Emily Brontë narrowly lost to Jane Austen in a prestigious debate over who was the best novelist.

Popular modern novelist Kate Mosse led the fight to declare Emily the top writer during the gathering at the Royal Geographic Society.

Leading English literature professor John Mullan put the case for Jane Austen during the event in London earlier this month.

Professional actors including Sam West, who played Mr Elliot in the 1995 film version of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, performed scenes from both writers’ work.

On entering the venue the audience were asked to vote for their favourite author, with Jane receiving 55 cent of the vote and Emily receiving only 24 per cent.

After the debate, a new vote gave 51 per cent to Jane and 47 per cent to Emily, with only two per cent remaining undecided.

Prof Mullan passionately defended Jane Austen, saying she had a wonderful ability to write simple prose that was actually incredibly complicated.

He praised Austen’s descriptive ability, particularly of her characters, and described her mastery at observation and putting an artistic gloss on the world.

Kate Mosse described Austen as witty and wonderful, but said she wanted more from a book than romantic characters in pursuit of marriage.

She said Wuthering Heights was one of the most effectively set-up novels in the English language, balancing light with dark and calm with chaos.

She said the novel was not in love story, but a story of obsession and ghosts, as well as exploring what it meant to be human and to have a soul.