Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Enchantress of Numbers

By Lisa Karon Richardson

Forget this world and all its troubles and if

possible its multitudinous Charlatans – every thing

in short but the Enchantress of Numbers.

Just a month ago the world celebrated—perhaps celebrated is too strong a word—the world recognized—um, probably still too strong—a small portion of the world acknowledged or even realized that Ada Lovelace Day was underway.

In fact, when I found out my reaction was a very profound, “Who?”

Born Augusta Ada Byron, she was the only legitimate child of Lord Byron, the poet. She was a frail child, subject to headaches that disturbed her vision. When she was 13 she experienced a bout of measles that left her paralyzed. After two years she was walking with crutches.

Despite her frequent illnesses she kept up with her education—unusual in a girl of that time period. Her mother feared that Ada would go mad (something she suspected her father of having done long ago.) As a means of thwarting this tendency, she insisted that Ada have lessons in mathematics and science. Ada excelled at both.

When she was 16 she met Charles Babbage, the famed English mathematician, inventor and mechanical engineer. It was he that wrote the poem about her and coined the term Enchantress of Numbers. (And can I say, I just love that nickname. It would make a perfect book title!)

Ada married at the age of 19 and became Baroness King. Later her husband was elevated to Earl and she to Countess of Lovelace.

Between 1842 and 1843, Ada was asked to translate a memoir written by an Italian about Charles Babbage's newest mechanical design, the Analytical Engine. Ada agreed, and Charles also asked her to add some notes of her own. Once more she agreed and in doing so she wrote some algorithms for use of the new device. In other words, he designed the first computer, but she designed the first software.

How’s that for a blow to the stereotypical picture of a grubby little guy with poor hygiene working from his mother’s basement? The first computer programmer was an elegant and beautiful young woman. I love it! Her notes anticipated not just a tabulating function to the machine, but far ranging developments—even computer generated music. She saw vastly more potential in the machine than even it’s creator. And for that she is remembered as a visionary.

She died of cancer at just 36 years of age, or who knows what other contributions she might have made. Perhaps the computer age would have swept the world hundreds of years sooner.

All I know is that she is definitely going in the steampunk novel I’m writing! Just too good a character to pass up.

Oh, and Ada Lovelace day was supposed to celebrate women and their achievements in the fields of mathematics and science.

What “real-life” character would you love to see make a cameo appearance in a novel?

Influenced by books like The Secret Garden and The Little Princess, Lisa Karon Richardson’s early books were heavy on boarding schools and creepy houses. Now that she’s (mostly) all grown-up she still loves a healthy dash of adventure and excitement in any story she creates, even her real-life story. She’s been a missionary to the Seychelles and Gabon and now that she and her husband are back in America, they are tackling a brand new adventure, starting a daughter-work church in a new city. Her first novella, Impressed by Love, part of the Colonial Courtships collection, is coming in May, 2012.


  1. We learned a bit about Ada Lovelace in one of my computer classes in college. There's a programming language called Ada.

    One of them (can't remember if it was Ada or Babbage or someone else) tried to use their computer to beat the odds at gambling. That didn't work so well, and the person lost a lot of money. (You'd think mathematicians would know a bit about probability!)

  2. I just found a great Byron poem about the waltz that is soooo going in my new book. And Thomas Jefferson is making an appearance. I think it would be a stretch to drag the ill Ada to the edge of the frontier in Virginia.

  3. Oh yeah CJ, Ada was a computer language developed and used by the US Department of Defense during the 80s. I doubt if it's still in use now though.

    I don't think it was Ada involved with the gambling attempt, at least, that didn't come up in my research and that would be a pretty juicy bit of info to leave out!

  4. Dina, Thomas Jefferson will be a great walk on character! Though it's a pity you can't set a scene in England so you can include Ada too ;o)

  5. Wow, what a fantastic story about a remarkable woman. And all this done with hampered physical health and before the age of 36.

    And a great character to add to steampunk. She's legit.

  6. Yeah Barb, people like Ada totally make me feel like an underachiever. I find her story extra fascinating because we still hear today about how girls aren't as good at math and science as boys. Back then girls often weren't even taught math and science for fear it would adle their delicate brains!

  7. Yep, makes me want to hide under my desk in shame as I sit here, still in my bathrobe, unshowered, and three days behind on NaNo. Sigh.

  8. Lisa, this is great! Now I really can't wait to be your beta reader. Ada is so cool!

    About walk on roles for real historical figures - this is actually the subject of one of my posts next week. Funny coincidence, Lisa.

    Butch Cassidy was a significant character in my first historical. He was in love with my heroine.

    Nellie Bly is one person I'd like to feature as a character.

  9. Um, Niki, I had to read your comment twice. Then I had to laugh. The first time, my eyes skipped over some words. I read it as -sitting in your bathrobe, unshowered for three days! I think I'd better go schedule an appt with an optometrist!

  10. Niki, three days is nothing. Last time I attempted anything so crazy, I think I started out 3 days behind. Or at least it felt that way. The days stacked up awfully fast!

  11. Ooh Suzie, Butch Cassidy, huh? Did heroine love him back or was his passion unrequited? Nellie Bly would be a fun character to bring on stage for a story. She could be one of those minor characters who try to take over the story if you let them though!

  12. Lisa, my heroine only felt brotherly love for poor Bobby. (Real name of Butch Cassidy - Robert Parker). He had not yet become an outlaw, but he was approaching that stage where it could go either way. Outlaw? Good guy? I think the unrequited love pushed him over to the outlaw side. Poor guy. :( I really liked him.

  13. I'm impressed. Being so bad at numbers and math, I'm always impressed by anyone who has such skill. And Lord Byron was her dad, eh? So, I'd like to know more about her mom, b/c Dad was likely not the driving force behind Ada's success.

    I'm mostly impressed though with Lisa writing steampunk. This is going to be so much fun! From what I saw of the new Three Musketeers, it looked steampunk flavored to me. I know it can't be, officially, but the previews reminded me of Sherlock Holmes.

    Which, by the way, will have number TWO out soon.

    You may have just inspired me to have Queen Victoria make a cameo appearance...

  14. Does this mean we can blame all Butch's outlawing on you, Suzie? Poor guy, pushed over the edge by a heartless author.

  15. Deb, the new Three Musketeers is totally steampunk--complete with airships and other "tech." I was a little disappointed in that movie though. The characterization was pretty weak. Fun effects though.

    Can't wait for the next Sherlock Holmes. I really liked the first one.

    Deb, you should totally have the Queen put in a cameo appearance. (She plays a big part in my steampunk story too!)

  16. Love this post, Lisa! I wondered what happened to Byron's daughter--for some reason I thought she died as a child. Boy was I wrong. What a fascinating woman!

    I'm going to have to think about who to put into my stories. Great exercise.

  17. Thanks, Susie. Seems like she wasn't very close to her father. Didn't actually see him much at all because her parents separated when she was very small. Like a month old. But before she died she asked to be buried next to him. She also defended him against some of the most scurrilous attacks on his character. Though I don;t know that he deserved her defense.

    You know I sort of wonder if her character inspired any part of Julie Klassen's The Silent Governess?

  18. Yes, I'm getting to this party late, but what a fascinating story.


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