Books: Out from Down Under

MISS HERBERT

by CHRISTINA STEAD 308 pages. Random House. $8.95.

THE MAN WHO LOVED CHILDREN

by CHRISTINA STEAD 527 pages. Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

$12.50.

Feminist novels today tend to present women in two ways: as either prisoners of gender or lately freed to pursue Tom Jones' pleasures and echo Alexander Portnoy's complaints. Christina Stead's Miss Herbert belongs to a less transitory category. It is a novel about an Englishwoman that does not discriminate on the basis of sex.

At 73, the Australian-born author has published more than a dozen books of fiction that have slowly earned her a reputation as one of the world's most skillful...