Seymour is cleareyed but gentle, ably redeeming a steely, resourceful woman 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.
Miranda Seymour puts everything straight in this magnificent, highly readable double biography, which brings these two driven, complicated women vividly to life ... In Seymour’s hands, Annabella’s pioneering work at last assumes the status it deserves ... This is a very fine book. Written with warmth, panache and conviction, its formidable research is lightly worn. The footnotes alone are a joy.
Meticulously researched ... A skilled and experienced biographer, Seymour weaves her way through cobwebby curtains of rumor and gossip, showing how tabloid intrusions are nothing new, privacy has always been won at a price, and reputation—the judgment of the public—remains a slippery, fragile thing ... The combination of pure mathematics and agonized personal passions gives Seymour’s book an arresting power.
Seymour charts the shoals of sex and class both women navigated as they pursued their dreams and aspirations. There’s particular sadness in the foreshortened life of Ada Lovelace. Today she is revered as a female pioneer of computer technology, but in life she battled sexism, severe mood swings, poor health, and the entangling demands of life in Britain’s aristocracy. They were an extraordinary mother-daughter pair, and Seymour tells their story with wit, smarts, and insight.
The story of this unhappy trio has been told before, but seldom with as much brio as it is here ... Seymour is alive to all the self-serving bluster here, but she is equally keen that we should hear about Annabella’s generosity towards people who neither knew nor cared about her year of living dangerously with a naughty poet.
In Byron’s Wake—written with undisguised relish by British biographer and critic Miranda Seymour—offers compelling accounts of both Ada and her mother, Annabella ... Ms. Seymour’s volume.. seeks to [portray the women fully] not by arguing for Annabella’s perfection but by portraying her in all her complexity ... Heart-rendingly, Ms. Seymour describes Annabella’s seemingly unjust rejection of her son-in-law, whom she felt had failed to adequately protect Ada.
Unfortunately, In Byron’s Wake is a taxing book, the sort of biography that feels enslaved by its source material—in this case, the many letters written by the various principals—into reporting all the numbing details of daily life. Every tutor hired, every change of address (19th-century aristocrats moved around a lot), every notable visitor or encounter, every minor illness as well as the major ones, it seems, must be mentioned. Seymour offers both too much information and not enough ... What makes In Byron’s Wake worth reading is its account of how reputation and public image worked in early Victorian England, particularly for women, and how little this minefield has changed despite the technological advances Ada’s work predicted. A gossipy writer herself, Seymour understands the workings of gossip better than most, and Annabella and Ada’s lives were shaped by celebrity and rumor ... A better book would have looked harder at this stubborn inclination to make excuses for famous and talented men as it took root during the birth of celebrity culture.
Deft and compelling ... Seymour carries off a delicate balancing act, combining the historian’s proper caution with acute judgments and a dashing narrative pace ... a less detailed account of the mathematics, offers an illuminating view of the context.
This undeniably intelligent and exhaustive (if at times exhausting) book makes a decent case for the rehabilitation of Annabella Milbanke as neither hapless victim nor vindictive harpy, and is filled with revealing anecdotes that make skilful use of new material ... However, it has none of the Byronic flair and vim that its subjects deserve. In temperament, the book is closer to the cautious, punctilious Annabella than the visionary brilliance of her husband or daughter. As Byron wrote: 'Truth is always strange; stranger than fiction.' A dash more quixotic spirit would have lent this diligent account the panache to complement its undoubted authority.
[A] wide-ranging dysfunctional family portrait ... Seymour’s great achievement is the resourcefulness and diligence she brings to both Annabella and Ada, complex figures who alternately invite and test readers’ sympathies. 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.