Must Reads: Researching Lady Claire Is All That

Here are the facts: Lady Claire Cavendish is brilliant and math and I am not. I could have stayed within my comfort zone and written yet another writing girl heroine, but I wanted to challenge myself. Also, my mom told me to stop writing heroines who write (fair point: I’ve written, like, six of them). So math-smart Claire required some extra research. Fortunately, I found the perfect real life model for her character—Ada, Countess of Lovelace, at 19th century woman known as the inventor of the algorithm due to her work with Charles Babbage, inventor of the Difference Engine and Analytical Engines, which are accepted as precursors to the computer. Below are some of the books I relied on when trying to understand her work.

 Ada Lovelace, Bride of Science: Romance, Reason and Byron’s Daughter by Benjamin Woolley

To understand Ada Lovelace one must understand the outrageous, passionate and scandalous relationship between her parents, the poet Lord Byron and his wife Annabella Milbanke. He was the quintessential romantic poet—mad, bad and dangerous to know. She was a proper young lady who thought she could reform him. The marriage collapsed shortly after the birth of their daughter, Ada, due to a combination of his madness, drug and alcohol use, rumors of incest, etc, etc. Annabella feared her daughter would inherit her father’s passionate temperament and so to counteract that, she gave her daughter a strict upbringing and loads of math lessons. While Ada excelled at her lessons in advanced mathematics, she also did inherit some of her father’s artistic nature. What made her brilliant was the ability to combine these two disciplines—poetical science, she called it. Charles Babbage may have been the primary inventor of the Analytical Machine, but she was the only one who foresaw the full potential of machines like it to impact our lives.

 

The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson

You have to love that a book like this—featuring the likes of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, among other dudes—starts with a woman. From the 19th century. This book covers much of the same territory as her full biography, with a greater focus on her contributions to computer programming and how her work intersected with Babbage’s. Her notes on a translation of his paper eventually became more famous than the original work. Isaacson writes of her greatest contribution:

This insight would become the core concept of the digital age: any piece of content, data, or information— music, text, pictures, numbers, symbols, sounds, video— could be expressed in digital form and manipulated by machines. Even Babbage failed to see this fully; he focused on numbers. But Ada realized that the digits on the cogs could represent things other than mathematical quantities. Thus did she make the conceptual leap from machines that were mere calculators to ones that we now call computers. 

The Difference Engine: Charles Babbage and the Quest to Build the First Computer by Doron Swade

To understand Ada’s work and influence, it helps to understand her mentor and collaborator, Charles Babbage, the inventor of the Difference Engine and later, the Analytical Engine. This biography covers his life, work, and tireless efforts to design and attempt to build his machines (and I relied on it heavily when researching the character of the Duke of Ashbrooke in The Wicked Wallflower). Alas, this author does minimize Ada’s contributions to Babbage’s work and the fields of mathematics and computer programming.

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When I needed more help, I called on some of the brilliant math ladies in my life—fellow romance author Caroline Linden and my sister Eve, especially. Plus Josh, a genius data scientist I happen to know (I must also note that he wears bespoke shirts and has excellent taste in cocktails).

 

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