Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Enchantress of Numbers by Jennifer Chiaverini

I don't know much about Ada Lovelace, the woman who is sometimes credited as the first computer programmer, which is why I jumped at this chance to read this "work of fiction inspired by history." To put it another way, this is a biography of Ada Lovelace written in the first person, which means that parts of it must be fictionalised.

Ada Lovelace was the daughter of Lord Byron, the poet, and Anne Isabella Noel Byron, 11th Baroness Wentworth and Baroness Byron. She was doubly unlucky in her parents, because her father was abusive and openly cheated on his wife and her mother managed to be both emotionally distant and manipulative at the same time. To avoid Ada from becoming 'insane' like her mother believed her father was, she was taught mathematics from an early age.

The book starts with the meeting and marriage of Lord Byron and Lady Byron (the only chapter to be written in the third person) and ends soon after Ada publishes her work on Charle's Babbage's Analytical Engine. Her work was supposed to be a translation of a French paper, but she added notes to it that soon eclipsed the original.

I found this book to be absorbing and hard to put down, although it's hard to know what was true and what is not - for example, Ada's gambling addiction is only very briefly mentioned. Since it was written in the first person, I very strongly felt for Ada and her different trials. Despite her privileged rank and her intellect, she was continually made to oppress her 'Byron side' and made to feel guilty for simply having feelings.

The chapter titles are all inspired by verses from Lord Byron's poems, which I thought was interesting.

If you want a purely factual biography, this is probably not a good idea. The author admits that liberties have been taken, although she tried to adhere as closely to the historical record as possible, so it's up to you to decide if you're comfortable with that.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a free and honest review.


  1. I am not that familiar with Ada either, but I am fascinated by this book. I admit when it comes to historical fiction, I sometimes find myself looking up a more true version of the facts (if I can find it). I figure it's a good sign when a fiction author can bring out the researcher in me. :-)

    1. In that case, you'll probably enjoy the author's note in this book because she talks about the research too!


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