathryn Sutherland
Sutherland said letters from Austen's publisher indicate editor William Gifford was heavily involved in making sense of Austen's scribblings, helping mould the style of her late novels Emma and Persuasion.
The academic says Gifford was not involved in the earlier books — notably Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice.
"In fact, the style in these novels is much closer to Austen's manuscript hand," Sutherland adds.
Sutherland doubts her findings will blot Austen's reputation. It only serves to call into question the claim by Austen's brother Henry that "everything came finished from her pen."
"In reading the manuscripts, it quickly becomes clear that this delicate precision is missing," notes the scholar.
In fact, Austen's unpublished works show she was "even better at writing dialogue and conversation than the edited style of her published novels suggest."
Austen's handwritten manuscripts go online Monday at www.janeausten.ac.uk, the result of a three-year project to digitize the author's unpublished work.