NONFICTION

Winston and Clementine: The Triumphs and Tragedies of the Churchills, by Richard Hough (Bantam, $24.95). Winston Churchill's background is well-known: a scion of the Marlboroughs on his father's side, of the American Jeromes on his mother's. But his wife's is obscure. Her mother and ostensible father came from Scottish aristocracy; as this history relates, he refused to give her the offspring she wanted. Undaunted, Blanche Hozier enlisted her brother-in-law, Bertram Mitford, as stud and had four children by him, of whom the future Lady Clementine Churchill was the first. From this unorthodox beginning grew the strong-willed, intelligent woman who saw the great man through several careers and a debilitating old age.

Anatomy of a Restoration: The Brancacci Chapel, by Ken Shulman (Walker, $29.95). Michelangelo came to Florence's Brancacci Chapel to study the human form in frescoes by Masaccio, Masolino and Filippino Lippi (him of the Browning poem). Later students have not seen all that Masaccio painted. Fig leaves, mysteriously floating at loin level, preserved Adam's and Eve's privacy; the walls and ceilings took on coatings of grime, and the frescoes lost lustre. Now those leaves have fallen and the grime has been removed. This is an account of the operation that brought the great frescoes back to their Renaissance glory.

Precision and Soul: Essays and Addresses by Robert Musil, edited and translated by Burton Pike and David S. Luft (University of Chicago, $29.95). Robert Musil ranks among the legendary modern novelists, chiefly for his panoramic Man Without Qualities -- praised by V.S. Pritchett as the best fictional portrait of a millionaire -- -- but also for his depiction of inhumanity at a boy's school, Young Torless. Like his compeers Mann and Broch, Musil also wrote essays, of which this is a selection. They deal with such weighty matters as "The Religious Spirit, Modernism and Metaphysics" and will appeal chiefly to admirers of Musil's fiction.

Selected Essays: 1965-1985, by Thomas Daniel Young (Louisiana State University Press, $25). Young, biographer of poet and critic John Crowe Ransom, here gathers 10 essays, most of them about Ransom or his circle. As the mentor or friend to writers such as Robert Penn Warren, Peter Taylor, Randall Jarrell and Anthony Hecht, this courtly Southern gentleman exercised vast influence on American letters. As the founding editor of Kenyon Review, he helped establish the long hegemony of New Criticism. And as a poet he is a master of a learned style of lovely musicality. In several essays Young lays out Ransom's critical theories and discusses his poetry.

Epistemology of the Closet, by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (University of California, $24.95). This is a study of what the author calls "the long crisis of modern sexual definition." Her purpose is to understand why homosexuality has been singled out among a host of other possibilities to denote a virtual species. Why, in other words, are homosexuals thought to form a distinct type whereas paramours, say, are not? Her approach is essentially literary, centered on discussions of such works as Billy Budd and Remembrance of Things Past.

The American Revolution in the Law: Anglo-American Jurisprudence before John Marshall, by Shannon C. Stimson (Princeton, $27.50). At the drop of a perruque, Felix Frankfurter and other Anglophiliac American lawyers glossed the U.S. Constitution with the aid of Anglo-Saxon legal principles. Yet this study argues that British and American law divided sharply even before the Declaration of Independence. Alexander Hamilton's evaluation of trial by jury as "the very palladium of free government" and the concept of a written constitution to be interpreted by courts were distinctly unBritish notions that had found favor in the colonies by 1765. Behind these innovations lay a philosophy that seems naively optimistic in this age of calculated manipulation of juries: that ordinary men are quite capable of knowing the law and applying it.