Having produced an enormously absorbing portrait of the British Victorian eccentric Charles Kingsley more than a decade ago (The Beast and the Monk, 1975), Chitty now turns her attention to the better-known poet and painter Edward Lear, whose life, while less sensational than Kingsley's, proves just as engrossing. A large part of Chitty's appeal lies in the obvious affection she feels for her subjects. Here, she focuses on Lear's lifelong search for love. A retiring homosexual, Lear developed largely unfulfilled crushes on a series of young men, the most notable of whom was Frank Lushington. As Chitty so movingly points out, it was probably the very intensity of Lear's affection for these young men that, ironically, doomed the relationships. The painter/poet was forever setting off for exotic points (Albania, Greece, India) with these companions to sketch and explore. For years, his oils and watercolors were much in demand among the aristocrats and literary figures of England, and Lear himself was an extremely popular figure in these circles. His wit and high spirits seemed to endear him to almost everyone. It was these high spirits that were responsible for the creation of the ""Nonsense Songs,"" for which he is best known today. Particularly touching here, in light of his sexual orientation, are the scenes in which Lear delights in the company of children. Chitty's narrative is dotted with haunting subsidiary portraits--from Alfred, Lord Tennyson to ""George,"" Lear's devoted manservant of 30 years. She is equally adept at capturing the sights and sounds Lear encountered during his travels, and the artistic cabals that flourished during Victoria's reign. A sensitive and moving portrait, then, whose creator enlivens her work with a sometimes teasing attitude just right for her subject.