As charming and lucid as this tiny drawing-room biography is, it comes as something of a skimpy disappointment after previous, more substantial volumes in the illustrated. . . and his/her World series (see Osborne's Wagner, p. 400). First published in 1969 under the same title--and still in print as of last year--Laski's portrait is done in pastels, with all perspectives slanting in on Miss Jane's (not being the eldest, 'twas never ""Miss Austen""!) life at home rather than her life in print. Drawing heavily on Jane's effusive but admittedly impersonal letters, Laski laces up the labyrinthine family connections with the south-of-England county society doings: the pursuit of dowered brides; the nurse-comforter-teacher role of the spinster daughter-sister-aunt (Jane excelled in ali capacities); the highly mockable raw material that made it possible for Jane to write her human comedies without ever leaving home. The publication of each novel is duly noted, but criticism is eschewed--though Laski's sure scholarship surfaces now and again as she suggests a few character sources and refers easily to the vital Jenkins and Chapman biographies. So, with little attempt at either literary weight or personal probe (Austen vies for the Most Unpsychoanalyzable Writer award), the illustrations had better be good. And they are. 137 of them--only three or four of elusive Jane herself--are imaginatively, astutely arranged, capturing the family, the friends, the architecture, the countryside, and the artifacts of the turn into the 19th century. A glorious, literate picture-book, then, but a wispier package than we've come to expect.