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Reviews of In Byron's Wake by Miranda Seymour

In Byron's Wake

The Turbulent Lives of Lord Byron's Wife and Daughter: Annabella Milbanke and Ada Lovelace

by Miranda Seymour

In Byron's Wake by Miranda Seymour X
In Byron's Wake by Miranda Seymour
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2018, 560 pages

    Paperback:
    Nov 2020, 568 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rose Rankin
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Book Summary

A masterful portrait of two remarkable women, revealing how two turbulent lives were always haunted by the dangerously enchanting, quicksilver spirit of that extraordinary father whom Ada never knew: Lord Byron.

In 1815, the clever, courted, and cherished Annabella Milbanke married the notorious and brilliant Lord Byron. Just one year later, she fled, taking with her their baby daughter, the future Ada Lovelace. Byron himself escaped into exile and died as a revolutionary hero in 1824, aged 36. The one thing he had asked his wife to do was to make sure that their daughter never became a poet.

Ada didn't. Brought up by a mother who became one of the most progressive reformers of Victorian England, Byron's little girl was introduced to mathematics as a means of calming her wild spirits. Educated by some of the most learned minds in England, she combined that scholarly discipline with a rebellious heart and a visionary imagination. As a child invalid, Ada dreamed of building a steam-driven flying horse. As an exuberant and boldly unconventional young woman, she amplified her explanations of Charles Babbage's unbuilt calculating engine to predict - as nobody would do for another century - the dawn of the modern computer age. When Ada died, like her father, she was only 36, great things seemed still to lie ahead for her as a passionate astronomer. Even while mired in debt from gambling and crippled by cancer, she was frenetically employing Faraday's experiments with light refraction to explore the analysis of distant stars.

Drawing on fascinating new material, Seymour reveals the ways in which Byron, long after his death, continued to shape the lives and reputations both of his wife and his daughter. During her life, Lady Byron was praised as a paragon of virtue; within ten years of her death, she was vilified as a disgrace to her sex. Well over a hundred years later, Annabella Milbanke is still perceived as a prudish wife and cruelly controlling mother. But her hidden devotion to Byron and her tender ambitions for his mercurial, brilliant daughter reveal a deeply complex but unexpectedly sympathetic personality.

Miranda Seymour has written a masterful portrait of two remarkable women, revealing how two turbulent lives were often governed and always haunted by the dangerously enchanting, quicksilver spirit of that extraordinary father whom Ada never knew.

"The little boy [Hugo, an orphaned nephew of Mary Montgomery] is a very nice child on the whole he speaks nothing but Italian and Spanish which I now perfectly understand."

–Ada Byron, aged eight, to her mother. 7th December 1824.

Lord Byron was exceptionally angry to discover, early in 1817, that Annabella, advised by his own former legal counsel, Sir Samuel Romilly, had made their daughter a Ward of Chancery. (Formally, Ada remained in Chancery until 1825, a year after her father's death.) Nevertheless, he never doubted that his estranged wife would make an excellent and conscientious parent to little Ada. "A girl is in all cases better with the mother," Byron informed Augusta Leigh (by then the mother of seven) on 21 December 1820, "unless there is some moral objection."

Claire Clairmont, having courageously decided to bring up Clara Allegra, her illegitimate child by Byron, as part of Percy Shelley's bohemian household, was granted less respect. Byron liked Shelley and ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

In Byron's Wake shines a light on the lives of Lord Byron's wife, Annabella Milbanke, and their daughter, Ada Lovelace, who both spent their lives with his shadow hanging over them. Though there are a few organizational flaws, this book reveals fascinating details about the painful legacy of a disastrous relationship and how these two women chose to define themselves in spite of, or because of it...continued

Full Review (957 words)

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(Reviewed by Rose Rankin).

Media Reviews

New York Times
Seymour is cleareyed but gentle, ably redeeming a steely, resourceful [Lady Byron] from her decades as a 'humorless despot.' For the most part she steps aside and lets these two forces of nature speak for their eloquent selves. The result is a rich narrative, though one that can leave the reader stranded among headlong peregrinations and pinballing emotions.

The Financial Times
Miranda Seymour puts everything straight in this magnificent, highly readable double biography, which brings these two driven, complicated women vividly to life...This is a very fine book. Written with warmth, panache and conviction, its formidable research is lightly worn.

The Literary Review (UK)
Vastly enjoyable. Brilliant, ebullient, eccentric, vivacious, egocentric and oddly dressed, Ada had her mother's discipline and her father's volatility.

The Sunday Times (UK)
A masterful portrait. Miranda Seymour is a marvellous storyteller. Seymour's book is hugely entertaining as well as formidably researched, and should not be missed.

The Spectator (UK)
In her ambitious dual biography of Ada and her mother Lady Byron, the power of Lovelace's imagination and her belief in a 'poetry of mathematics' is seen as a direct inheritance from Ada's father Lord Byron.

Booklist
Starred Review. We live in an age of celebrity worship, but Seymour's new book shows that obsession with the rich and famous is nothing new...They were an extraordinary mother-daughter pair, and Seymour tells their story with wit, smarts, and insight.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. Their inner and outer lives, along with those of dozens of others who populate this tragic farce, are told with singular narrative skill. A top-notch biography.

Library Journal (starred review)
[A]n overemphasis on detail is this work's weakness, potentially overwhelming nonacademicians, with Jennifer Chiaverini's Enchantress of Numbers providing a more accessible version of Ada's life. A dense biography that loses some of its entertainment through its epistolary style targeting researchers.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In this splendid dual biography of Lord Byron's wife and daughter, Seymour brings these two brilliant, complex women to vivid life. While remaining historically rigorous, Seymour's narrative reads like a superb, page-turning novel.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, and the Writing of Frankenstein

Cover of Penguin Classics edition of Mary Shelley's <i>Frankenstein</i> Great art frequently evolves among talented people who share ideas with each other and who challenge themselves to greater and greater heights in the presence of fellow creatives. This was the case with one of the most famous works of Western literature, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Devised among her literary companions (including Lord Byron) and refined and edited over time, Shelley's creation benefited from her unconventional lifestyle and experience, and it remains one of the triumphs of the Romantic period.

In 1816, Mary Godwin was a 19-year-old unwed mother living with her lover Percy Shelley, with whom she had caused a major ...

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Read-Alikes

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