Ada Byron (Lady Lovelace) is one of the most spectacular characters in computer history. Five weeks after Ada’s birth, her mother, Lady Byron, asks for a separation from Lord Byron. She is awarded sole custody of Ada, whom she brought up to be a mathematician and scientist. Lady Byron fears her daughter might follow in her father’s notorious footsteps. Like Lord Byron, Ada embarks on a Romantic quest very much at odds with the prevailing Victorian ethic of restraint. Though her medium is mathematics rather than poetry, she too rejects the notion that virtue lies in community and conformity, believing instead in a higher ethic of knowledge and ambition – precisely the ethic that inspired Doctor Frankenstein to create the creature that is considered monstrous only by those who fear freedom. For a woman, this Romantic quest for knowledge is doubly transgressive. Though she makes every effort to balance the demands of research and domesticity, Ada is accused of neglecting her husband and children. Her mother blames heredity, as though Byron’s blood is responsible for Ada’s wayward yearnings, especially since their daughter conceives of an almost mystical connection between music, poetry and mathematics.
In true Romantic fashion, Ada is punished for her glorious transgression, giving the opera the tragic stature befitting its genre.
Ada’s vision of mathematics transforms stark theorems and numerical figures into rich metaphors and linguistic constructions, thus paving the way for the invention of computer languages. To this day, the US Department of Defense uses a program called ADA in honor of the mother of the modern computer. Ada’s dream of wedding science and art flies in the face of the traditional distinction between the Enlightenment and Romanticism, two philosophical and aesthetic ideals that became increasingly embattled as the 19th century revisited the age-old conflict between reason and passion. Telling her story as an opera weds the form and content of her life.