a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Ada and the Engine (2015)
Lauren Gunderson
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

For Lauren Gunderson, whose plays all seem to be about emotionally potent mathematical subjects, a study of Ada Lovelace seems like a natural choice. Born Ada Byron (the daughter of the scandalous poet Lord Byron), partnered with Charles Babbage on his work (which today is considered to be an early example of computer science but at the time was seen as being pure mathematics), and doomed to die young, Ada's story is filled with sorrow and foreshadowing.

The play, which I have not seen, appears to focus on her relationships with her mother, her mentor Mary Sommerville, her research partner Charles Babbage, and her estranged father. A taste of all of that is contained in this excerpt:

(quoted from Ada and the Engine)

ANABELLA (mother). Your tutor tells me that you have almost completed the second book in the calculus series.

ADA. Yes. He is competent but not very interesting.

ANABELLA. Then let's try not to elope with this one shall we.

ADA. That was just once.

ANABELLA. For you, the difference between zero and one is your entire world. Now. We shall have no discussion of tutors nor maths for the rest of the evening.

ADA. I'm not allowed to discuss maths at the party?

ANABELLA. Absolutely not.

ADA. But Mr. Babbage is the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics.

ANABELLA. I know who he is.

ADA. And Mrs. Sommerville. She has written tomes-

ANABELLA. And you are not there to discuss her tomes, you are there to find a husband.

ADA. Then why have me tutored in maths since I could talk and not let me talk about it.

ANABELLA. Because maths is the opposite of passion. It was necessary to direct your focus to keep you uncorrupted.

ADA. And despite your studies, he "corrupted" you.

ANABELLA. I will strike you again if you speak to me in that manner for one moment more.

ADA. And perhaps this time I will strike back

ANABELLA. There he is. Right there. Under your skin. What must that feel like. Sickness? Itch? That's why they look at you, Ada, why they whisper. They wait to see you fall as he did. Fall into beds, into debt, into a depravity the complete description of which I have spared you thus far. And you will do well to swallow back any hint...

There are some scenes from this play on YouTube, but I found them unwatchable due to the poor recording quality. So, I know almost nothing about this play aside from the excerpt and reviews I found online. However, based on my previous experience with Gunderson's work, I suspect it is all well-done, like the clever reference to zeroes and ones above, a statement made by her mother which is much more true than she could possibly know.

Thanks to Vijay Fafat for suggesting that I add this work to the database.

More information about this work can be found at
(Note: This is just one work of mathematical fiction from the list. To see the entire list or to see more works of mathematical fiction, return to the Homepage.)

Works Similar to Ada and the Engine
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Emilie: La Marquise Du Ch√Ętelet Defends Her Life Tonight by Lauren Gunderson
  2. Leap by Lauren Gunderson
  3. Uniform Convergence: A One-Woman Play by Corrine Yap
  4. Hidden Figures by Allison Schroeder (writer) / Theodore Melfi (director and writer)
  5. A Disappearing Number by Simon McBurney
  6. The Limit by Freya Smith / Jack Williams
  7. Enchantress of Numbers: A Novel of Ada Lovelace by Jennifer Chiaverini
  8. Let Newton Be! by Craig Baxter
  9. Emilie by Kaija Saariaho (composer) / Amin Maalouf (libretto)
  10. Hypatia's Math: A Play by Daniel S. Helman
Ratings for Ada and the Engine:
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GenreHistorical Fiction,
MotifReal Mathematicians, Female Mathematicians, Ada Lovelace,

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Exciting News: The 1,600th entry was recently added to this database of mathematical fiction! Also, for those of you interested in non-fictional math books let me (shamelessly) plug the recent release of the second edition of my soliton theory textbook.

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)