Where is Ada Lovelace?

“Um, excuse me? How you can you write a series about the difference engine and not include an Ada Lovelace inspired character?”
—Paraphrased reader mail, to me

After writing the Bad Boys & Wallflowers series, which is based on the invention and creation of Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine, more than a few readers wrote to me asking about Ada Lovelace, the real life heroine of early computing and Babbage’s collaborator. It’s a fair question—a character based on her should absolutely be included. While that series had concluded, I devoted an entire book in a new series so to an Ada character—she appears as Lady Claire in Lady Claire Is All That.

Quick history lesson: The difference engine is widely considered to be the first computer, and it was the invention of charming English inventor Charles Babbage (1791-1871). It was basically a glorified calculator. Babbage’s next project was the Analytical Engine, another machine that was more advanced than the Difference Engine. Ada Lovelace—the daughter of Lord Byron— was a brilliant mathematician herself and she glommed onto Babbage and they became collaborators.

In my Wallflower novels, starting with The Wicked Wallflowerthe Duke of Ashbrook is my version of Babbage—the charming inventor in need of funds to build his engine. But there’s no Ada character because she didn’t quite fit into the series as I had plotted it (which may have been a failure of imagination on my part). When it came time to do my Cavendish series, I knew I had to include her. And so, Lady Claire was “born.” This math-minded heroine is determined to 1) make the acquaintance of Ashbrooke and 2) collaborate with him. Spoiler alert: she does.

A recent review, which was very nice and which I quite enjoyed, raised the question of just how much of Lady Claire really had in common with Ada and it was far more than “just an interest in math.” While their life stories are vastly different, Claire’s work in the novel drew significantly upon Ada’s.

The Math Paper
In Lady Claire Is All That, Claire writes a paper about Ashbrooke’s machines. This was modeled on Ada’s real life claim to fame: she translated a paper authored by Babbage about his proposed analytical engine for an Italian periodical. But then she made some footnotes which have become more famous than the original paper.

The Bernoulli Numbers
In Lady Claire Is All That there is an issue with her note and table on the Bernoulli numbers and which her collaborator helps correct. This is based on a true story from Ada’s life. One particular details (which I don’t think I was able to work in the manuscript) is of her husband inking over her calculations (done in pencils) the night before everything was due to the printer. Ah, deadlines!

The philosophical mathematical debate
In Lady Claire Is All That there are exchanges between Claire and Ashbrooke about what the analytical engine could conceivably do. He may have invented the machines, but his imagination was limited when it came to their real possibilities. But it was Ada, who had a rich background in both art, poetry and math, who saw that the analytical engine could be used for so much more than just simple calculations—Could they not do more, perhaps write music? Below is an exchange between Claire and the Duke, which illustrates some of the ideas discussed between Ada and Babbage:

“What of musical notes, or geometric figures with prescribed patterns and relations? The rules governing these are just as precise as the method of differences!”
There was a murmur; she had clearly said something challenging. Or was it the fact that a woman said it?

The duke and she exchanged volleys about the rules of harmony in music, relative pitch, and how one might turn musical composition into a science—shocking, since music was long considered an art form, not a science. And even more than that, how an engine such as Ashbrooke’s could be constructed to produce original music.

Ada’s ideas lead her to create the first algorithm and because of that, she is considered the first computer programmer. Not just the first female one, but the first. Full. Stop.

For further reading:

Check out my blog on the research about Ada Lovelace.

The Wicked Wallflower is about the Duke of Ashbrooke’s quest to raise funds to build the difference engine

Wallflower Gone Wild contains a subplot about building the engine.

Lady Claire is All That is dedicated to Ada’s collaborations with Babbage on the analytical engine.

PS: I am also indebted to my author pal Caroline Linden for helping me with the math in the book 😉

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