A biographer of Jane Austen who resists the temptation to submerge herself willynilly into the internal evidence (or lack of it) in the novels must have dedication and painstaking patience to pick through the domestic minutiae revealed not only in the letters (thoughtfully pruned by her sister Cassandra) and the wobbly recollections of the family. For ""dear Aunt Jane"" in her Hampshire habitats led a carefully modulated spinster life of responsible behavior -- neither a temptingly Bronteesque recluse nor prone to exciting confrontations: ""A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can."" This could be as suggested an ironic commentary on her lot, but there is little evidence of a ""depth and bitterness"" beneath a polished surface in art and reality. There am relevant conjectures concerning some bumptious relatives, a brief brush of what may have been romance, and an interval of interest in religious controversy to suggest banked fires. However, one is more convinced that ultimately good sense was the passion -- an instinct for human proportion the lifelong love. There is just not enough proof in all the chronological detail that Jane Austen's art and modus vivendi hid rather than merely extended her central obsessions. Ms. Hodge has amassed a vast spread of material, and as she inches through year by year of the author's life, she provides a competent survey, which echoes the popular appeal of the Jenkin's biography, while it is not in the scholarly league with Lascelles and R. W. Chapman.