I have been deep in the ‘Byronic world’ this past month. I fell in love with Byron’s poems as a teenager, sat in my room learning many by heart, and just revelled in his wonderful language. Over the years I’ve read several biographies about the infamous poet, his extraordinary love life, his travels and adventures. I knew a little of his wife, and was also aware that biographies had been written about his remarkable daughter, Ada, Countess of Lovelace who, like her father, died aged 36.
However, I knew I needed to read much more to prepare for a talk I’m soon to give as part of a series offered by the Royal Society of NSW and the Sydney Mechanics School of Arts on ‘Remarkable Women in Science’. Hence my reading about Ada and her mother. Annabella Milbanke, who had the dubious honour of becoming Byron’s wife, was a keen mathematician – this at a time when girls were rarely taught any maths. Byron called her his “Princess of Parallelograms”. She was very astute with money and a very bright woman.
Byron left for Europe when his only legitimate daughter, Ada, was a tiny baby – she never knew her father as he died when she was 8. Her mother, worried that Ada was too imaginative, decided that studying maths might keep her daughter’s mind from poetry and other dangerous subjects. Ada became a brilliant mathematician. Her work with Charles Babbage led to the development of the computer, but it was Ada who visualised just to what lengths Babbage’s ‘Analytical Machine’ might go, and who could picture substituting letters and other symbols for numbers to enlarge the scope of his design. Ada has often been described as ‘the mother of computers’.
In Byron’s Wake: The Turbulent Lives of Lord Byron’s Wife and Daughter by the excellent biographer Miranda Seymour, is a full, absorbing account of the two women and of Ada’s contribution to computing. I then moved on to Enchantress of Numbers: A Novel of Ada Lovelace by Jennifer Chiaverini, which told the story as fiction. I enjoyed this book, which has had excellent reviews and was chosen by Amazon as one of its ‘best books of December 2017’, but I preferred the more factual accounts of Ada’s life.
And finally, there was A Female Genius: How Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron’s Daughter, Started the Computer Age. This was an excellent read and made the subject very clear to non-scientific readers like me. Interestingly I can even introduce my granddaughter to Ada soon, for there are several books for very young readers – Ada Lovelace: Poet of Science, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine, Little People, Big Dreams: Ada Lovelace and The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage.
What would Lord Byron have thought of his granddaughter’s fame starting to eclipse his own? It’s been a fascinating reading journey and I’m looking forward to sharing my enthusiasm at my talk on 2 May in Sydney.
Do you love Byron’s poems? Were you aware of Ada Lovelace’s scientific contribution? Tell me your thoughts by leaving a comment.
In Byron’s Wake: The Turbulent Lives of Lord Byron’s Wife and Daughter by Miranda Seymour
Enchantress of Numbers: A Novel of Ada Lovelace by Jennifer Chiaverini
A Female Genius: How Ada Lovelace Started the Computer Age by James Essinger
Ada Lovelace: Poet of Science by Diane Stanley (Author), Jessie Hartland (Illustrator)
Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Wallmark (Author), April Chu (Illustrator)
Ada Lovelace (Little People, Big Dreams) by Isabel Sanchez Vegara (Author), Zafouko Yamamoto (Author)
The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua
Ada Lovelace: Victorian computing visionary
The Marvellous Analytical Engine- How It Works by Sydney Padua
Sketch of The Analytical Engine Invented by Charles Babbage by L. F. Menabrea, with notes upon the Memoir by the Translator Ada Augusta, Countess Of Lovelace
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