About a year ago, I began this blog with a post about who Ada Lovelace was. Now, on another Ada Lovelace Day, I’d like to talk about who she wasn’t.
A few months ago, I received a reply from an agent about my novel, The Steel Lady. Ada Lovelace is not the protagonist of the novel, but she is a prominent character. The agent was good enough to offer some feedback, but their main point was befuddling; they asked why Ada, “an influential feminist and historical figure,” had a life so fraught with conflict, particularly in relation to those close to her. The comment made my brain itch. On the one hand, I wanted to point out that Ada was categorically not a feminist, nor was she particularly influential. On the other hand, I bristled at the idea that personal conflict somehow negated feminism.
Let me start by saying that I love all things Ada Lovelace (or Ada Byron, if you prefer). I love that she was the poet Byron’s daughter. I love that she was taught math in order to control her “passions”. I love that at age eighteen, when she met Charles Babbage, she immediately understood his Analytical Engine, the mechanical computer that was never built. She understood computers before computers existed. Compared to that, whether or not she really was the first computer programmer seems superfluous.
In my novel, Ada Lovelace is a tragic character. She is bitter, addicted to gambling, in conflict with her husband, and fatally ill at the age of 36. This is the part that I didn’t make up. Ada’s own time did not allow her to fulfill her potential as a programmer and mathematician; even Charles Babbage, her mentor and collaborator, implied in his publication of her Notes that it was not in fact Ada’s work, but rather his. Even her death by uterine cancer smacks of an unfairness to her as a woman.
I understand the desire for a compelling feminist heroine. The difference is that when I went looking for one, I didn’t find Ada. I found her daughter. Both in my novel and in reality, there was hope for Annabella King (later Anne Blunt) in a way that there wasn’t for Ada. The world was changing in a way that allowed for choices for woman that, though still unfair, were at least more liberating.
History doesn’t cast Ada in the light of an influential feminist figure – she achieved little and died young. For many years, her achievements were nearly forgotten. She makes a much better feminist rallying cry. Her story may not influence you, but it should make you angry – for her, and for women like her whose potential is consistently wasted because they are women.
The more I think about the comment, the more what bothers me is the implication that somehow a woman can’t be both a feminist and a conflicted character. It seems to imply that Ada’s flaws are incompatible with her supposed influence. Ada's intelligence was unfulfilled; if the gambling and affairs at the end of her life can be attributed to anything, they ought to be attributed to that. She struggled and failed. If we pretend otherwise, we do a disservice to her, and to women everywhere who struggle against insurmountable odds. If we ignore these failures, we gloss over the very injustices that gave rise to feminism in the first place.
If we’re going to remember Ada Lovelace today (and we should), then we should remember all of her. If we wish to recast Ada Lovelace as a feminist figure, it ought to be by letting her be as human as the next man.
This post was going to be about Shakespeare. Then Rick and Morty aired their last episode for Season 3.
So yeah. Now this is going to be a post about Shakespeare and Rick and Morty. Because apparently, my brain is made of silly putty.
The last episode of Rick and Morty Season 3 was unsatisfying. It’s okay, you’re allowed to agree. It doesn’t make you a bad Rick and Morty-ite. It was unsatisfying for all the reasons a show is unsatisfying. The action sequence was too long. The stakes of the story were difficult to keep track of. The characters were occasionally mildly, occasionally wildly, out of character. And the ending, by Rick and Morty standards, was pabulum. A glossed over, almost-laugh-track ending with Rick frowning at a weirdly happy Smith family.
What annoyed me most wasn’t actually the last episode. It was the reviews of the episode. It was the casual assumption that everything in the last episode should be taken at face value. That Beth and Jerry really have chosen to get back together, that Summer really does have a suddenly connected relationship with her mom, and that Morty, somehow, chooses a simplified lie as his life.
A reviewer commented that the Smith family has chosen escapism over Rick’s universe; the very “unrealness” of it suggests that it isn’t escapism, it’s temporary. Maybe Beth is a clone. Hell, maybe they’re all clones. Either way, the delightful bliss isn’t going to last, so why pretend this is some moral awakening for Rick’s character? One reviewer commented that Rick had been “returned to the ground” by this episode. What? The ground of what planet? Season 3 showed, time and again, that Rick’s intelligence often comes in the form of being a devastating curse. What it did not show was Rick being wrong. Sure, maybe that can last into the credits of the last episode, but I wouldn’t give that premise thirty seconds in the next season.
Which brings me to Shakespeare. This summer, I watched a production of The Merchant of Venice at Vancouver’s Bard on the Beach. I do not love The Merchant of Venice, but I do love Bard on the Beach, and their dedication to performing every one of Shakespeare’s plays, no matter how terrible. I was expecting The Merchant of Venice to be mediocre at best, not because of production, but because of the script.
It was outstanding. The problematic parts of The Merchant of Venice were not glossed or ignored – they were embraced. Instead of pretending that the play is a comedy with an occasional dark moment, the play was filled with sleazy, arrogant characters who are cruel to each other. It might seem that such a portrayal would render us unsympathetic to the pain and trials of those characters. It didn’t. It drove home the inhumanity of the entire piece, and the fact that Shakespeare and his society held beliefs we would find unforgivable.
Sometimes a writer that you love is terrible. Sometimes a character who is reprehensible is the one that you empathize with most. Why lie about either one? When we gloss over what is problematic, we fall into the same trap as the Smith family – a delusion that at best can only be temporary.
With the exception of the last episode, Season 3 of Rick and Morty was devastatingly good. It was dark, emotionally in-depth, well-paced, and hilarious. Reviews of the finale that talk about “resetting” and “starting from scratch” ignore the complete impossibility of actually doing that. Rick can’t. Much as he might try to, Morty can’t. And be honest – after the emotion pangs of Season 3, you as the audience member can’t.
Let’s hope that, as usual, we’re being messed with, and that the season isn’t quite done.
Jane Perrella. Teacher, writer. Expert knitter. Enthusiast of medieval swordplay, tea, Shakespeare, and Batman.