Mother-daughter tension sets the stage for this closely researched portrait of Ada Lovelace, the only legitimate daughter of poet Lord Byron.
Chiaverini’s (Fates and Traitors, 2016, etc.) latest historical novel details Ada’s struggles to please her mother, Lady Byron, nee Annabella Milbanke, who so feared that Ada would succumb to the influence of Byron’s bad blood that she forbade the child from reading poetry or indulging in any flight of fancy. Annabelle’s own turbulent marriage to Byron lasted less than a year. She worried that Byron suffered from either madness or, worse, moral corruption, and after discovering his incestuous liaison with his half sister, Augusta, she fled with 7-week-old Ada. Thus began Ada’s lifelong struggle to please her mother by suppressing half her lineage. Chiaverini details Ada’s trials and tribulations with her mother’s jealous dismissal of nurses and governesses who dared to tell the girl fairy tales. The emotionally neglected child became a ticking time bomb, eager to rush into inappropriate intimacies. Ada nevertheless became a profoundly talented and imaginative mathematician. Cast as Ada’s memoir, Chiaverini’s novel uses lines from Byron’s poetry as chapter titles, charting Ada’s discovery of her own talents and acceptance of her father’s influence. Eventually, Ada found her closest friends in Mary Somerville and Charles Babbage, both of whom encouraged her intellectual creativity, as did her supportive husband, William, Lord King. Yet as Ada’s intellect brilliantly wed practical mathematics to poetic genius, her ambition was constantly undercut; even her beloved Babbage presumed she would subordinate her career to his work. Arguably the first person to conceive of computer programming—an idea inspired by watching looms—Ada should have been lauded for her contributions to mathematics and technology. Yet her mother’s, her husband’s, and her society’s ideas about appropriate behavior for women suppressed her genius.
A compelling yet heartbreaking homage to the mother of computer science.