Ada, Countess of Lovelace by Doris Langley Moore is the first full-length biography of the only legitimate daughter of Byron the poet. In January, 1815, Lord Byron made the fatal mistake of marrying Anna Isabella Milbanke. In December of that year, Ada was born. And four and a half months later, Lord and Lady Byron had legally separated and Byron had left England, never to return and never again to see his daughter.

In a rather poignant and compelling way, this biography is actually about the lives of three women. It is first of all about the real Ada Byron, an alert, sensitive and strong-willed woman with a remarkably penetrating mind for mathematics and things scientifical, whose life might just have amounted to something at another time and in another place. It is also about Lady Byron, the pivotal figure in Ada's life, a possessive, unyielding, paranoid and embittered woman, who was most responsible for the worst in her daughter's life. And is is finally about the woman that Ada Byron became - weak, ill, frustrated and infirm, a woman who lost her struggle to be the creative person she really was.

In the end, however, none of the emotional poignancy of the book can disguise the fact that Ada, Countess of Lovelace is bad biography and bad writing. Moore put a premium on writing about a subject that had never been written about before.She ought instead to have considered writing about a subject that was worth writing about. Had she done so, she would have conclude that the life of Ada Byron should have been written in an ambitious footnote. Had she done so, she would have seen that, in the end, all of her scholarly details and even her scholarly pen couldn't put Ada Byron's life together again. (Harper & Row, $25)

Stephen L. Goldstein