CLARENCE Thomas, the United States Supreme Court justice, no longer reads newspapers or watches television news. He gives no interviews. He avoids public places. He has sold his Washington home and retreated to rural Virginia. Since his hairsbreadth Senate confirmation 18 months ago, he has immersed himself in his work. He perhaps hopes that through sheer industry he may one day erase the memory of that October weekend when he endured what he called the ''high-tech lynching'' of an ''uppity black man'' by a committee of all-white senators. Still burning with resentment, Judge Thomas is said to have told friends that he intends to serve 43 years on the court. That was how old he was at the time on his confirmation hearings. That was how long the world had ''stuck it to him''. Now it was ''pay-back time''. But Mr Thomas is finding it hard to slip back into anonymity, for Anita Hill unleashed forces far beyond her control when she calmly told the Senate judiciary committee - and tens of millions of television viewers - how her former boss at the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) had behaved a decade years earlier. Mr Thomas had, she claimed, bragged of his sexual prowess, described lurid and bestial pornographic films, boasted of the size of his penis and pressed her for dates. Ms Hill's assertions and Mr Thomas' furious denials were irreconcilable. One or other had to be lying. Sides were taken on the basis not of the evidence, but of partisan loyalties, ideology and gender. The right saw Professor Hill as the personification of a liberal plot to stop a conservative nominee by all means possible. To feminist and civil rights groups she was a heroine who had the courage publicly to challenge what she later called our ''misogynist society''. Mr Thomas was confirmed, albeit by the narrowest margin of any Supreme Court nominee in 110 years, but it was Ms Hill who caught the imagination. She became a symbol of men's mistreatment of women and inspired a potent new wave of American feminism. Capitalising on female disgust with a male Senate that ''just didn't get it'', record numbers of women ran for and were elected to Congress last November. The EEOC last year recorded a 45 per cent increase in sexual harassment complaints. In a dramatic reversal of their fortunes, enrolment at all-female colleges jumped 10 per cent. Senators Brock Adams, of Washington, and Bob Packwood, of Oregon, had theircareers undermined by sexual harassment charges that had for years lain dormant. In the immediate wake of the confirmation hearings, opinion polls suggested the public believed Mr Thomas rather than Ms Hill by a two-to-one margin. But within a year, a majority believed Ms Hill, though no new evidence had surfaced on either side. Not, that is, until the publication last month of The Real Anita Hill: The Untold Story by journalist David Brock. Item by item, Mr Brock unpicks Ms Hill's testimony using previously untapped sources. She had been encouraged to leave the law firm she was with before joining Mr Thomas at the Department of Education. She would not have lost her job had she decided to stay at education rather than move to the EEOC with Mr Thomas. A Californian judge named Susan Hoerchner claimed Ms Hill had complained of sexual harassment in the spring of 1981 - six months before she went to work for Mr Thomas. His telephone logs showed she called him after she had returned to the University of Oklahoma, not the other way round. She invited him to lecture at a law school. Far from being the strait-laced Republican she appeared, Ms Hill had by the time of the hearings immersed herself in the racial and feminist politics of the campus. Inevitably, the book has caused a furore. The left has denounced Mr Brock, who indeed writes for some conservative publications, as a right-wing hatchet man. The right has seized on the book as proof that Mr Thomas' ideological enemies, not just Ms Hill but those in the Senate who leaked her earlier confidential testimony to the media, were engaged in character assassination. Ultimately, Mr Thomas will have a greater impact than Ms Hill. His hard-line conservatism has become abundantly apparent through his writings. He consistently opts for the narrowest interpretations of the Constitution, repudiating the judicial activism of more liberal colleagues. He supports new restrictions on the rights of death row inmates, opposes abortion rights and, in the words of a spokesman for the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, ''sides in almost every instance with the powerful over those without power''. His most notorious judgement to date was that prison guards who beat a shackled prisoner did not violate his constitutional guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment. The court was not entitled to expand the constitution to ''address all ills in our society'', he declared. The confirmation hearings were the left's only chance of preventing Mr Thomas dispensing judgements like that for literally decades to come.