Jane Austen, by Tony Tanner. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. 291 pp. $8.95. (Also available in cloth.) Those who cherish Jane Austen tend to find critical studies of her work superfluous. Those who are deaf to her plangent ironies prefer criticism that confirms their impression of her ``triviality.'' Yet her fiction remains a source of constant discussion. Is she liberal or conservative? An independent woman or an upholder of the sexual status quo? A profound moralist or merely a witty dissector of manners? Clever but cold or - as Henry James pronounced her heroines - all feeling and very little intellect? This gracefully written new study by Tony Tanner, a don at Cambridge University, will enhance the appreciation of readers who already love Austen's novels and may help explain her importance and virtues to the unenlightened by responding very cogently to their criticism. Aesthetic Theory, by Theodor W. Adorno. Translated by C. Lenhardt. Edited by Gretel Adorno and Rolf Tiedemann. London and New York: Routlege & Kegan Paul, distributed by Methuen. 526 pp. $14.95.
A central figure in the ``Frankfurt School'' of critical theorists, Theodor Adorno (1903-69) left Germany in 1934, spent time at Oxford, and lived in America until returning to Germany after the war. His writings span the realms of music, art, literature, philosophy, politics, and social psychology, from ``Philosophy of Music'' to ``The Authoritarian Personality.'' Its editors call his unfinished study of ``Aesthetic Theory,'' which he was working on at the time of his death, a ``torso.'' Judged by the size and substance of this fragment, the completed body of work would have been monumental indeed. Needless to say, this is not light reading. It covers such topics as ``Genius,'' ``Depth,'' ``Technique,'' ``Art as the language of suffering,'' ``Black as an ideal,'' and ``Metacritique of Hegel's critique of natural beauty.'' Yet, surprisingly (particularly to those of us who may dread Teutonic metaphysics), there is much that is lucid, witty, even beautiful in these writings, making this hefty ``fragment'' a veritable treasure-trove of stimulating ideas, arguments, and aphorisms. Drawn from Life, by Stella Bowen. Introduction by Julia Loewe. London: Virago Press, distributed by Salem House, Topsfield, Mass. 253 pp. $7.95. Illustrated.
Gentleness, humor, compassion, and strength distinguish this engaging memoir by Australian-born artist Stella Bowen (1895-1947). As a young woman, she left her provincial background to lead an art student's life in the London of Yeats, Eliot, Pound, Arthur Waley, May Sinclair, Violet Hunt, and Ford Madox Ford, whom she recalls charmingly: ``The stiff, rather alarming exterior ... concealed a highly complicated emotional machinery. It produced an effect of tragic vulnerability; tragic because the scope of his understanding and the breadth of his imagination had produced a great edifice ... plainly in need of more support than was inherent in the structure itself. A walking temptation to any woman, had I but known it!'' First published in 1941, Bowen's memoir also covers the years she and Ford spent together in England and France, the birth of her daughter (who writes the introduction to this edition), and the years after her relationship had ended, when she learned to support herself and her child through her painting. Black-and-white reproductions of her work illustrate this book. Roosevelt to Reagan: A Reporter's Encounters with Nine Presidents, by Hedley Donovan. Updated with an epilogue by the author. New York: A Bessie/Harper & Row Book, Perennial Library. 344 pp. $8.98.
``We may be getting the presidents we deserve, but we have not been getting the presidents we need,'' suggests Hedley Donovan, a former editor in chief of Time Inc. and an adviser in the Carter administration who has had ample opportunity to observe some recent presidents at close hand.
Informal, even personal, in style, colorful and insightful in content, this very readable book contains portraits of presidents, their policies and personalities, along with the author's thoughts about the office per se. Openly opinionated, but open-minded and willing to change his opinions, Donovan is a stimulating guide who offers descriptions, anecdotes, analysis, and an ongoing attempt to evaluate presidential intentions and performances. A Book of Love Poetry, edited with an introduction by Jon Stallworthy. New York: Oxford University Press. 393 pp. $7.95.
The approach of Valentine's Day makes this a good time to look at love poetry. First published in 1973, this anthology groups poems from a variety of times and places under headings that trace the course of romantic love from its earliest ``Intimations,'' through ``Declarations,'' ``Persuasions,'' and ``Celebrations,'' to its ``Desolations'' and last ``Reverberations.'' Thus, in a single volume are brought together the passionate innocence of John Clare, the world-weary urbanity of Anthony Hecht, the profound ingeniousness of Andrew Marvell, the explicitness of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, the joyful sweetness of Edmund Spenser, the elegance of Yeats. Most of the poems are by English-speaking poets, but translations of Greek, Latin, French, Hebrew, Persian, Russian, Spanish, Sanskrit, and Tamil poetry are sprinkled in the mix. Among the surprising omissions: There are no poems from the German - a language boasting the love poems of Goethe and Heine! There is little of Shelley, Keats, or D.H. Lawrence, and nothing at all by Coleridge. John Crowe Ransom is represented by a minor piece rather than by his powerful love poem ``The Equilibrists.'' And there is far too much, for my taste, of Berryman, E.E. Cummings, and very minor modern writers. But there are also charming surprises waiting to be discovered and enjoyed, and enough variety to please almost every taste and mood some of the time. Eating In, by Betty Fussell. New York: The Ecco Press, distributed by Norton. 140 pp. $8.95.
Readers - cooks and eaters - who enjoyed Ms. Fussell's far-ranging recent hard-cover ``I hear America Cooking'' (Viking) will be delighted by this pocket-size book of shopping tips and recipes.
It's aimed particularly at the working person who hasn't much time to cook, but who likes to order new dishes when eating out. As this book shows us, culinary adventures can be had at home, with a little care and planning, at substantial savings. The recipes are simple and delectable, relying on fresh ingredients, herbs, spices, and such staples as butter, cream, olive oil, vinegar, and lemons. Fussell's advice is unfussy, but has in it the starch of immutable standards: ``Any kind of oven will do, except a microwave.''