15 NOVEMBER 1997, Page 38

Penelope Fitzgerald

In The Scholar Gypsy (John Murray, £16) Anthony Sampson tracks down the lives of his grandfather, the respected first librarian of Liverpool University and great authority on the Welsh gypsies, who in private was a risk-taking philanderer. This kind of biog- raphy, like the story of the search itself, needs not only skill but humanity if it's going to work, and The Scholar Gypsy does work. Claire Tomalin's Jane Austen: A Life (Viking, £20) is particularly good on the powerful network of family relationships and neighbours, and on Jane's exotic cousin, Eliza de Feuillide. And this was not an eventless life, Tomalin shows. It was not all quiet days at the parsonage. There were distresses which left marks on Jane Austen `as permanent as those of any blacking factory'.

chose celibacy; you had it thrust upon you.'